Call it the home-field advantage. Call it luck. Call it whatever you want, the 2011 Texas Rangers have it.
The Rangers essentially "stole" Game 2 of the ALCS 7-3 on Monday evening with a walk-off grand slam, courtesy of the "Boom Stick" himself, Nelson Cruz.
The Rangers encountered just about every reason imaginable to lose this pivotal Game 2 matchup, as lefty Derek Holland failed to find his control and went a mediocre two-and-two-thirds innings.
Detroit lefty Max Scherzer was on cruise control after giving three runs early in the contest, and the Rangers squandered opportunity after opportunity to take the lead after getting into the Detroit bullpen. And perhaps no missed opportunity spelled doom for the Fightin' Ron Washingtons more-so than a bases loaded, no out, bottom of the ninth that the Rangers would see David Murphy pop out and Mitch Moreland cue shot a double-play ball to Miguel Cabrera.
These are all reason why teams LOSE, in the playoffs.
But not these Rangers.
There was an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary that aired last year, chronicling the late-game mastery of one Reggie Miller. It was aptly dubbed "Winning Time."
And while it is too early to suggest that these Rangers possess the same mettle that came so naturally to Indiana's most famous Pacer, it is not too far of a stretch to think that they are learning.
Neftali Feliz—who has pitched one-plus innings only five times this season—bridged the gap for a well-utilized Rangers 'pen that was forced into eight-and-a-third innings of relief, came up huge.
And then there was Scott Feldman, the oft-maligned long reliever, who, since his 17-win season in 2008, has been more of a contractual albatross for the Rangers, gave a solid four-and-two-third innings of long relief.
And who can forget Nellie Cruz? The burly Dominican provided the "Boom" the Rangers were missing throughout most of Game 2 when the team needed it the most. As a Ranger fan, it was difficult to not sit and listen to the game and think that this game would be the undoing of the Rangers, as it has so often been in previous seasons.
But these Rangers are different. Likely better than the surprise World Series participants they were last year.
The bullpen—that now features the likes of Mike Adams, Darren Oliver, Neftali Feliz, Mike Gonzalez, Feldman, the currently "in the doghouse" Koji Uehara, and who can forget, Alexi Ogando—has been a noticeable strength of the Rangers.
It has been discussed ad nauseum by baseball pundits everywhere but only in the capacity of how the Rangers can shorten a game when they have the lead.
Tonight, Feldman, Feliz and the gang managed to stop the bleeding until the Rangers (or at the very least Nelson Cruz) could find their stroke at the plate.
Then there is the depth of the Rangers lineup.
Top to bottom, it would be difficult to make a case that any team in Major League Baseball has a better 1-9 than the Rangers. ESPN Dallas columnist Jim Reeves made an analogy to the song "Sixteen Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford, regarding the potency throughout the order, emphasizing the lyrics "if the left one don't get ya, the right one will."
Top to bottom, the Rangers were quite balanced throughout, but there are times when the Rangers rely heavily on the likes of David Murphy, Mike Napoli and Cruz (who hits seventh). None of whom bat in a traditional run-producing spot in the order. But then again, that's the mark of a team that finds a way to win.
And then there is Ron Washington.
Too often in past years has the lexiconically-challenged Ranger brain trust been the target of criticism. Not only for his grammar, but also for in-game management. Yet, for some reason, this postseason, Washington has pushed all the right buttons.
In Game 2 of the ALDS, trusted reliever Koji Uehara was brought in for his customary eighth-inning role, only to give up a three-run homer to Matt Joyce of the Rays. The old Ron Washington would have left Koji in there, seeing how the Rangers still maintained a two-run cushion. As I pled for Uehara to get the hook, Washington did the unthinkable: He acquiesced to my sports bar plea.
Similarly, Washington has made David Murphy a mainstay in the postseason lineup, regardless of the pitching matchup. Further, Washington had the foresight to know that Monday evening wasn't on Holland's side, so, rather than wait until the damage was done, Washington made the call to Feldman, who provided four-and-two-third innings of shutout relief.
Yes, these Rangers are different. From staving off a hard-charging Angels team at the close of the season, to mustering the resiliency it takes to win bullpen-depleting marathons, the Rangers can harken back to the marketing campaign of yester-season.
"It's Time" goes the slogan. Now its "Winning time."
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