When the Texas Rangers sift through the regrets and resentments of their Game 5 loss to the Houston Astros, the most difficult part to get over will be the fact that they did everything right. Bruce Bochy pulled Jordan Montgomery quick enough in the sixth to keep the game within a run, and Adolis Garcia’s three-run shot that put the Rangers ahead, 4-2, in the bottom of the same inning came when Justin Verlander was most vulnerable.
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Had the Rangers opted to skip the bottom of the eighth and let Jose Leclerc get right back on the mound with the momentum, the top of the ninth likely would have gone differently. Given that the strategy I just suggested isn’t realistic, and there’s usually no harm in trying to tack on some insurance, no one will second guess a Rangers’ player or manager for trying.
Occasionally, there’s simply no way to explain it, so let me just tell you what happened in that fateful frame. When Houston pitcher Bryan Abreu plunked Garcia a batter after walking Evan Carter, the Texas right fielder reacted as if it was retaliatory for his earlier home run, benches cleared, and in the umpires’ infinite wisdom, they tossed Garcia, Abreu, and Astro manager Dusty Baker.
Lost in the mayhem was Leclerc, tasked with a four-out save, rapidly going cold as Baker’s temper flared. Ask every Ranger not named Garcia, they’ll admit Abreu wasn’t throwing at anybody, and given an option, likely would’ve preferred the reliever dig himself out of his own jam. Instead of Abreu facing the obligatory third batter, Ryan Pressley got time to warm up, and worked his way around two Texas baserunners and no outs.
By the time the top of the ninth inning arrived, the layoff and drama combined to give the game an entirely different vibe. Then Leclerc gave up a single to Yainer Diaz, walked Jon Singleton, and Jose Altuve came to the plate. You can guess what happened next.
Note the home run trot. Guy just smacked his umpteenth postseason dagger, and you’d think it was spring training. I did one of those surprised cackles as soon as he hit it; the kind you make when you’re rooting for the bad guy, but I have no dog in this fight. It was so cold-blooded that there was no other response from an impartial onlooker.
Pressley then closed out the ninth for a 5-4 win, sending the Astros back to Houston with two chances to win one game for a return trip to the World Series. As far as heart-breaking losses are concerned, this was an 11 out of 10 on the gut punch scale, and I’m at a loss for any words that will talk Texas fans off the ledge.
After the game, umpire crew chief James Hoye said Abreu was ejected for throwing with intent, and García got tossed for being the aggressor. Bochy predictably empathized with Garcia, and bemoaned how long it took the umps to get the situation under control.
The decision to run Abreu was asinine considering the situation, and that’s exactly why Baker erupted and eventually got ejected. The ‘Stros skipper was so heated he needed to be coaxed into leaving the dugout, yet had every reason to be pissed and defiant.
Through 8 ½ innings in Arlington on Friday, the game mostly followed this postseason’s storylines. Sure, there was a lead change after the fifth inning (gasp!), and it looked like the home team was going to win its first game of the series, but Bochy’s quick hook after his starter stumbled the third time through Houston’s lineup preempted Baker’s stubbornness with Verlander’s third-through woes, and all was right in the world.
Rangers’ fans were loud for the first time in three games, the home team was cruising to a 3-2 series advantage, and there was nary a hint of weird postseason baseball to come. Maybe that was the most glaring omen though, because it was a little too quiet, and way too formulaic.
Blame the umps, Garcia, Abreu, Baker, or Leclerc all you want — and assuredly Rangers fans will find a scapegoat — but the real culprit is postseason baseball. Human emotion can flip a game as quickly as one bad pitch, or one great swing, and blood pressures run as high as the stakes in October.
Unless you’re Jose Altuve, then it’s Tuesday.
The Philadelphia Phillies entered the bottom of the eighth inning in the desert with a 5-3 lead, their setup guy on the mound, and closer Jose Alvarado warming up in the pen. The issue is said setup man is Craig Kimbrel, and it feels like he’s been dancing out of calamity since he was in Boston.
After giving up a leadoff double to Lourdes Gurriel, Kimbrel was able to get Evan Longoria to lineout, but 23-year-old Alek Thomas worked a full count, and deposited a game-tying two-run homer into the Chase Field pool.
Kimbrel then gave up a single and hit a batter before finally being pulled for Alvarado. Baby Snake Gabriel Moreno next drove in the go-ahead run on a single to center for a 6-5 lead, and Paul Sewald earned the save in the top of the ninth.
Boom, NLCS all square with Zac Gallen and Zach Wheeler kicking off the best of three Saturday.
Every time I see that odd thing Kimbrel does with his arm it’s a reminder that we’re in for as eclectic a save imaginable, because even when he was “good” it wasn’t easy. I don’t know how Philly manager Rob Thomson confidently runs him back out there after giving up a walk-off single Thursday, and a game-tying dinger the next night.