Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Best Postseason Win: Texas Rangers

This game was discussed in this space recently enough that I'm not going to do a big introduction.

The Rangers started out as the second iteration of the Washington Senators in 1961. They were so bad that Ted Williams won Manager of the Year for getting them into fourth place in a six-team division. They moved to Texas after about a decade, and were mostly pretty bad there too, not making a single playoff appearance until 1996, or winning a playoff series until 2010.

They made the World Series in 2010, and lost. In 2011, they were even better, got back to the playoffs, and took another shot at it, which led them to the ALCS against the Tigers.

2011 ALCS Game 2: Rangers 7, Tigers 3 (11). In 2011, Texas' Derek Holland had a better year than Detroit's Max Scherzer. Given that he was also two years younger, one might have thought he was on his way to surpassing the heterochromic Tiger righthander.

One would have been wrong. 2011 is the only year in which Holland's performance has been better to date, and four years later, the gap in Scherzer's favor is not particularly narrow.
Holland walked Austin Jackson and gave up a single to Ramon Santiago in the top of the first; the runners would eventually move to second and third before being left on. In the bottom of the inning, Elvis Andrus singled with one out and Josh Hamilton doubled him home to open the scoring. Adrian Beltre added a two-out RBI double to make it a 2-0 lead.

The Tigers loaded the bases with walks by Ryan Raburn, Brandon Inge, and Jackson in the second, but Holland managed to strand all three men. Nelson Cruz led off the bottom of the inning with a double before being left on as well. Detroit cashed in an opportunity in the third, as Miguel Cabrera doubled, Victor Martinez was hit by a pitch, and Raburn hit a 3-run homer to take the lead. A double and a groundout later, Holland was pulled in favor of Scott Feldman, who stranded Jhonny Peralta at third.

Scherzer set the Rangers down 1-2-3 in the third, and he and Feldman exchanged flawless fourths. Martinez reached on an error in the top of the fifth, but nobody else on either team joined him on the bases. The sixth inning proved more lively than its immediate predecessors; Alex Avila led off the top of the inning with a single and was bunted to second before being left on, and Texas got an Andrus walk and a Hamilton single to start the bottom of the inning before abandoning them on the corners.

Feldman worked a runnerless seventh, and Texas finally retied the score on a Cruz homer leading off the bottom of the inning. Scherzer was pulled for Phil Coke, who combined with Joaquin Benoit to retire the next three Rangers. Alexi Ogando threw a 1-2-3 eighth, and Benoit countered an Andrus walk with a double play in the bottom of the inning.

Ogando recorded the first two outs in the ninth before giving up a Santiago single; Mike Gonzalez relieved and served up a double to Don Kelly, putting the go-ahead run at third. Neftali Feliz was summoned and intentionally walked Cabrera, then drew a popup from Martinez to keep the tie intact.

Remarkably, the bottom of the ninth was indisputably tenser. Beltre led off with a double against Jose Valverde. Mike Napoli was intentionally walked, and Cruz was hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out. But David Murphy flied to left, too shallow to bring Beltre home, and Mitch Moreland followed by hitting into a 3-2-3 double play that sent the game to extras.

Feliz worked around a leadoff walk to Raburn in the tenth, and Valverde kept the bases Ranger-free in the bottom of the inning. Mike Adams took the mound in the top of the eleventh and allowed only a two-out Kelly single. In the bottom of the inning, Ryan Perry relieved and quickly got into trouble, allowing a single to Michael Young. Which was followed by a single from Beltre, and one from Napoli. For the second time in three innings, the Rangers had loaded the bases with nobody out.

And this time, they hadn't quite reached the bottom of their order, so they still had Cruz available to hit the "first" walkoff grand slam in postseason history. (Somewhere, Robin Ventura shed a single tear.)

The Rangers took the LCS in six games, and went on to face the Cardinals in a spectacular World Series that included at least one game that was much, much better than this one, even if its outcome was significantly sadder for Texas fans.

Honorable mention: The highest WPL of any Ranger postseason win was actually achieved last year, in the team's 14-inning victory of Game 2 of the ALDS. I opted for the 2011 game because the team was more successful and the game more important. There was also a pretty good contest two days after the selected game; the Rangers captured the fourth game of the '11 ALCS 7-3 in 11 innings as well, but despite a double play on an attempted tiebreaking sac fly in the eighth, that game doesn't quite reach the level of a team loading the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game and failing to score. Really, from this point, it's a lottery of 2011 victories, as the team's seven best pre-2015 playoff wins all hail from that year.

Since the Rangers never made the playoffs before moving to Texas, we're down to only three teams remaining in this series. The next one we'll handle has a lot in common with the Rangers - they were born in the same year, play in the same division, and also waited a long time for their first title (though, unlike their counterparts, their wait has ended).

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