I'll be honest and say this right up front: After Albert Pujols hit the two-run home run in the top of the tenth inning late Wednesday night, I turned off the TV. I didn't even wait for Pujols to finish his trot around the bases before reaching for the remote. As he had fouled off pitch after pitch from Joe Nathan, there was just a sense that at some point, Pujols was going to get the good part of the bat on the ball, and he did. The blast put the Angels up three runs and left the Rangers with a win expectancy of 5.4 percent.
This was after the Rangers had crawled back from a 7-1 hole way back in the fourth inning before finally tying the game on a solo home run by Ian Kinsler in the bottom of the ninth. For a few moments, it seemed as if the Rangers would manage to go ahead and win the game after the Kinsler blast, and Elvis Andrus did his part in placing a well-timed double to left field. That was followed by Hamilton and Beltre helplessly popping out to the infield. Inning over.
For what it's worth, I felt Joe Nathan didn't exactly pitch poorly in the top of the tenth inning, rather the Angels kept fouling off pitches until they got something worth hitting. By the time it was said and done, the Angels had a 3 run lead and the Rangers were down to their final three outs.
Of course, none of this would have been an issue if not for the enigma that has become Yu Darvish. I'll throw this out there: I understand that Darvish is technically a rookie and that some growing pains while adjusting to Major League hitters was to be expected, but the Rangers didn't fork over the big bucks to watch their prized pitcher give away free bases.
Darvish started the game, at least as far as the results are concerned, phenominally. He didn't allow a baserunner through two innings and seemed to have the hitters confused. On several isntances, Darvish struck out hitters on pitches that tailed so far out of the zone that Mike Napoli very nearly didn't stop the ball. Then the Angels got a little more patient and this happened:
Keep in mind that the numbers next to each pitch location is the pitch number of the various at-bats Darvish pitched in that horrid third inning. Just a quick glance and it's apparent that Darvish MIGHT have been squeezed on two first-pitch strikes that were actually called balls by home plate umpire James Hoye. From there, the wheels just fell off and Darvish couldn't find the strike zone. Six runs later, Darvish was finally out of the inning. On the evening, Darvish pitched 5 innings, with 4 hits, 7 earned runs, 6 BB, and 7 K's. Obviously, the glaring factor is the walks, a category in which Darvish trails only Edinson Volquez and Ubaldo Jimenez with 70 walks on the year.
A major factor in the Rangers deciding to pursue Darvish and let C.J. Wilson walk after last season was the rate at which Wilson walked batters, especially in postseason play. Yet, thus far in the season, Wilson is walking a full batter less per nine innings than Darvish with a BB/9 rate of 3.92 versus the 4.95 posted thus far by Darvish.
Earlier in the season, I was convinced that Darvish was being squeezed to a certain degree by umpires, and while I still feel that is true, he simply can't come unglued for entire innings at a time when the calls don't go his way. Even in 2011 in Japan, Darvish had a BB/9 rate of 1.4. His ability to throw strikes while still missing bats was what caused so much hype. Yet, last night, in a big game against a division rival, it wasn't just a command issue, it was a pitch selection issue. Darvish threw almost as many sliders (29) as he did his four-seam fastball (31), and struggled to hit the strike zone with the fastball.
In the end, it thankfully didn't matter, as Elvis Andrus received the opportunity to play hero. One can only hope that the win is the type the builds some sort of significant momentum to get this thing back on track, but at the very least, the Rangers managed to the important part for a day and got the win, and remain with a healthy divisional lead and a chance to increase it with one game left against the Angels in this series.
We should all be quick to realize what sad a day it will be if Andrus is ever in the uniform of any team but the Texas Rangers. Sure, Jurickson Profar has all the talent and hype to be a superstar at the same position, but you're never guaranteed to get this kind of production, both offensively and defensively, from your shortstop, and we should all enjoy what we're seeing now, lest we be left watching him do it for someone else's team somewhere down the line. Yeah, this Elvis Andrus guy is pretty good.