If you're a believer in some of the nearly-unbelievable rumors that proliferated through the Twittersphere late Wednesday afternoon, then you're looking back at last night's Game 4 and thinking, "Damn, that game was supposedly almost postponed ... for The X-Factor." I sincerely doubt that we're ever going to hear anything official about that aspect of the broadcast night, but perhaps that's just as well ... because if we were to discover after the fact that last night's magical extra-inning affair really was nearly snuffed out by an American Idol rehash, we'd probably be left feeling like we had just narrowly averted a collision on the interstate.
Since that game wasn't postponed, however, and since the Rangers prevailed to leave themselves needing just one win in three games to secure the American League pennant, here are some fast bullet points:
● There were an inordinate number of unforgettable moments last night during a game that may have topped every other game during the Rangers' currrent playoff run (Jim Leyland, in fact, called it one of the best games he's ever been a part of), but the moment I think I'm going to carry to my deathbed is the single most important throw in Rangers history -- the Nelson Cruz one-hopper to nail Miguel Cabrera by a good 8-10 feet at the end of the bottom of the eighth inning, and then the incredible instincts put on display by Mike Napoli, who properly braced himself for a steamrolling from Cabrera and then made damn sure not to lose his grasp of the ball during the ensuing tumble backwards.
If Cruz air-mails that throw, or if that throw is off the plate by a margin greater than 2-3 feet either way, the Tigers lead after eight innings, the Rangers' backs are pinned against the wall where Game 4 is concerned, and they're looking at having to beat Justin Verlander today to avoid falling behind 3-2 in the series and having to win Game 6 -- with Derek Holland on the bump, which gives even his biggest supporters good cause to gulp -- just to force a Game 7. From that standpoint, that Cruz-to-Napoli long-distance hookup has likely usurped the title of single most significant defensive play in franchise history, and is undoubtedly up there with some of the all-time great post-season plays.
● While I'm still thinking of it, here's a statistic to chew on -- in 1,348 regular-season plate appearances at Comerica Park, Miguel Cabrera has clobbered a home run 71 times and a double 80 times. That works out to a combined double-plus-homer rate of 11.2 percent ... and let's be clear in saying that those are the two eventualities that scared Ron Washington and company the most when they decided to have Mike Adams go ahead and walk him with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning. He doesn't hit triples, period, so you're looking at around a 1-in-10 chance of Cabrera making it further than first base on a single swing -- a chance depressed further by the fact that Adams, an extremely competent right-handed reliever, was opposing Cabrera.
Three pitchers after the intentional walk's issuance, Cabrera was standing atop third base with just one out as the potential game-winning run, and it took some high-quality pitching from Adams and that miraculous Cruz laser beam to avert disaster. Only nine other intentional walks had been issued in post-season history with nobody on base before last night, and all nine of those came with two outs in a given inning. Both that half-inning and the top of the 11th inning -- which featured an ill-advised intentional walk to Adrian Beltre with a runner on second and one out -- functioned as good illustrations of the folly in dishing out free bases to the opposing lineup, with the key difference between the two game states being this: the Rangers escaped their jam. The Tigers? Not so much.
● As far as why the Tigers didn't escape from their own high-risk game state unscathed, you had Napoli lashing a single back into center field to plate Josh Hamilton (whose lead-off double to incite that 11th-inning rally was priceless), and then Cruz ringing the death knell with his monster three-run shot. One inning earlier, Napoli killed Austin Jackson at second base with one of the most gorgeous catcher-to-second frozen ropes from a Rangers backstop this season, and, of course, two innings before that, he completed his end of Cruz's game-saving outfield assist. If you want to keep throwing around "price tag" inflation/deflation talk where C.J. Wilson is concerned, that's fine, I guess ... but both Napoli's regular season and post-season have vaulted him into the best-catcher-in-baseball discussion, and barring a really disappointing 2012 season, Napoli is going to get paid a lot of money in large part because of his two-way greatness in 2011.