The stalemate lasted much deeper into the night than the Ballpark faithful could have reasonably anticipated (almost four hours in total), and, to be honest, I'm not sure that it was good baseball or entertaining baseball as much as it was plodding, anxiety-laced baseball, with abundant pitching changes, lots of wasted scoring opportunities, and so on. Notwithstanding Adrian Beltre's solo clout with one out in the sixth inning, the Rangers advanced at least one runner to second and/or third base in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings without managing to produce a run, and the Twins did the same from innings seven through ten. A very strange, very long game, that was.
It was also -- for whatever this is worth -- the first Rangers home game to end on a walk-off double in a little more than three years, and only the sixth such game to finish on such a note since the year 2000, as Nelson Cruz sent the narrative-seeking types into hyperdrive by going 3-for-5 on the night that he was finally pushed ahead of a flailing Michael Young in the batting order, and injected some momentary redemption into his underwhelming 2012 campaign by smashing an 0-2 double to the wall for the 10th-inning game-winner. Here, by the way, are the last five Rangers walk-off doubles to precede Cruz's heroics, including the still-legendary Dellucci Double:
|2009-05-13||Hank Blalock||SEA||Brandon Morrow||down 5-4||b11||12-||1||2 (1-0)||0.65|
|2008-07-29||Ramon Vazquez||SEA||J.J. Putz||down 10-9||b9||12-||1||5 (2-2)||0.65|
|2005-09-17||Hank Blalock||SEA||Eddie Guardado||tied 6-6||b9||1--||1||4 (2-1)||0.36|
|2004-09-23||David Dellucci||OAK||Octavio Dotel||down 4-3||b9||1-3||2||6 (2-2)||0.78|
|2001-09-04||Gabe Kapler||MIN||LaTroy Hawkins||down 5-4||b9||1-3||0||2 (1-0)||0.33|
Before the Cruz double, though, there was that slight matter of the Rangers' bullpen needing to match the Twins' bullpen zero for zero until the offense could finally push across that one necessary run, and here, yet again, we had a case of the Texas bullpen figuring out some way to ride out the storm. Tanner Scheppers was iffy, and Robbie Ross was frighteningly human in that he yielded multiple walks in an appearance for the first time in his major league career, and the go-ahead run ended up making it to third base in both of Joe Nathan's innings of work ... but none of the three capitulated, and they ultimately combined for four scoreless frames in a triumphant effort.
That's a nice little accomplishment in its own right, but let's think for a moment about what that means from a win probability standpoint. I've brought the Tom Tango-invented and Jonah Keri-popularized concept of 'shutdowns' (SDs) and 'meltdowns' (MD) to light here before, but in case you missed that, here's a capsule refresher course: the two statistics are premised on win probability, whereby a 'shutdown' is any appearance by a relief pitcher where he adds at least six percent to his team's win expectancy (or, in other words, posts at least a +.06 WPA for the game), and a 'meltdown' is essentially the exact opposite (-.06 WPA or worse in a single game).
Basically, you covet 'shutdown' appearances from your relievers, because those are generally going to be outings where your late-inning weapons of choice stepped it up in higher-leverage spots and slammed the door shut, and, for pretty obvious reasons, you're going to detest 'meltdown' appearances. Now, chew on this: through 85 games, the Rangers' bullpen has amassed 56 SDs to only 15 MDs, for a ratio of 3.7 shutdowns for every one meltdown. No other major league bullpen in at least the last 39 years -- which is as far back as FanGraphs' database runs -- has managed anything close to that sort of ratio over a full season; the closest would be the 1990 Athletics bullpen, which piled up 87 shutdowns against 27 meltdowns and generated a 3.2 SD-to-MD ratio.
That may all be a little tricky to digest, so let me restate my overarching point here: in this era of the modern-day bullpen and strict usage patterns and defined roles, the 2012 Rangers bullpen has remarkably, almost impossibly proficient at holding the line in the late innings. Case in point: if the Rangers sustain their current SD/MD pace over the remainder of the season, the bullpen will allow just 29 meltdowns by the end of this year's 162-game regular season schedule; there hasn't been a bullpen that has allowed so few meltdowns in a season since, once again, the 1990 Athletics. The only other bullpen since then to even come close was the 1992 Blue Jays bullpen, with 30 meltdowns. Both teams stormed to the World Series, with the former losing it and the latter winning it all.
And that's a Rangers bullpen that, at present, lacks Neftali Feliz (who will almost certainly return to a late-inning role upon being activated), Alexi Ogando, Mark Lowe, and Koji Uehara ... which sends one more major consideration bubbling up to the surface. There's a lot of conjecture out there about how the Rangers need to swing a big mid-season deal in part because they're likely going to lose Josh Hamilton after this year, and because they might be inclined to go ahead and swing for the World Series fences while Hamilton is still around -- but you also have to consider the possibility that the 2013 bullpen will be significantly weaker than this year's iteration, as Uehara, Lowe, and Mike Adams will all have a chance to test the open market, Nathan will be another year older, Ross and/or Feliz might be transferred to the rotation, and on it goes.
Yeah, you really don't want to see what will probably be Hamilton's last year in Texas come and go with no title ... but you also really don't want to see this historic bullpen come and go with no title, either, because this is an extraordinary collection of talent that has gelled magnificently well over the first half of the 2012 season, and it's only going to be that much tougher to make it to the top of the baseball mountain when you inevitably find that you can't replicate that kind of bullpen performance beyond 2012.