It seemed destined to become the eminent convention-shattering game in a season that has already defied so many of our expectations and beliefs, and, for seven innings, that's exactly what it was. The Rangers were positioned to rid themselves of the never-won-a-home-playoff-game distinction, and were taking the iconoclastic hammer to the notion that post-season experience is of great significance; actually, nothing that transpired after the seventh inning suggested otherwise, as the biggest goat of the game on the pitching side (Darren Oliver) has a whopping six seasons' worth of post-season experience underneath his belt. But I'm rambling now.
And I suppose I should be rambling with ferocity and anguish lacing each word that spills forth from my keyboard, but that isn't the case. I'm disappointed, but calm. The series isn't over, despite whatever media-borne hyperbole you might stumble upon that argues to the contrary. Texas has pulled this resiliency act far too many times this year for me to even begin to count. Believe it or not, teams actually do recover from late-inning, purportedly "devastating" losses in the playoffs -- or losses of any sort, really -- and advance into the next round. You're more than welcome to feel discouraged or even feel some pervading sense of dread, but if you've hung tough with this team all year (or, in particular, through all of those frustrating years that were necessary to get to this exact moment), now is not the time to turn your back on it.
Last night's debacle reminds me of one game in particular, and why this game has lingered in the recesses of my mind for more than a decade is anybody's guess: April 27th, 1999. In short, Texas dropped five runs on Roger Clemens before the second out of the bottom of the first inning was recorded, and it seemed that would be sufficient run support to carry Aaron Sele and company ... but it wasn't, and Jeff Zimmerman and John Wetteland ultimately allowed three runs in the final three innings of the game to lose to the Yankees by a 7-6 margin. The two collapses differed in the specifics, but mirrored each other in that the Rangers jumped ahead of New York early in both cases, and then watched their offense enter "Operation Shutdown" mode while the Yankees methodically whittled away at the respective deficits.
Manager Ron Washington contends that his eighth-inning bullpen machinations were not a problem and that he had the pitchers in the game that he wanted in the game -- and yet, I find myself questioning why Darren Oliver was summoned into the game in relief of C.J. Wilson when both Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira have materially inferior career splits from the left side of the plate (vs. right-handers), and, if the manager/pitching coach had enough trust in Oliver to use him in spite of his shaky first-round performance, why Neftali Feliz didn't receive the same benefit of the doubt and somehow figure into the high-leverage mayhem. Or, hell, even Alexi Ogando.
Ultimately, though, the bullpen management wasn't the real catastrophe here -- the performance was, as Oliver couldn't find the strike zone in yielding two walks to Swisher/Teixeira, Darren O'Day permitted a hard-hit single to Alex Rodriguez (albeit one that likely shouldn't have happened), Clay Rapada couldn't fulfill his sole obligation (that is, neutralizing Robinson Cano, who whacked the game-tying single against Rapada), and the offense couldn't accomplish much of anything after Josh Hamilton's seemingly momentum-setting blast in the first inning. Texas didn't lose because of one singularly monstrous failing, but rather because of a game-long series of smaller, individually innocuous failings that proved fatal to the Rangers' chances as they slowly compounded.
I almost don't feel quite right railing on Michael Young considering that he did smash a two-run double, but his matador act on Rodriguez's sharply struck eighth-inning grounder was infuriating -- and sadly predictable. Young is who he is defensively, which is a glaring inadequacy on the left side of the infield; it's simply unfortunate that this particular inadequacy had to enter into play at this critical juncture in such an important game. Nobody's going to argue that it was an easy ball to field, but it was easy to block, at the very least; instead, he stood transfixed, dropped to a squatting position and awkwardly extended his glove, almost as though he hoped he would just get lucky and the ball would magically find his glove. It didn't, and he later remarked that while he would have loved to have made the play, he wouldn't "lose any sleep over [it]." I'll leave you to ponder whether that was the appropriate remark after such a tough playoff loss.
And, of course, there was Ian Kinsler getting picked off first base by Kerry Wood with nobody out in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Rangers trailing by a mere run; that single play dinged the Rangers' win expectancy (WE) by 16.3 percent, which is nearly double the WE hit that Texas would have incurred if then-batting David Murphy had just gone ahead and struck out with Kinsler still residing on first base. I get that you live and die by the aggressive baserunning dictum, and that it meaningfully contributed to the Rangers' Game 5 win, but ... yeah, just mind-numbing. The ALCS is definitely not over, but things have to get better today, or else tomorrow is going to be a really tough day.