Saturday, May 01, 2010

You couldn't watch the Texas Rangers tonight without instinctively sensing

Update: player postgame quotes


they might make the playoffs this season.

Most importantly, Colby Lewis' performance last night (on top of his previous performances) means the Rangers have a competitive 1-2 combo of pitchers at the top of their rotation: C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. If the Rangers can add an excellent Derek Holland, then C.J. + Colby Lewis + Derek Holland looks like a trio which could lead a team to victory in a playoff series.

In Aug and Sept, if the Rangers mix in two effective starters from the group of Feldman, Harrison, Hunter, Harden: then the Rangers could have 5 capable starters workin it down the stretch drive to earn a playoff berth.

The only caveat, and this worries me: how many innings can C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland throw this season? C.J. is going to jump from 80 innings to 160 innings for sure. Can C.J. throw 200 innings without wearing down and becoming ineffective (and at the worst possible time, i.e. down the stretch and in the playoffs? I kinda suspect he cannot. It's a problem.

Derek Holland is throwing 7 innings or more in a regular rotation slot at OKC. Can Holland throw 200 innings without both wearing down and endangering his young arm? I kinda suspect he cannot. It's a problem.

How much more AAA does Holland need? Surely not much. Holland is close to a point where he's wasting spring innings in OKC which will be needed in Arlington in August and September. Maybe Holland could rest RIGHT NOW, while the Rangers dilly dally for a couple more starts before doing what everyone except the Rangers now believes in inevitable: moving Rich Harden either into the bullpen or onto the disabled list.

Solutions for C.J. and Holland? Pitch each in long relief for a month during midseason? Jump each of C.J. and Holland onto the 15 day disabled list at least one time during the season? Think up a blister problem - it's as good as a hammy.

If C.J. and Holland are handled intelligently, i.e. if the best conditions for the players' health and effectiveness are put into place, then players and franchise and fans all win. I kinda suspect they will not be handled intelligently. Ron Washington is not Gregg Popovich. Especially in Holland's case: worrisome.

Back to last night: the Rangers looked like a veteran team which keeps it's composure and plays to win. Good to see.

Elvis scored the first run of the game, in the top of the 12th, then launched his beatific smile. Best sports smile since Magic Johnson. It's not just a smile: it's an inspiration.


An odd play in the bottom of the 11th

Video of the play

It was a bases loaded, 1 out squeeze play. Supposed bunter Eric Byrnes pulled his bat back and did not offer at a low and outside fastball which was off the plate. Catcher Treanor bobbled the ball in the dirt before picking up and tagging out a sliding Ichiro. Freakish play; heartstopping play ... three times:
1] when Byrnes squared,
2] when Treanor was fishing around in the dirt for the ball, and grabbed at it ... and WHIFFED! Holy smokes!;
3] when Treanor grabbed the ball on his second stab and lunged for Ichiro.

Here's what I think happened inside Byrnes' head on the play:
  • Byrnes was aware of the squeeze.
  • However, though aware of the squeeze: in the moment, Byrnes instinctively pulled his bat back from a low outside pitch which was not a strike. It looked weird, b/c the pitch was buntable, yet Byrnes pulled back. I believe it was an instinctive move by Byrnes. In the moment, and to his great regret, Byrnes blanked and acted on instinct.
  • After pulling his bat back, Byrnes realized his error. Trying at that point to do something, anything, to help his team, Byrnes waved his bat between Treanor and home plate. It looked comical, but it probably was worth a shot. Treanor was looking in the dirt and searching for a grip on the ball. If Byrnes could have momentarily attracted Treanor's attention, it could have prevented Treanor from grabbing the ball and tagging Ichiro. Quirky play.

Former Cowboys Coach Jimmy Johnson would have put Byrnes on waivers by now.

Update: two days after both this game and the above quip, Seattle released Eric Byrnes. A sad thing, really. Byrnes might be an airhead, but he plays hard. Playing hard is not nothing, esp. in a present era in which most players do not run out ground balls. At least a Little Leaguer could watch Eric Byrnes and get the right idea about how to play the game.

Seattle management may have felt pressed by fans who 1) were infuriated with Byrnes after Friday night's failed squeeze play, and 2) were infuriated with the Mariners team after sloppy play allowed a Rangers sweep. Management might have panicked, might have felt they had to appease fans in some fashion, might have offered Byrnes as a sacrifice to the attendance gods - symbolically tossing him off of Mount Ranier.


Elvis, in the top of the 12th, hit what I am dubbing a "Little Leaguer". This is a Little League Texas Leaguer. Elvis hit what looked for all the world like a mini Texas Leaguer - only it landed over the mound dirt instead of over the infield dirt. It was as if the mound were the infield dirt, the pitcher was an infielder, the infield dirt was the outfield warning track, and the infielders were outfielders who were frantically running for the Texas Leaguer. The ball maybe traveled the distance of a Little League Texas Leaguer which lands barely beyond the dirt and dead in the center of a Little League field. It was a "Little Leaguer". I claim copyright of that terminology.


The Rangers have now turned over their preseason preferred #1 starter (Harden), plus their 1B, plus both catchers, plus their Closer. The Rangers played w/o their 2B during April, will be w/o their RF for the first half of May, and must be considering turning over their rookie CF also. The Rangers have led in 21 of their 23 games this season, only to see 5 of their losses occur via catastrophic late inning breakdowns of relief pitching and/or defense. These were the kind of breakdowns which scar; the kinds of breakdowns which - on a good team - typically only occur a few times a season - yet the Rangers suffered 5 of these catastrophic breakdown losses in the 1st month.

Yet, today, May 1, the Rangers find themselves tied for first place. And last place. The entire American League West has 12 losses. Quirky beginning to the season. The Rangers were due for some luck, and they got some tonight. They are due for some more luck. More importantly, you've got to like the way the Rangers carried themselves in the tense moments of a memorable game.

In the 11th, Michael Young missed an Ichiro line drive which 29 Major League 3Bs catch, and which only Michael Young misses -- due to Michael Young's excessively high ready position + resulting ineptness at making even the simplest diving plays. And it was a VERY simple play. It was so simple it wasn't even really challenging for an actual 3B, yet Michael Young contorted and frantically avoided the ball as if it were a poisonous snake. He almost had to ole' the ball. It was such an easy play that the ball almost hit Michael Young in spite of his contorted effort to avoid it.

Still, still: the way the Rangers carried themselves late in the game was probably something which partially rubbed off of Michael Young and onto some of the other players. The Rangers were poised, focused, and never for a moment gave up or gave in. That is Michael Young type of mental toughness and influence, and it is a wonderful thing to sense in a team. I loved it. Loved it.

It was the kind of game you bring up years later: Hey, remember that time ....

You could not watch w/o sensing the Rangers might make the playoffs this season.
Could not not sense it.

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