A fifth-inning rain storm caused two hours of delay time in Saturday’s ALCS opener at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, stripping C.J. Wilson of his command and forcing Justin Verlander from the game. A battle of aces turned into a battle of bullpens. And while both relief corps posted zeroes, it was the fellas from Texas who came away victorious.
Entering to a bases-loaded mess following the second of two rain-induced pauses, Rangers lefty Mike Gonzalez got Tigers catcher Alex Avila to hit into a two-out groundout to end the fifth inning.
Alexi Ogando, a highly effective starter during the regular season, then took over in the top of the sixth. He delivered two scoreless innings, fanning three Tigers and yielding no hits. Darren Oliver followed and retired both batters he faced before giving way to trade-deadline acquisition Mike Adams, who got Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta to chase a fall-off-the-cliff breaking ball to end any potential threat in the eighth.
Neftali Feliz closed it all out in the top of the ninth, at one point hitting 101 mph on FOX’s radar gun.
The Rangers battled the rain and put trust in their bullpen on the way to a 3-2 ALCS Game 1 victory.
Justin Verlander is approaching the tail end of a fantastic year with the Astros — arguably one of his best in the last decade — and on Saturday, he kicked off his last regular season start at Minute Maid Park with a strikeout, his 270th of the year. While that’s still a few shy of Max Scherzer‘s league-best mark of 290, it was a new personal record for Verlander, who had yet to beat the previous career record he set with 269 strikeouts in 2009.
Verlander’s moment arrived at the top of the first inning on a seven-pitch called strikeout against the Angels’ Kole Calhoun. Cole worked a 2-2 count, then fouled off a pair of 95-MPH fastballs before missing the seventh and final pitch at the top of the strike zone.
Jose Fernandez battled twice as long in the next at-bat, albeit with far more disastrous results. His 14-pitch duel against the Astros’ righty ended when he caught a fastball on his hand and was forced to come out of the game.
After expending a total of 27 pitches in the first inning, however, Verlander returned in the second to strike out the side, then logged another pair of strikeouts in the third. With six strikeouts through three innings, he boosted his season strikeout total to 275 — just a hair above fellow Houston righty Gerrit Cole (and all other AL pitchers), who previously led the team with 272 whiffs on the year.