|Final - 5.29.2011||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||R||H||E|
|Kansas City Royals||0||0||0||5||0||0||0||0||1||6||9||0|
|WP: Arthur Rhodes (3 - 2)
LP: Joakim Soria (3 - 2)
How does one begin recapping Sunday's Rangers game? It's one of those times in life where you tell people "you just had to have been there."
I was working on this post while trying to put aside anger and depression. It was heavy on stuff about how broken Neftali Feliz looks, about how much Josh Hamilton hurt the Rangers, about how ridiculous umpires can be, about how quickly fans can crash from big moments, and about how rarely you feel so miserable after your team outscores their opponents by seven runs in a series.
I even had a graphic depiction of the game:
Instead, something completely different happened. . .
WPA is not meant as a measure of skill, but simply a measure of how the odds of a game change moment to moment, and which players create that change. It has been called something of a fan emotion meter, and rarely is that more true than today, with the violent swings in win probability you see on the chart at the bottom. This game felt exactly like that chart looks, with the Rangers steadily looking good early, a sudden, hopeless crash, an amazing late turn immediately followed by yet another crash, and then an improbable, vicious shift at the very end.
Things started with Alexi Ogando cruising and the Rangers offense getting a couple early runs. It all fell apart in fourth when the Royals managed to score five runs off of Ogando (according to the rule of Earned Runs, more on that later). Mike Napoli -- who opened the scoring with a double -- homered in the fifth to make it 5-3, but the Rangers proceeded to use up their outs and make a comeback less and less likely, until they hand only four left.
The amazing late turn came courtesy of Michael Young, who came up with a runner on after Josh Hamilton fell to 0-4. With the Royals leading 5-3, Young swing on a 3-0 count for just the third time in his career, and it resulted in a game tying three run home run and an incredible 39% shift in win probability. Just like that, a game that had seemed depressing and hopeless looked okay. The Face of the Franchise had seemingly given the Rangers a chance, and emotions were high.
Except, then came Neftali Feliz, who has been the Human Buzzkill lately. He was greeted by a triple to start things off, and all it took to seemingly erase Young's home run was a deep fly ball. That came, and in just a matter of minutes the game looked awful all over again. Arthur Rhodes had to come in and end the inning, and the Rangers were forced to come back against Joakim Soria. The game wasn't over, but considering how the Rangers had gotten to this point -- and how rare comebacks seem to be in 2011 -- it sure felt over.
Soria began the inning by just missing Nelson Cruz's chin. That may have been a bad call, as Cruz responded angrily with a game-tying shot to the left field stands, a 43% hike in win expectancy. It was the Young home run all over again, with another late surge in the Rangers favor. For eight and a half innings, it has been an emotional game, the kind you find thrilling when your team isn't involved.
The ending, though, was not something thrilling in the normal sense, instead, it was more hilarious, allowing things to run the full gamut of emotions. Napoli added his third hit -- this time a single -- to follow up Cruz's shot. Inspiring. Mitch Moreland struck out, and David Murphy then worked a full count and was called out on a "strike," and there were two outs. Aggravating. Finally, Elvis Andrus singled just past the glove of Eric Hosmer, and the winning run was headed to scoring position. Exciting.
. . . except Dave Anderson waved Mike Napoli home. Shocking. The throw by Mitch Maier beat Napoli to the plate with plenty of room to spare. Depressing.
And Napoli was safe. Because he slid under the tag. Mike Napoli scored the game-winning run from first on a single because Brayan Pena forgot to tag him!
Everything happened in this game. The best and worst moments of baseball were all encapsulated in one of the most unbelievable and strange games I have ever seen in more than a decade of watching baseball, and, most importantly of all, the final emotion was elation. At multiple points it looked like this would be a series where the Rangers outplayed their opponents, but lost, anyway, so it didn't matter. Instead, they got the series victory they deserved and the angst is marginalized just to the players who showed troubling signs.
It's a game with so much to talk about, but no easy way to organize them. Instead, the last-minute-alteration of the graphic representation:
A few other bullet point-style thoughts on the game:
- This year, Alexi Ogando has not pitched as well as his ERA suggests. His rates of getting outs on balls in play and stranding runners just aren't really sustainable, and without becoming a much better pitcher, they were due to go up. Today, though, he was better than his ERA suggests. The Royals' big fourth inning started with Melky Cabrera getting a single only because Josh Hamilton took a horrible route on a fly ball. Cabrera still would have been out if Adrian Beltre had managed to turn a double play to end the inning, but instead everyone was safe with two on and one out. A soft Wilson Betemit fly barely fell in for a hit, a run had scored in an inning that never should have seen a hitter in scoring position, and Ogando's pitch count was climbing. Another single added another run, and Ogando's 20th pitch of the inning was a belt-high change-up which Brayan Pena turned in to a three-run homerun. Without such a busy inning, that pitch might look better, and with some defensive support it doesn't come after having allowed so many baserunners. The ERA looks bad, but Ogando was fine tonight. He missed fewer bats than usual, but he still struckout four to one walk, managed to find the strikezone regularly, and didn't allow any damage outside of one inning where luck and defense failed him. Sometimes baseball helps you out, sometimes it doesn't.
- Neftali Feliz, meanwhile, was bad. Again. He once again couldn't find the strikezone (50/50), never hit the zone with his slider, didn't miss a single bat, and all but one of the four batters he faced hit him hard, with a line drive triple and two deep fly balls. The velocity wasn't even there, which may have been an attempt to increase control, but it didn't work. A reliever who gets hit hard, doesn't miss bats, can't find the strikezone, and can't mix his pitches well is a bad guy to hand close games over to. I don't know how to fix Feliz, but he's been very, very awful since going to the disabled list, and something has to be done, or the Rangers will continue to lose games simply because of bad pitching in high leverage situations.
- The Rangers won on a great call, where no one would have batted an eye if the umpire just gave the catcher the benefit of the doubt. Still, that followed another bad call, when David Murphy was called out on a pitch more than a foot outside the strikezone, with a full count and the winning run at first. That's not an unusual call, as lefty hitters are forced to guess on pitches that far outside, because humans can't, for whatever reason, call that part of the zone accurately for lefties. Unusual or not, it was the wrong call in a very, very bad situation for such an awful call.
- That wasn't the end of questionable umpiring. The strikezone today was exceptionally bad, not because of how rarely the low strike was called, but because of how randomly the low strike was called. Umpires ignoring the bottom of the zone is nothing new, but when pitchers and hitters have to guess as to whether or not a low pitch will be called, there's a problem. Either call it or don't. Ian Kinsler was also called out on a clearly checked swing, then tossed from the game when he angrily tossed his bat out of frustration about an awful call. I cannot understand how allowing people to affect games this way is still considered okay, or even good.
- I don't know why Dave Anderson sent Napoli. Seems ridiculous, but at least it worked out. Still, he should have been at second after the Murphy walk, so it never should have been a first-to-home thing.
- Add Michael Kirkman to the "maybe the bullpen will be okay!" list with Yoshi.
- Mike Napoli scored from first on a single!
Okay, enough on the negatives from that game. The results were awesome and incredible and happy and hilarious. The Rangers got a series win and, overall, played well. These are good and happy things, and the only reason to dwell on how close it was to being sad is so you can feel that much better that it didn't.
Biggest Contributions (What is this, I don't even. . . ?)
- Michael Young 41%
- Elvis Andrus 39%
- Nelson Cruz 36%