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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Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.