BY: Richard W. Humphrey
The old saying is that a tie is like kissing your sister; but after Friday’s 9-0 debacle of a loss to the Rays, a tie at a game apiece in this best of five American League Division series looks really good to Ranger fans. Texas earned that tie with an 8-6 win over the Rays Saturday night in Arlington, in what was almost an elimination game.
The start of this game looked all too similar to Friday’s loss. The Ranger offense looked lifeless, and the Rangers in the field looked inept. Texas’ starter Derek Holland walked in a run in the first inning, then put the Rangers in a 3-0 hole with a two out throwing error followed by a home run in the fourth.
Rays’ ace “Big Game” James Shields was tough on the Rangers this season, allowing a lone run in 20 innings. He needed just 39 pitches to blank Texas in the first three innings, extending the Rangers’ playoff drought to 12 scoreless innings after Friday’s shutout loss. In the fourth inning however, Shields was uncharacteristically wild, hitting two batters and throwing a pair of wild pitches. He threw 35 pitches before finally retiring the Rangers, but not until they had batted around and plated five runs, in what might be the inning that saved the Rangers’ post season. Mike Napoli had the big blow of the inning, a two-run game-tying single.
Texas added two more in the sixth and capped off the scoring with a Mitch Moreland home run in the eighth. It was an offensive performance that looked like the Rangers of September – eight runs on a double digit hit total. Seven Ranger starters recorded at least one hit, with Michael Young, Mike Napoli and Ian Kinsler having multi-hit performances.
After Texas took the lead in the fourth, Holland got through the fifth inning without any more damage. That was it for his night. He threw 93 pitches, 61 of which were strikes, and was credited with the win. Just one of the three runs charged to him was earned, but his stats look much better than his performance to the naked eye.
Alexi Ogando followed in the sixth and looked spectacular. In a decision that will be debated, Ogando was lifted for the seventh in favor of Koji Uehara. Ogando is certainly stretched out to pitch multiple innings, while Uehara has shown a penchant for allowing home runs, allowing six since joining the Rangers in July. Saturday he didn’t retire a batter and again allowed a round tripper – this one a three-run shot by Evan Longoria that pulled the Rays within one at 7-6. That was it for the Rays’ offense on the night. Darren Oliver finished the seventh. Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz took care of the eighth and ninth innings, with Feliz earning the save.
The announced crowd was 51,354. It was noticeably louder than Friday’s. Long time fan John Martin called it “electric”. Ranger players raved about the crowd after the game as having made a difference. This was the eighth first round playoff game played in Arlington in five first round series dating back to 1996. Texas has faced the Yankees and Rays four times each, and Saturday night’s game was the first Ranger win.
Saturday night the Rangers wore the unusual uniform combination of their home white jerseys and pants, with red accessories – caps, socks, etc., for just the eleventh time this season. It’s surprising they don’t wear it more often, as the team record moved to 10-1 in that uniform with Saturday’s win.
The series continues Monday in St. Petersburg at 4:00 PM (central), and thanks to Saturday’s series tying Ranger win, there will be a game four on Tuesday. Colby Lewis was named the game three starter for Texas. He statistically was the worst Ranger starter this season, but a year ago, he was 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in four playoff starts. He also won three times in his last four starts during the 2011 regular season. This year, he was also much better on the road than at home – 9-5, 3.43 in 17 starts verses 5-5, 5.54 in 15 starts at home.
Rays’ left hander David Price, the former Vanderbilt star, is listed as their game four starter. He was winless in six September starts, but is generally regarded as the Rays’ top starter. Game three has proved pivotal in the past. Since divisional series began in 1995, the team jumping out to a 2-1 lead in the best of five series has gone on to win 30 of 36.
Matt Harrison for Texas and Jeremy Hellickson for Tampa have been named game four starters.