American League Division Series:
Game Two: Rangers 6, Blue Jays 4 (F/14); Rangers lead best-of-five 2-0
In a marathon that lasted 14 innings and just shy of 5 hours, the Rangers escaped the Rogers Centre with its second win in as many days, and go back to Texas with a chance to sweep the ALDS.
There are so many storylines from this afternoon's tilt that I probably won't cover everything, but here are a handful that stand out:
- The game couldn't have started any better for the Rangers. Facing talented RHP Marcus Stroman, Texas opened 2B, 1B, 1B, fielder's choice/error, and after 4 batters the Rangers led 2-0 and had runners on first and second. The Blue Jays were on the verge of unraveling. After two failed bunt attempts from Elvis Andrus, he hit a grounder to first that effectively worked just like a sacrifice, and the Rangers had men on 2nd and 3rd with Josh Hamilton up.
- This is where things got a little stupid; thinking Prince Fielder would attempt to score on Hamilton's hard grounder to first, Mitch Moreland attempted to advance to 3rd, where Fielder was still standing. Josh got tagged out at first, and Toronto took the free out at 3rd to end the inning (scored 3-U). With Cole Hamels pitching a 2-0 start seemed more than okay, but Texas missed out on some crucial runs in the first.
- Hamels, for what it's worth, had a fairly typical start since his trade to the Rangers. He worked 7 IP, allowed 2 ER (4 runs) on 6 hits, including a HR to Josh Donaldson. After the first two innings, where he surrendered the bulk of the damage, Hamels allowed just a run on three hits, with no walks and all 6 of his strikeouts on the day. He exited after finishing the 7th at 114 pitches, and the Rangers trailing 4-3.
- The top of the 8th started with a DeShields base hit to center, which is basically a rally in itself. But then manager Jeff Banister called for his best hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, to lay down a sacrifice bunt, and so the Rangers traded one of its final 6 outs to move its fastest base runner up 90 feet. No real idea what that was about, other than the left-handed Brett Cecil pitching and maybe (?!) Banister thought that extra base was a better alternative than Choo swinging away? Puzzling.
- It turned out not to matter. After a Prince Fielder strikeout, Mike Napoli came on with two outs to pinch hit for the left-handed Mitch Moreland, and roped a single to right to tie the game. Tied at 4 in the top of the 8th, neither team would score again until the 14th.
- The Rangers bullpen... I mean, can we really say enough? I thought they would be the key to the series in my ALDS preview article from a few days ago, but they have been rock solid through two playoff games. In Game Two, they went 7 shutout innings against the best offense in baseball, allowing a mere 2 hits (both singles) and 2 free passes. 9 of the 21 (42.8%) Blue Jays outs were strikeouts. In two games, Texas's bullpen has combined to allow 1 run total in 11 IP, with Edwin Encarnacion's solo HR off Keone Kela as its only blemish.
- In the 14th, Toronto brought in the well-aged LaTroy Hawkins, and the inning started quietly enough with two quick outs. Then Rougned Odor happened.
- Roogie reached on an infield single, then Chris Gimenez singled to right. With men on first and second and two out, Hanser Alberto stepped to the plate.
- Alberto wouldn't be playing unless, of course, Adrian Beltre was healthy. But then it happened: the unlikeliest of heroes unleashed a rocket base hit to center, and Odor scored to make it 5-4 Texas. Delino followed with a run-scoring infield hit to give the Rangers its necessary insurance run.
- Having burned his four best relievers -- Dyson (1 IP), Diekman (2 IP), Tolleson (2 IP), Kela (1 IP) -- Jeff Banister called on Ross Ohlendorf, the goat of last Sunday's 9th inning crumble vs. the Angels, to close out the game. To his credit, the drama wasn't substantial.
Texas now leads the best-of-five series 2-0, and will play Sunday for a shot at going back to the ALCS for the first time since 2011. While Martin Perez will make the start, it isn't clear whether or not Adrian Beltre will be ready to go, but that's a topic for Sunday.