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

17 Comments

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.

* * * * * * * * * *

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

Video: Jake Arrieta hits a 465-foot home run off of Zack Greinke

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
2 Comments

Jake Arrieta‘s bat is in midseason form already. The Cubs’ ace swatted a solo home run to center field off of Zack Greinke in Thursday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition game, his first homer of the spring.

The blast went 465 feet, according to MLB.com’s Daren Willman.

Arrieta has hit two home runs in each of the past two seasons. Madison Bumgarner (eight) and Noah Syndergaard (four) are the only other pitchers to match or exceed his output in that department.

Greinke, meanwhile, is hoping to bounce back after a miserable 2016 season. He finished with an uncharacteristic 4.37 ERA in 26 starts in his first year with the Diamondbacks.

Luis Valbuena to miss four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring

Kent Horner/Getty Images
1 Comment

Angels first baseman Luis Valbuena will miss the next four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring, Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times reports.

Valbuena, 31, signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Angels in January and was on track to get the lion’s share of the playing time at first base. While he’s out, however, C.J. Cron will handle first base on a regular basis. When Valbeuna returns, the two will likely form a platoon.

Last year with the Astros, Valbuena hit a solid .260/.357/.459 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 342 plate appearances.