Wash Calls for the Squeeze Play and it Works to
Perfection Giving the Texas Rangers Three out of Four in Detroit
BY: Dic Humphrey
@DicHumphrey on Twitter
Ranger manager Ron Washington utilized the squeeze play to break a 2-2 tie in the eleventh inning Sunday. Alberto Gonzalez dropped a bunt single with no one out and the bases loaded to score Nelson Cruz, with what proved to be the game winner. Texas failed to do any more scoreboard damage as the Tigers ended the inning with a double play and another ground out. Joe Nathan then retired the Tigers in the bottom half of the eleventh allowing just a single to earn his fourth save of the year and secure the 3-2 victory for the Rangers. Rookie Robbie Ross (3-0) was the winning pitcher, his third win of the current road trip. Texas won the series three games to one, their fifth straight series win to open the season, a first in Ranger history to open. It was also the eighth win on this nine-game road trip, the best Ranger record ever on a road trip of at least seven games. The Rangers are now 13-3, the best in baseball.
Colby Lewis started Sunday and gave the Rangers his fourth good start of the season. He allowed two runs on seven hits over seven innings. Once again, he did not walk a batter and still has just one walk on the season, Adam Dunn in the first inning on opening day. He has now thrown 25-2/3rds innings without a walk since, which is a new club record. The Rangers’ starters’ ERA is down to 2.34, and Lewis’s quality start was the Rangers’ 13th in 16 games.
Detroit’s Drew Smyly, a former Arkansas Razorback, was even better, giving up just a single run in six innings. He lost the opportunity to be the winning pitcher when former Ranger Joaquin Benoit surrendered an unearned run in the eighth that tied the game at two.
The Rangers opened this series by sending Yu Darvish to mound Thursday evening and won 10-3. That score is in no way indicative of the type game that was played that night, as Texas blew open a competitive game with five runs in the eighth inning. Darvish pitched the best game of his three starts, lasting into the seventh inning while allowing just a run on two hits. He still threw too many pitches (121) and too many balls (51), as he kept the Tigers in the game with five walks. (Darvish has walked 13 in 17-1/3rd innings this year.) The Rangers have now twice scored in double digits in Darvish’s starts, and have supported him with 27 runs total. Texas has won all three games, and Darvish’s record is 2-0.
Friday’s game was called for inclement weather shortly after the scheduled game time. The teams play just once this year in Detroit, so the make-up game had to be Saturday or Sunday. Detroit opted for a day-night doubleheader on Saturday. Texas opened the day portion by plastering Tigers’ starter Rick Porcello with an eight run barrage in the top of the first. There is an adage in baseball about double-headers – “hard to win, easy to lose.” The eight run first took the mystery out of the game’s outcome and virtually assured the Rangers would not lose this doubleheader. Matt Harrison finished seven innings to become the first Ranger pitcher to win three games this season. He woke up Sunday morning with a 1.66 ERA, second in the American League.
The offense added two more runs to get into double digits for the third time in four games. The final score was 10-3, as Koji Uehara finished the game and allowed the obligatory opponent home run before finishing off the Tigers. The win ran the Rangers’ win streak to eight, and assured at least a split of the four-game series.
Unfortunately, the Rangers’ offense managed just four runs in the final 17 innings of the doubleheader. They lost the finale 3-2. Neftali Feliz pitched a complete game in the night-cap, the Rangers’ first complete game of the year. He also took the loss to drop to 1-1, the first Ranger starting pitcher to be credited with a loss this year. Feliz nonetheless pitched an outstanding game, allowing all three Tiger runs in the sixth inning and just three hits in the game. His ERA is down to 2.70.
The larger problem for the Rangers was reigning American League Cy Young and MVP Award winner, Justin Verlander. He showed what a great pitcher he is. Coming off a 130 pitch outing in his previous start, Verlander did not have his usual powerful fastball. He routinely was throwing in the upper 80’s and lower 90’s. He did however dial it up to 95-96 on a couple of occasions when needed. However, the truly impressive part of his start was how well he pitched while relying on his slider and change. They are obviously seriously good pitches, not just a complement to keep the hitters off the fastball.
Texas certainly had chances against Verlander. The Rangers actually out-hit the Tigers 7-3 in the game, but Detroit had the stat that counted the most – three runs to two. One big positive on the day was that the Rangers needed just three pitchers to throw 17 innings.
Josh Hamilton continues his offensive tear, despite four strikeouts Saturday night. He was 3-3 Sunday to improve his season’s average to .418. He hit his seventh home run and drove in two runs to lead the league with 17. Michael Young is also still above .400 at .403.
Perhaps the worst news of the weekend for Ranger fans though was Adrian Beltre pulling up lame in the second inning of Saturday’s day game. Washington pulled him immediately over Beltre’s protests. It was diagnosed as strain of his left hamstring, the same hamstring that put him on the disabled list for 37 games last season. He of course did not play in Saturday’s night cap or Sunday’s series finale. Washington said a decision on placing him on the disabled list would not be made until the team returns to Arlington. Beltre was quoted after the game as saying, “Hopefully, it will be just a couple of days.”
Texas opens its second home stand of the year Monday night, the first of three games against the Yankees. After an off day Thursday, the Rays come to Arlington for three this weekend to complete the home stand.
- Monday night’s game will begin an hour earlier than usual (6:05 PM Central) to accommodate ESPN’s telecast. It is the opening game of a three-game series with the Yankees, the only regular season appearance the Bronx Bombers will make in Arlington this year. Prior to the game, Ivan Rodriguez will be honored as he announced his retirement from baseball last week. Rodriguez is undoubtedly the greatest Ranger player in history. He won 12 Gold Glove Awards for fielding excellence, made 14 All-Star teams in his 21 year career, and is a shoo-in to be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
- Friday’s rainout literally precipitates the need for a sixth starting pitcher to take the mound Wednesday in the series finale against the Yankees. Washington indicated he never gave any consideration to bringing back a starter on short rest. Scott Feldman (0-0, 0.00), a 17-game winner in 2009 as a starting pitcher, gets the call out of the bullpen. Washington has indicated he expects about 50 pitches from Feldman, who countered by saying he was confident he can effectively complete five innings.
- The Yankees and Red Sox were rained out Sunday afternoon, which also altered their pitching plans for the series. CC Sabathia (1-0, 5.59) will pitch Monday’s opener against Derek Holland (2-0, 3.10). Hideki Kuroda (1-2, 5.00) moves back a day to face Yu Darvish (2-0, 3.57) on Tuesday evening. Phil Hughes (1-2, 6.75) is Feldman’s likely pitching opponent on Wednesday, though the Yankees could opt to skip Hughes and go with Ivan Nova (3-0, 3.79), who is perhaps the Yankees best starter so far this year.
- The Dallas Morning News’ Barry Horn wrote this past Saturday in his weekly media column about the Rangers’ astonishing television ratings so far this season. For the first 10 games of the season, the ratings on FSN and Channel 21 have translated into viewership in approximately 190,000 homes. Last season’s ratings translated into approximately 103,000 homes, while 2010’s ratings were about 93,400 homes. Fans are definitely taking note of the team that has represented the American League in the past two World Series and are off to a red-hot start this year.