Disastrous eighth inning dooms Rangers as Yankees steal Game 1 in Texas

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Pictures may say a thousand words, but the shot of Nolan Ryan and George Bush after the Rangers’ implosion in the eighth inning of the ALCS opener can probably be boiled down to just one: Yuck.

Texas chased CC Sabathia from the game after four innings, got an excellent start from C.J. Wilson, and then watched a 5-1 lead turn into a heartbreaking 6-5 defeat as the wheels came flying off in the top of the eighth frame.

Wilson was at 98 pitches through seven strong innings, but manager Ron Washington left him in the game to face Brett Gardner leading off the eighth. Gardner is left-handed and Wilson has always been death on lefties, so that move was at least somewhat understandable. Washington leaving Wilson in to face the right-handed-hitting Derek Jeter after Gardner dove into an infield single was simply a mistake. And things only got worse from there.

Jeter doubled down the left field line to score Gardner and knock out Wilson and then Washington began a game of musical relievers. He used a total of five pitchers in the inning, including four relievers in the span of five batters, all while seven straight Yankees reached base. Bringing in lefty Darren Oliver to face switch-hitters Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira was iffy and bringing in lefty Derek Holland to face right-handed bat and career-long southpaw masher Marcus Thames was flat-out crazy, but here’s the kicker:

Washington brought in four arms out of the bullpen, yet never turned to his best reliever, Neftali Feliz.

I’m sure Washington was saving his closer for a supposed “save” situation, but there’s no situation that could possibly need saving more than the Rangers’ eighth-inning implosion and after coughing up the lead there was no “save” chance for Feliz in the ninth inning anyway. Blaming the manager for five different pitchers allowing seven straight batters to reach is obviously silly, but Washington pulled some extremely questionable strings and never even saw fit to let Feliz try to put out the fire.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Ian Kinsler led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a hard-fought walk only to be picked off first base by Kerry Wood, against whom runners are 19-for-19 stealing bags over the past two seasons. Wood’s move to first base wasn’t even a particularly good one, which is why he’d picked off just one previous runner during the past five seasons, and there’s no real need to take added risks getting a big jump when Jorge Posada has thrown out just 14 percent of steal attempts this season.

Ryan got the evening off to a great start with the best ceremonial first pitch you’ll ever see from a 63-year-old team executive and jumping all over an uncharacteristically wild Sabathia in the first inning had the crowd in a frenzy, but a Yankee-friendly bounce and close-but-correct umpire’s call on a wild pitch allowed him to wriggle out of the jam, the Rangers failed to truly put the game away after having the Yankees on the ropes, and the eighth inning was a mess on nearly every possible level.

Texas will try to regroup with Colby Lewis on the mound Saturday and a series-evening victory with Cliff Lee set for Game 3 would be huge, but New York will counter with Phil Hughes and Joe Girardi may be leaning toward skipping A.J. Burnett and bringing Sabathia back on short rest for Game 4 following his four-inning, 93-pitch outing in Game 1. Given how much Sabathia struggled that probably shouldn’t scare the Rangers, but the Yankees would love to avoid using Burnett.

One nightmarish inning may have changed the whole series.

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To follow Aaron Gleeman on Twitter for in-game commentary throughout the playoffs, click here.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.