I woke up this morning to a wonderful song buzzing out of my cell phone's alarm (Nas's "Good Morning," for anyone who actually cares, which I realize nobody does), and the sun brilliantly shining through my apartment window, and, for a few fleeting seconds right after I regained consciousness, this was an excellent morning ... and then I realized that yesterday actually did happen. Damn it. Anyway, here are a few thoughts on last night's game and perhaps the reality of Rangers fandom right now:
● What a thoroughly, almost impossibly maddening start from Yu Darvish (6.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 HR), who, in all fairness, missed bats and induced a satisfactory number of ground balls and all of that -- but was hurt by some balls that crept through the infield, hurt by some extra bases that were uncharacteristically allowed on the defensive end, hurt by his high, early-game and exceedingly stressful pitch count, and hurt by his perpetually shaky command, with a particularly painful moment transpiring when he went 0-2 with two outs on Kevin Youkilis, caught too much of the plate with a 96 mph heater, and watched it fly for a two-run homer that cut an early 4-1 lead to 4-3.
I love Darvish. He is capable of doing incredible things and pitching incredible games. We've all seen him do it. I think, though, that Darvish is also somebody who is contributing to the apprehension of the fan base as a whole, and its corresponding desire for a top-of-the-rotation starter, because we look at his on-and-off nature of his brilliance on the bump, and then can't help but wonder how that's going to translate into a post-season environment. We hate that coin-flip proposition, and, yes, the chances of Darvish being good on a given night are better than 50-50 ... but, well, you get my point.
● With men on first and second base and nobody out in the bottom of the fifth inning (courtesy of a Craig Gentry hit-by-pitch and an Ian Kinsler walk), and with the Rangers trailing 5-4 at that point in the game, Elvis Andrus strode to the plate with an opportunity to alter the Rangers' fortunes with one swing of the bat -- at which point of the more maddening (sensing a trend here?) at-bats of the Rangers' season took place, as Elvis showed bunt on each of the five pitches during his at-bat, and watched as the count went from 1-0 to 1-1 to 2-1 to 2-2 (foul bunt) to an inexplicable strike three call, as Elvis pulled his bat back from the bunting position and watched a Chris Sale pitch sail right down the heart of the plate. Josh Hamilton then proceeded to strike out, and Adrian Beltre followed suit. Rally over.
Now, clearly, that's a poor job of execution on Elvis's end, and for that he should be held culpable -- but a better question here is, why on earth are the Rangers giving away outs when they're on the losing end of a one-run deficit, in a game where nine runs have already been scored in fewer than five innings? Why in the hell was the bunt still on even after he had finangled hitter's counts at 1-0 and 2-1? For that matter, why on earth are you giving up an out and attempting to advance the baserunners when you have Josh Hamilton coming up next to face an excellent lefty pitcher? Yeah, I'm engaging in a certain amount of dead horse beating right here, as I'm pretty sure most of you realize my position on sacrifice bunts, but this one in particular is nothing short of mind-blowing.
As recently as late May, Elvis was vocalizing confidence in his emergent doubles-power stroke and offensive game as a whole, and even with last night's 0-for-4 mixed in (which, incidentally, snapped a 13-game hitting streak), he still boasts a .370 on-base percentage on the season and viable gap-to-gap power. He also leads all of baseball in sacrifice bunts, with 12 (one more than the two guys tied for second place, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Capuano -- both of whom are National League pitchers), and is tied for second in baseball in sacrifice-bunt attempts with 14. And, to be honest, we don't know with total certainty whether that bunt was ordered by the dugout or whether Elvis bunted of his own volition ... but we have some past evidence that breeds a pretty damn good guess.
Sacrifice bunts. Argh.
● There were plenty of other fail-type moments that I could get into, but the biggest story in that regard on the night was Josh Hamilton, who did drive a couple of runs across the plate but went 0-for-4 in the process, and struggled defensively at his post in left field ... and also found himself as the recipient of some noticeably loud boos, which, to my recollection, is the first time that Hamilton has ever actually been booed by the Ballpark contingent. Afterwards, he offered his thoughts on the matter:
"It's disappointing. I'll leave it at that," Hamilton said. "I hadn't even thought about it. I noticed but it's all about, 'What have you done for me lately?', no matter who you are. That's what it is. There's more fans that are still cheering and encouraging me. I'll pray for the ones that aren't. I appreciate the support from the other ones."
I would go ahead and surmise that, in addition to the extended period of bad hitting and perceived lack of defensive effort last night, the fact that both Ron Washington and Nolan Ryan called him out this past week for the #slack in his gameplay probably has a little something to do with the heightened sensitivity of the fan base to his struggles. This incident was also significant because it was the first real, noticeable crack in the Ballpark crowd's typically unyielding devotion to Hamilton. I'm sure he'll do something good again soon in front of the home faithful and this whole incident will fade into memory, but, yeah, you can't help but find this interesting.
● And, finally, I've already talked about this at some length, but we had yet another game last night where it just wasn't fun to watch the Rangers play, and where the enjoyment -- outside of the four-spot that the Rangers put up in the first inning against Chris Sale -- on our end was, for the most part, non-existent. We're supposed to enjoy this, and, again, I get that our heightened expectations are, to some extent, responsible for our diminishing enjoyment of Rangers baseball ... but even if we didn't have any expectations, I feel like last night still would have still sucked. It's tough. This team is very good, and this team could very well win it all this year, but, right now, it just isn't fun to watch.