Every now and again, perhaps once or twice every calendar year, we'll stumble into one of those games crammed with enough material that you could write an entire book using only the events of that single game. This was one of those games, and, ultimately, this ended up being one of those rare games that evoked just about every emotion that could conceivably arise from a baseball game. We cheered, we despaired, we roared excitedly, we laughed, we despaired some more, we got angry, we despaired yet again ... and then, in the span of a few short seconds, it all ended up being okay.
With all of that fully in mind, here are five bullet points on a game that stretched right to the brink of the five-hour mark, that tested the faculties of our patience to the breaking point, and that probably won't be forgotten any time soon:
● From a start-to-start, granular standpoint, Colby Lewis is a strange pitcher. He's not strange-looking, nor does the repertoire really approach what we might regard as strange, and I don't think his full-season numbers over the last few years stand out as especially strange, but at some point along the line, he seems to have developed this penchant for strange outings. Sixteen days ago, there was the historic seven-inning, five-homer, 12-strikeout effort in Baltimore ... this afternoon, however, we had this line to try and decipher: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 97 pitches. From an historic standpoint, this is only the 13th time in franchise history that a Rangers starter has recorded six or more strikeouts and no walks while allowing at least 10 hits. I think that falls very much within the purview of "strange."
When we glance at a pitcher's final line for his day, and see that he has amassed more strikeouts than innings pitched and yielded no walks, we're preconditioned to think that said pitcher had pretty good command working in his favor, and that the ball-in-play outcomes will reflect the quality of that command. We certainly don't anticipate nearly two hits for every inning pitched. Today, however, was the exception; the Blue Jays made some decent contact and collected some legitimate hits in spite of Lewis's hammer-the-outer-third-of-the-zone approach, but they were also the beneficiaries of luck on several notable occasions, including during a bizarre sixth inning where:
(a) Elvis Andrus gobbled up a routine grounder with Eric Thames on second base and one out in a 2-2 game, and, instead of taking the easy out at first base, mistakenly tried to gun down Thames at third base; Thames slid head-first under the throw and made it to the bag with relative ease, and Brett Lawrie sprinted to first base uncontested, which then brought to the plate ...
(b) David Cooper, who stroked a grounder at exactly the spot where Elvis Andrus would have been standing had he not been running to cover second base on an attempted steal by Lawrie; the ball scooted into center field as the ninth hit of the day against Lewis, the Blue Jays scored their first run of the inning, and runners stood on first and third base with one out for ...
(c) Omar Vizquel, who dropped an apparent suicide squeeze down the first base line (though he still boasts the wheels to beat such a bunt out, even at 45 years young), and left a very poor-fielding Colby Lewis at his mercy. There was no throw to any base, the Blue Jays scored their second run of the inning and recorded their 10th hit of the game off Lewis, and that was the end of the line, with what should have probably been six full innings of two- or three-run ball taking an unfortunate 5.1-inning, four-run turn. It happens, I guess.
Lewis, for the season, is now sitting on fielding-independent ratios of 8.1 strikeouts, 1.2 walks, and 1.9 home runs per nine innings. No pitcher in baseball history has ever even come close to sustaining such extreme ratios over the spans of entire major league seasons; in fact, the only two pitchers in baseball history to sustain full-season rates of 7.0 K/9 (or more), 2.0 BB/9 (or fewer), and 1.5 HR/9 (or more) are Bert Blyleven (in 1986, with 7.1 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, and 1.7 HR/9 over 271.2 innings), and Eric Milton (in 2000, with 7.2 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, and 1.6 HR/9 over 200.0 innings). I guess that's one way of saying that, yes, Lewis's full-season numbers actually are taking a serious turn for the stranger.
● In the second and fourth innings, Ian Kinsler grounded into a bases-loaded double play and a vanilla one-out double play, respectively, and, from what I could tell, riled up the Twitterverse on both sides, with some people ripping him due to his seeming lack of hustle and/or lack of caring since he got his contract extension, some people taking up his defense, and others, like me, finding the momentary uproar highly amusing. In other news, Kinsler recorded a double, a hit-by-pitch, a single, and the walk that ignited the game-winning rally in the bottom of the 13th inning, and is now hitting .286/.359/.454 with a 120 wRC+ on the season, with a five-plus win season also being very much within reach.
Do you know how many other major league second basemen boast a 120 wRC+ (or better) right now? There's Omar Infante (161 wRC+), who's playing way over his head. There's the Astros' Jose Altuve (136 wRC+), who is admittedly pretty damn fun to watch. There's the Yankees' Robinson Cano (126 wRC+), who's arguably on a Hall of Fame career trajectory. And then there's Kinsler. He's still fighting the same perception problem he fought last year, albeit with a new and somehow even more asinine "he got paid and now he doesn't care anymore" flavor mixed in for good measure, but he's still one of the finest masters of the keystone that this great game has to offer, and, regardless of whether you want to admit it or not, he's going to make a legitimate run at going down as one of the greatest Rangers in the history of this franchise.
● Before the frustrating events that came to pass during the late innings, but after Lewis was finished for the afternoon, we had the distinct privilege of witnessing three consecutive home runs from Nelson Cruz, Yorvit Torrealba, and Mitch Moreland off of Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez -- an improbable troika of two-out successes that collectively vaulted the Rangers' win expectancy from 23.0 percent to 68.2 percent. The next batter, Ian Kinsler, jack-knifed out of the way of a 1-2 fastball, and a trigger-happy Marty Foster blew up Alvarez a few seconds later, despite never having issued any type of warning to either dugout. The crowd, as you might expect, exploded with delight, and Toronto manager John Farrell immediately sprinted out of the dugout in protest, albeit to little avail.
Look, I get that Alvarez was probably done after the Kinsler at-bat anyway (Kinsler went on to pop out against left-hander Luis Perez, thereby ending the inning), and that the umpiring crew may have perceived some tension on the Blue Jays' part after Friday night's beatdown and that three-homer outburst, and that Foster likely ejected Alvarez with the intent of defusing what he thought to be a flammable situation ... but I don't like the precedent set by that sort of decision, given that there was no actual reason to believe that Alvarez was throwing at Kinsler (an intentional HBP on a two-out, two-strike count in a one-run game? Really?), and given that there had been no warnings issued at any point leading up to his ejection. I'm with Jason Cole on this one. Foster has to ease up off the trigger in that spot. That also applies to his, um, peers.
● The bunts. Oh God. The bunts. There was that attempted first-inning Elvis Andrus sacrifice bunt-turned-fielder's choicethat has become an annoyingly commonplace piece of "strategy" (the kind of strategy that reduces your team's expected scoring output), but the real fun within the excitable realm of the Twitterverse kicked off in the ninth and eleventh innings, when Andrus strode to the plate twice with Kinsler on first base as the winning run and nobody out, and gave a free out to the Blue Jays on both occasions.
In the ninth inning, this had the predictable effect of taking the bat out of Josh Hamilton's hands, as Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen simply walked Hamilton with first base open and enjoyed the dual benefits of (a) not facing Hamilton and (b) opening up force-out opportunities at both second and third base. That particular scoring chance went nowhere, with neither Adrian Beltre nor Michael Young being able to cash in with the game on the line, and Darren Oliver extinguished the Rangers' 11th-inning scoring opportunity by inducing ground outs from both Hamilton and Beltre. Two innings later, Andrus actually received the chance to bat with Kinsler again on first base and the Rangers down two runs, and showcased his emergent power by ripping a huge double to deep center field. Go figure.
We've dealt with Ron Washington's odd proclivity for the Elvis Andrus sacrifice bunt for a long time. Two years ago, Andrus amassed eight sacrifice bunts through May 19th; on that same date, his on-base percentage was .421. After this afternoon's three-bunt effort, Andrus leads all of baseball with (yet again) seven sacrifice bunts in spite of a .385 on-base percentage. It's needless, and it's frustrating, especially when the historical data shows that your chances of scoring any kind of runs at all decrease by going from a man-on-first, no-out situation to a man-on-second, one-out situation ... and, where today was concerned, it was a decision that very nearly blew up in the Rangers' faces.
With that said, I'm not especially interested in setting off another heated discussion about Washington's in-game maneuvers and how saber-friendly they truly are. I'm glad he's managing this team. I want him to continue managing this team. That doesn't mean I'm able to justify every decision he makes in my own mind, though, nor does it mean I'm able to let any and all questionable decisions go. For what it's worth, the decision to lift Mitch Moreland with Darren Oliver being summoned from the bullpen and the winning run on third base in the tenth inning didn't exactly irk me; I'm just not sure Mike Napoli or Brandon Snyder were significantly better bets to pay off, though.
● I doubt that Josh Hamilton is going to be back in Texas next season. I have a hard time selling myself on the notion that he's going to produce enough value over the life of his next contract to justify the total dollar figure (especially if there's any merit whatsoever to the idea of him netting more than $150 million), and I think that the Rangers, guided by a very value-conscious and sagacious front office as they are, will fall short of what Hamilton is seeking, and figure out some way to mitigate his departure in terms of wins lost. I'm not happy about it, because watching Hamilton suit up for your team is a special experience, but I'm at peace with that eventuality if it should come to pass.
I include that sobering paragraph here because if these should end up being Hamilton's last months in Texas, what he did today with the last pitch of the game will go down as one of our fondest memories of his farewell tour. He was tired, he was dehydrated, he had just one hit and a walk to show for his six plate appearances ... but Jason Frasor left a pitch just a bit out over the plate, Hamilton locked in on his target, and the ball exploded off the bat, not deigning to land until it had soared some 420 feet over the center field fence and saved a game that very nearly slipped away.
Hamilton has clubbed more exciting home runs in his life. He singlehandedly won a game with the Rangers down to their last strike against K-Rod some four years ago. He slugged a monstrous walk-off homer against Andrew Bailey last summer. He almost won the World Series during the final hour of Game 6. Hell, his fourth homer on that one special night in Baltimore a few weeks ago was arguably more exciting than what transpired today. Up until today, though, I'm not sure he had ever pegged a homer that came as a bigger personal relief. I wasn't sure I could stand another 4-5 innings of that kind of baseball ... unless, of course, it could have all circled back around to cookie talk.