Today's second game is coming up on us very quick, so here's a few hundred words on what just ensued, and we'll leave it at that for the time being:
● Yu Darvish was good, but not great, and this ended up being one of those games where a more home-friendly confluence of dominance and luck was needed to put the game safely out of reach. He did manage to extend his running streaks of consecutive starts with three or fewer runs allowed (eight) and two or fewer walks allowed (seven), and he actually did a quality job of inducing weak contact (just three well-hit balls allowed, good for one of his lower single-start marks of the season), but there isn't always a real great correlation between hard contact and hits allowed, and Darvish's nine hits allowed shot the wheels off any hope of him being able to run 8-9 innings deep. He also allowed his first home run since August 17th in a game where that home run ended up mattering a whole lot, so, yeah, there were problems ... on a different afternoon, three runs over 6.2 innings is good enough to coast to a win, but not on this afternoon.
● The Rangers' offense plated four runs in its first three innings of Game 1 -- two runs on a photogenic Nelson Cruz blast, and then two more runs when the Rangers strung together a nifty little two-out rally that stretched their lead to 4-1 and swung their win expectancy above and beyond 85 percent. After the third inning, they failed to score once, and saw two particularly juicy opportunities come and go when (a) a man-on-third, one-out situation was squandered in the eighth inning (Josh Hamilton whiffed swinging on three consecutive 74 mph curveballs from Scott Downs, followed by an intentional walk and ground out to kill the threat), and (b) all three of the Rangers' hitters in the ninth inning got ahead of Ernesto Frieri with 2-0 counts. None of the three reached base.
● Joe Nathan, of course, didn't have his usual command, and paid dearly for it during a shaky ninth inning where Torii Hunter administered the coup de grace on a hanging middle-up slider, which brought about such painful MLB.tv screenshots as these:
And in the morning, word flowed down from the Rangers' beats that Mike Adams had been diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The immediate hope is that Adams can cool down the aggravation in his arm with some additional rest and still return in some capacity for the post-season while deferring surgery until the post-season, but there's an obvious and very real risk that Adams will have to be shut down in the near future, and that would leave you with Nathan, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara, Robbie Ross, and (probably) Tanner Scheppers as the Rangers' primary late-inning armament in October.
Everyone in that group except for Uehara has been subject to some questions about their health/effectiveness/durability over the last month or two, all of which speaks to the inherent fickleness of bullpens -- this is a talented unit, a unit that is good enough to hold up its end of the bargain during the Rangers' hopeful run to a championship, but weird stuff happens with relievers, and the bullpen that was a multi-headed monster a few months ago can turn into something far less intimidating in not all that much time. I could see this unit performing at an exceptionally high level. I could also see things going awry for one reason or another with every one of these names.
● And speaking of things going awry, yeah, this was a terrible loss, a major punch to the gut in every sense. What it wasn't, however, was a catastrophic loss; this is not, in and of itself, a hope-crushing defeat. The real catastrophe would be if the Rangers end this day with the same magic number that they entered it with (three), which would mean that they were swept by the Angels in their split doubleheader and that the Athletics triumphed over the Mariners. A one-game lead going into the final regular-season series of the year would mean that the Rangers would need to win two games in Oakland in order to win the AL West title outright; winning just one out of three would force a one-game playoff for the division title, and being swept ... yeah, let's not talk about that.
We know that this ballclub has the talent to make a deep run into October, to go all the way even, and we've had it hammered home into our skulls for many moons that this squad has the resiliency and fortitude of a champion. We're now down to Game 158, the Rangers need to win, and the time has arrived where they're either going to get it done and secure safe passage into the post-season tournament, or screw it up and be forever branded as the team that stumbled at the finish line. Derek Holland gets his shot at pushing this team over the hump tonight, and if you're not ready to watch Holland take the bump for a mission-critical start, that's too bad. It's time.