Rangers 7, Angels 6
Nelson Cruz couldn't have picked a better time for his first home run of the year.
With one swing of the bat, the 26-year-old Cruz ended the Rangers' 0-5 slide against the Angels this year, with a majestic opposite field blast on an 0-1 pitch from Scot Shields in the bottom of the 9th inning on Sunday afternoon. One of the biggest criticisms of Cruz this season has been that he can't handle offspeed pitches - he certainly handled Shields' 81 MPH pitch on the outer half of the plate.
Josh Lewin had been explaining moments before the "Cruz Missile" struck that Nelson's mother and grandmother were in the stands, and how he wanted to please them on Mother's Day. It may be one of the first times Lewin has ever had good timing in saying something. Cruz's home run marked Texas's first walkoff win since May 25th, 2006, when the recently retired Phil Nevin hit a walkoff home run to dead center field off closer Huston Street. As you may recall, the Rangers trailed 7-0 in that game after five innings.
Of course, this game didn't look like it would end well for a while. Mike Wood was hit hard for his second straight time out, surrendering five runs (four of them earned) on seven hits and a walk in just four innings of work. The crushing stat was his three home runs allowed - a two-run shot to Gary Matthews Jr. in the 1st inning, and then back-to-back shots to Shea Hillenbrand and Mike Napoli in the 4th. Kevin Millwood returns to the rotation for today's game, so Wood's headed back to Oklahoma City.
Ian Kinsler hit a huge home run in the 3rd inning to tie the game at 2-2, his first since April 29th in Toronto. He had been in a 1 for 25 slump, with his OPS dropping 200 points during that timeframe. Mark Teixeira chipped in with an RBI double later in the inning, but the lead would be short lived after Anaheim's back-to-back home runs. Hank Blalock tied the game again in the 4th with a mighty blast into the right field seats, while GMJ and Brad Wilkerson traded two-run blasts in the 5th and 6th innings, respectively.
It certainly seemed like Joaquin Benoit would melt down in the 7th inning. After allowing a leadoff double to Vlad, Benoit drilled GMJ in the side with a fastball, prompting a verbal exchange between the former teammates. After getting an earful from Ron Washington, Benoit gave up a single to Casey Kotchman, loading the bases. In one of the most clutch performances of Benoit's career, he induced Erick Aybar and Hillenbrand into popouts, and Napoli into a groundout to escape the threat. Sure, they're not exactly world beaters, but still an impressive escape.
Hector Carrasco came in to begin the bottom of the 7th inning, and promptly hit Ian Kinsler in the head. Home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez immediately ejected him from the game, while Mike Scioscia came barreling out of Anaheim's dugout to protest; he would be ejected several minutes later as well.
First of all, I don't think there was intent by Carrasco to hit Kinsler, because it was a relatively harmless breaking ball which glanced off of Kinsler's helmet. If old Hector wanted to retaliate, he would have stuck a fastball in Kinsler's side. Secondly, the reason why Carrasco was immediately ejected after the Kinsler HBP, according to Alfonso Marquez, was because it was a pitch that hit him in the head - it had nothing to do with the type of pitch, and if it had hit Kinsler anywhere else, Carrasco would have been allowed to stay in the game, with merely a warning sent to both dugouts.
I can see Marquez's logic here, but after taking off my Rangers blinders, I don't really think Carrasco needed to be ejected. And I can sort of see why Scioscia was so angry, because there was never a warning issued to the teams after Matthews was hit. There's kind of a jump in the level of discipline there.
Joaquin Benoit blamed using the "wrong grip" on the fastball which nailed Matthews, but I'm not sure I buy that. Sure, two men on base is obviously worse than just one, but you have to remember that GMJ had already hammered two home runs earlier in the game. Also, first base was open, and putting Gary on base set up a possible double play. Benoit may have decided to pitch around Gary, but said "screw it" and instead saved on his pitch count by putting the first pitch in GMJ's side.
It's not exactly behavior worth condoning from a guy who already doesn't have the best reputation around baseball. Given the hostility between the Angels and Rangers stemming back to last season, today's series finale should be very interesting.
Will Sunday's dramatic walkoff win spark this team into playing better, more consistent baseball? Somehow, I doubt it.
But I can dream.
Monday, May 14th Game Preview
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (21-17) at Texas Rangers (15-22)
Jered Weaver (1-3, 4.26 ERA) vs. Kevin Millwood (2-3, 5.88 ERA)
1:05 PM CST in Arlington, Texas (Rangers Ballpark in Arlington)
TV: KDFI/My27 | Radio: KRLD 1080 AM