August 1, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (1) gets swarmed by teammates after hitting a two run walk off single against the Los Angeles Angels in the tenth inning at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers won 11-10 beating the Angels. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE
The game of the year in Major League Baseball is the difference between being okay with the fortunes of the Rangers and abject panic as we enter August.
A whirlwind of moves, games, and emotions like we saw over the past four days may be unrivaled in the history of the Texas Rangers.
Now we can begin looking at the aftermath of an epic four game set against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that surrounded a busy trade deadline. Just two days ago, it seemed like we would be sitting here today with feelings of despair and desperation as the AL West lead was slipping away, and the Main Stream Media was getting the pennant race it demanded. The Rangers began the fifth inning of game five down six runs, staring a two game lead and a start against their former ace in the face.
Then came the game of the season.
The lead was headed towards two games thanks to a miserable start to the series. Game one started out alright, as a neck-and-neck contest until the sixth inning, when Roy Oswalt and Robbie Ross melted down. Each allowed a home run to Kendrys Morales -- the second a grand slam -- for a nine run inning, ruining any shot the Rangers may have had at starting Friday with a nine game lead. It would be easy to read more out of the game than was really deserved; to see it as an emphatic statement from the Angels that the second half belonged to them.
It was a loss that prompted the start of flurry of off-field activity that surrounded the series. Oswalt seemed an iffy signing from the start, has been an absolute disaster since, and despite having a friend in the owner's box, Monday was the last straw. Oswalt managed to avoid walks and get strikeouts all along, but found the center square too much for punishment, and the game one start was more of the same: four strikeouts against no walks, but 11 hits and three home runs. By game four of the series, he was in the bullpen, the Rangers admitting their investment was not working out.
Though it was in a loss, game one did highlight the theme of the series: the offense finally breaking out, and the pitching failing miserably. In game two, unfortunately, the offense did no such thing, but Derek Holland gave up three home runs of his own to go with four walks in a game that was tight most of the way but ended a four run contest.
So Michael Young strode to the plate with his team down 7-1 in the fifth inning. Yu Darvish had joined Holland and Oswalt in falling to pieces against the LA lineup, walking a miserable six Angels to help set up seven earned runs. There will be some who will look at the ERA this season and end up disappointed in Darvish, which is frankly a bit silly, but in the biggest game of the season yet, he was absolutely impossible to watch. He left the game with his team holding just a 6% shot of keeping hopes of a split alive.
From that 6% forward, the Win Probability chart looks ridiculously cool. Young managed to send a ground ball to the outfield, and then David Murphy did the same. Mike Napoli showed up with a double, Mitch Moreland brought home Murphy, Ian Kinsler doubled, Elvis Andrus singled, and suddenly at 7-5 the Rangers had an honest-to-god game going.
Texas picked up another run in the eighth on another Murphy single, and Napoli kept the game at one run with a brilliant block of Morales at home in the ninth. So with two outs remaining in the game, the hero was Kinsler, popping up all the way over the left field wall to tie the game. Improbably and incredibly, Texas was in the driver's seat, as though the changing of dates on the calendar was not merely an arbitrary end point. The miserable month of July was over, and the Rangers seemed to be saying that August would be different.
The Angels seemed to say otherwise. Joe Nathan not only couldn't protect the tie in the 10th, he allowed home runs to Chris Iannetta and Albert Pujols to put Texas down three. A brilliant and thrilling comeback was still going to result in a mult-run loss, and Ranger nation would have its right to panic.
Instead, Nelson Cruz hit his second home run of the game. Young reached first on a botched ball, Murphy walked, and Napoli loaded the bases with a single -- the single being the moment Texas's Win Probability ticked up over 50%. Mitch Moreland advanced everyone a base to make it a one-run game, and Andrus slapped a ball in to left field to end it.
The game of the year went to Texas, who found themselves down below an 85% chance of winning at three separate points and still won anyway, salvaging a shot at the series being okay.
Meanwhile, a flurry of off-field moves changes the shape of the team. AA pitchers were spared by the calling up of Mike Olt, who debuted in game four, singling in his first plate appearance, and being robbed on a line drive in his second. Geovany Soto was brought over from the Cubs to help improve a desperate catching situation, and had two hits with a double in his Texas debut. Then with Oswalt a failure and two members of the opening day rotation on the DL, Texas went with slight desperation to bring over Ryan Dempster, and the results were about the same as the rest of the rotation in the series.
Dempster was probably a tad better than his line suggested he allowed eight earned runs, but his two home runs surrendered were fairly jet-stream induced. The stuff was fantastic, missing 18 bats, and striking out six against three walks, and while you can't read much out of one game, you can read more from those three statements than you can from looking at the earned runs. Dempster was not particularly good, but he showed flashes of brilliance, and deserves at least a few more starts before we hate him and everything he stands for.
The offense, fortunately, bailed him out. It felt like decades since the Rangers pounded an opponent, and finally doing so against C.J. Wilson was supremely cathartic. Texas scored 15 runs against the Angels in game four, and would have had 18 if not for a Hamilton blast dying at the wall.
So, suddenly, everything looks okay again, when late Thursday night it seemed like we were headed in to tragedy territory. A split is still somewhat disappointing when it comes at home, especially when Texas keeps a losing record against the Angels on the season. But, given how close things seemed to being significantly worse, a split feels thrilling here on Friday. Texas survives the series with the best record in baseball, a five game lead on the Angels -- and 4.5 on the division since, you know, the Angels are in third place -- and their playoff odds placed at just over 80%. All of these are down from the heights we once saw, but they are still something you would have taken if I'd given them to you at the start of the year.
Mike Olt, Ryan Dempster, and Geovany Soto aren't going to be huge changes on the fortunes of the Rangers, but the latter two are likely improvements, and the first is at the very least exciting to see in the Majors. Everything is okay, there is no need for panic, and the offense is still capable of exploding.
The Magic Number stands at 54.