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Rays Gut Punch Rangers

Final - 5.31.2011 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Texas Rangers 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 1 0 4 7 0
Tampa Bay Rays 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 2 X 5 5 2
WP: Joel Peralta (2 - 3)
SV: Kyle Farnsworth (10)
LP: Arthur Rhodes (3 - 3)

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If you didn't follow the Rangers closely, and decided not to watch the first two games of their series in Tampa, and you asked a friend simply for the results and no details, he'd tell you the Rangers split the first two games, winning 11-5 and 5-4.

And you know what? You'd probably be fine with that. Putting yourselves in a position to take two and, at the very least, avoid a sweep in St. Petersburg is a good situation. Doing so with one blowout win and one close loss is a good sign. You can't win them all, so nothing to worry about there.

The problem comes if you do follow the Rangers closely and you did watch these games, and you do know the details. You know that game one was as excruciating as a six run victory can be, and you know that Tuesday was a stomach punch of a horror story.

C.J. Wilson had a weird game. His stuff was electric. Nearly every pitch was moving more than usual, to a degree that it was plainly visible just from television, particularly his vicious sinker. He got 13 swinging strikes. Nearly 12% of the pitches the Rays saw, they fanned on, when they do so just over 8% of the time typically. The outfielders never had to field a ball the entire time Wilson was in the game. That's what you call "nasty."

Not only was the stuff there, but home plate umpire Jerry Meals was on his side. Wilson was able to get a lower zone than he typically gets, and a lot of his on-the-edge pitches that are often called balls because of how the movement fools the umpires got the call (as well as a few that were actually balls). Wilson has been shown to be one of the most often squeezed pitchers in baseball, but today his zone was mostly fine. Give a good pitcher a friendly zone on a day his stuff is even better than normal and you can probably expect to win.

Unfortunately (and sometimes fortunately), baseball doesn't work that way. Pitchers have weak contact fall in, or fielders fail, or balls just go to the wrong spot, and they end up giving up runs in games when they didn't actually pitch poorly. That's not an uncommon story. It's also not what happened to C.J. Wilson Tuesday night. His four walks were pretty much due to his own wildness, not a random zone, but he managed to survive an inning where he surrendered three of them. In the third, however, he got behind Sean Rodriguez, refused to walk him, and grooved a fastball almost completely down the middle of the zone. It was a textbook example of a pitcher falling behind and serving up a meatball to try and salvage the plate appearance, and Rodriguez turned that meatball in to a mammoth home run that put Mitch Moreland's Monday shot to shame.

The Rangers scored enough to give Wilson the lead back, but despite the stuff and the zone, it wasn't enough. Adrian Beltre made a phenomenal bare-handed grab of an Evan Longoria ground ball and nailed Longoria at first, but the first base umpire missed the call and declared the runner safe. The Rangers had managed to get a baserunner on a miscall at first earlier, so it was fair, even if it wasn't right, but the Rays, unlike the Rangers, were able to capitalize. After getting two outs, Wilson threw a sinker that didn't sink enough to Matt Joyce -- who has somehow turned himself in to an elite player -- and Joyce launched it for the game-tying home run.

After another walk, Wilson was out of the game without a chance for the win. He was on for almost the entire game, but of his three hits, two were mistake pitches turned in to home runs. He pitched well, but the runs he allowed were still on him, and he was a bit lucky to have escaped in the second inning with none.

The Rangers managed to get a run on a wild pitch in the eighth, regaining the lead 4-3, but the bullpen once again let the team down. Arthur Rhodes pitched Johnny Damon well, doing his job as a lefty specialist, but a soft fly ball just managed to outreach the glove of Elvis Andrus, and Rhodes was left in to face Longoria. A struggling lefty reliever against one of the best right handed hitters in baseball. It may have been a mistake by Ron Washington, or it may have been a statement on how awful the right handed portion of the Rangers' bullpen is, that's open to interpretation (look at how Yoshi Tateyama has pitched when you make your judgement), but the likelihood of a bad result was huge. Almost predictably, Longoria hit the Rays' third home run of the game and made it 5-4 Rays. The Rangers couldn't muster anything in the ninth and went out despite a good performance from their starter and outhitting the Rays as a team. Home runs are a big deal.

As I said from the start, this series is nothing to get upset about, even if the Rangers lose tomorrow most likely. They have outplayed a good team for two games on their home turf, and already worked out an acceptable result with a chance at a very good result. The bullpen was a tragedy again, but that's nothing we didn't already know. They still just missed going up 2-0 and are still in first place despite that.

The problem isn't the results of these games. The problem was watching them.


No Win Probability while FanGraphs is broken.

Jerry Meals's Strikezone from Brooks Baseball


Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.