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Baseball Nation's writers were on hand to live blog the Rangers' series-clinching win over the rays. Here are some of their best posts. WARNING: a camera was destroyed in the process of making this post.
Beltre slugged three homers, Ian Kinsler added a fourth, and the Rangers' arms kept the Rays quiet as Texas eliminated Tampa Bay in four games and moved on.
This is small beans compared to Adrian Beltre's three home runs, but Ron Washington seems to have discovered a secret weapon in this Division Series: Alexi Ogando, Ace Reliever.
Or perhaps "rediscovered" is the more accurate word, since Ogando was an ace reliever just one year ago. Joining the Rangers in June 2010, Ogando posted a 1.30 ERA the rest of the way, and ultimately dazzled the Giants in two World Series outings.
Of course, this season Ogando earned a spot in the Rangers' rotation. But he faltered some down the stretch and the Rangers have five worthy starting pitchers, so now he's in the bullpen. And in Game 4 today, he assumed the eighth-inning role usually filled by Mike Adams, who instead pitched the seventh.
In 2⅔ innings against the Rays, Ogando's been nearly perfect. And if he's back to his old form, the Rangers now have three lights-out relievers for the late innings, each capable of going at least one full inning almost every game.
Meanwhile, the Rays held the Rangers in check in the top of the ninth. Now it's Neftali Feliz's turn, as he tries to protect a two-run lead and send the Rangers to the Championship Series.
After 8½ innings it's Rangers 4, Rays 2.
Look, there are passionate Rays fans out there. The SBN Rays blog DRaysBay is filled with knowledgeable, passionate Rays fans who lived and died with the team this year. To make a blanket statement about any group of fans is probably not a good idea.
But this is embarrassing:
Jon Heyman noted that the Rays were pretty disappointed in the attendance, as they should be. A ridiculously exciting team and playoff baseball just can't undo damage of the Naimoli Era and an unappealing domed stadium.
As for the word "annoying" in the title -- a large portion of the 28,299 were doing the wave while the Rays were down 4-2 in the eighth. On the one hand, the combination of low attendance and the wave really has to annoy Red Sox fans. On the other, the combination annoys everyone. No one wins here.
When was the last time a team hit four solo home runs in one game? And, for that matter, when was the last time a team had four solo home runs account for their entire scoring output in a game? Well, for that you have to go allllll the way back to ... 2009.
The Yankees exploded for four solo shots in Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS. Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, and Alex Rodriguez got to Jered Weaver, and Jorge Posada hit one off Kevin Jepsen. The Angels won the game, though, 5-4.
Turns out that teams usually have a pretty good chance of winning when they hit four home runs or more -- 44-4. Who'd've thunk? Oh, baseball. You never fail to surprise.
In the top of the fourth inning, Adrian Beltre drilled a solo home run off Jeremy Hellickson.
Now, in the top of the seventh inning, Adrian Beltre has struck once more. Again leading off, but this time off phenom Matt Moore, and after Derek Holland kept the Rays quiet in the bottom of the sixth.
Moore's first pitch of the inning was a high fastball over the outer half, and Beltre went up and got it, clobbering a towering home run to left to boost the Rangers' lead to 4-2. There was no doubt about it off the bat, which, with Beltre, is so often the case.
The three home runs have been Beltre's first, second, and third of his playoff career, and today also marks the first time Beltre has ever gone deep three times in a game, which is kind of surprising for a guy with more than 300 dingers to his name. This is also just the seventh time in playoff history that a player has slugged three home runs. The others:
Babe Ruth (1926)
Babe Ruth (1928)
Bob Robertson (1971)
Reggie Jackson (1977)
George Brett (1978)
Adam Kennedy (2002)
Hallowed company, in part. Company with Adam Kennedy, in part, too. Based on the Kennedy example, Beltre will still be playing nine years from now, and he will be bad.
Moore worked through the remainder of the seventh without allowing more damage, but the Rays are now down two, and they have nine outs between themselves and elimination.
As Grant pointed out, Matt Harrison has never in his entire career been much of a strikeout pitcher. He's struck out six or seven batters per nine innings in his career, and he's never struck out more than nine batters in one game in his whole major-league career. He's just not a strikeout pitcher, even though he routinely throws low- and mid-90s fastballs.
Until today. Today he's a strikeout pitcher, matching his career high with nine K's in the first four innings of Game 4, with a berth in the League Championship Series at stake. But Harrison hasn't been untouchable, giving up two runs in those four innings. Harrison didn't add to his strikeout total in the fifth, but he didn't add to his run total, either.
But with all those strikeouts (and two walks), Harrison's already thrown 97 pitches, and figures to pitch, at most, one more inning. Meanwhile, rookie Matt Moore, Tampa Bay's Game 1 winner, took the hill in the top of the fifth and is again mowing down Rangers with (apparent) ease.
Score through 5½ innings: Rangers 3, Rays 2
The Rangers opened Game 3 with a home run, and they tacked on two more runs with a pair of solo home runs for Adrian Beltre. But every time Beltre extended the lead, the Rays got a run closer in the bottom-half of the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Sean Rodriguez was in the mix again, doubling with two outs. Casey Kotchman followed with an RBI single, and the Rays are now trailing to the Rangers by a score of 3-2.
The top of the fifth saw some maddoning pitching moves -- out went starter Jeremy Hellickson, and in came wunderkind prospect Matt Moore. The Rangers didn't exactly load up the lineup with lefties just to face the right-handed Hellickson, but they're probably a little surprised to see Moore in this game.
Moore struck out two Rangers in the top of the fifth. MLB GameDay says the last strikeout was on a 96-mph awesomeball. Is that even a real pitch? I call shenanigans.
Somewhat quietly, Adrian Beltre had another fantastic regular season. It didn't help matters that he missed a chunk of time due to injury, but he posted a 129 OPS+ that was second-best on the Rangers, behind only Mike Napoli. Plus, of course, he was awesome in the field.
Well, Beltre's hot hitting has carried over into the playoffs. Today, anyway. He was 1-for-11 with a single in the first three games of this series. Now he's 3-for-13 with a single and two home runs.
Beltre led off the top of the second with a home run to left off Jeremy Hellickson. That, we already talked about. He came up again in the fourth, and in a 2-and-1 count, Hellickson threw Beltre a fastball over the outer edge that Beltre rode out to right-center field. It was a line drive home run, one of those opposite-field line drive home runs that only the strongest hitters in baseball can hit. Adrian Beltre is one of the strongest hitters in baseball, so.
Three solo homers have given Matt Harrison and the Rangers a 3-1 lead, and Matt Moore was sighted throwing in the Rays bullpen. Now in the bottom of the fourth, the Rays need to start hitting Harrison, and stop striking out.
Matt Harrison is a left-handed pitcher who throws 95-mph, but he's never been a strikeout machine. He had a career high K/9 this year, and it was only 6.1. It's not like this is a surprise, either. His minor league stats:
His game is control, for the most part. But in Game 3 of the ALDS, Harrison is on fire, striking out seven Rays in the first three innings. His career high is nine, and he's exceeded seven strikeouts in just four of his 62 career starts.
The postseason record is 17 strikeouts, by Bob Gibson in the 1968 World Series. Harrison is only ten away! He's also at 56 pitches through three innings, so he'd have to be mighty efficient to get it done. Also, he'd probably have to not be Matt Harrison, who is not usually a strikeout pitcher.
Thanks to a couple of solo homers, Texas starter Matt Harrison carried a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the second inning, and he got the frame off to a good start by striking out Game 1 hero Kelly Shoppach. But he walked the brilliantly pantalooned Sean Rodriguez. Harrison rebounded against Casey Kotchman with another strikeout, his third in this young game.
That brought up Matt Joyce, who laced a liner into right-center field. Nelson Cruz cut off the ball in good order, threw a strike to second baseman Ian Kinsler, and Kinsler turned and made a perfect one-hop relay to catcher Mike Napoli.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez read the ball perfectly off the bat and never stopped sprinting around the bases, and all three elements -- runner, catcher, baseball -- came together at almost exactly the same instant, like this:
Napoli couldn't hang on, Rodriguez scored -- after reaching back and slapping the plate with his hand, because he apparently missed it during the collision -- and the game was delayed for a few minutes while a trainer did his best to determine that Napoli didn't suffer a concussion.
I'm not sure Rodriguez wouldn't have been safe with a slide, but he's certainly made himself popular with his teammates. Meanwhile, Harrison recovered to escape the inning with yet another strikeout.
But that wasn't all. After Hellickson held the Rangers in the top of the third, Harrison came back in the bottom of the inning and struck out all three Rays he faced, giving him seven strikeouts already.
Rangers 2, Rays 1 after three innings.
After Adrian Beltre hit a solo home run in the second inning, the TBS camera feed went out after he rounded third base, and there was an audible gasp from the crowd. The imagination ran wild. Did Beltre bowl over the cameraman, Chris Chambliss-style, determined to get to home plate any way he could? Did the cameraman cave in to temptation and touch Adrian Beltre's head, which is something that every single one of us would do if we had the chance?
Nah. He just ate it.
Now there's no way to know just yet what Beltre said when he pointed at the cameraman. It was most likely some variation of, "Hey, you okay?" But there's at least a 3% chance that Beltre did a full Nelson Muntz. Beltre is widely reported to be a class act and one of the nicer players in the game, but if he openly mocked the cameraman like that, I think we'd all understand.
Ian Kinsler put the Rangers on top of the Rays on the second pitch of the game. No more damage was done, and in the bottom half of the first, the Rays were given a chance to respond against Matt Harrison. They tried really hard, too. But they didn't. At least, they didn't in the way that they were hoping to.
Desmond Jennings led off with a base hit, which was promising. The next two batters made outs, but then Jennings advanced to second on Ben Zobrist's single into right. With two on and two out, Johnny Damon was in position to make a statement, but the statement he made was feeble, as Harrison jammed him and Damon knocked a weak roller up the first base line.
To the second we went, and for the second straight inning, Jeremy Hellickson made a leadoff mistake. This time, it was to Adrian Beltre, to whom Hellickson threw a 1-and-0 belt-high fastball over the inner half. Beltre turned on it and sent another blast into the left field stands for the Rangers' second solo homer in two innings.
It was also the first playoff home run of Beltre's career. He hadn't been in the playoffs since 2004. The more you know!
Hellickson survived the rest of the inning, erasing a baserunner with a double play, but now it's 2-0 Texas, and the Rays are up against it.
Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson finished the season 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA, and he's going to be a strong contender for the AL Rookie of the Year. However, there's a convincing argument to be made that he didn't deserve those results, as he posted 72 walks and 117 strikeouts over 189 innings. The advanced statistics don't paint nearly as pretty a picture of his 2011 campaign.
So the beginning of Tuesday's Game 4 against the Rangers might have been a little less surprising than you'd think. In the first at bat of the game, Hellickson started Ian Kinsler off with a fastball for a strike. Then he came back with a changeup, but he elevated the pitch and Kinsler destroyed it. Kinsler hit a towering home run to left field to give the Rangers an instant lead, and keep the Tropicana crowd quiet.
Kinsler came in with 20 regular season leadoff home runs for his career, with seven of those coming in 2011. Sometimes managers like to have on-base ability or speed in the leadoff spot. Kinsler provides those, and provides power, too. Neat!
Hellickson got out of the inning without sustaining any more damage, but he's put his Rays behind in what could be their last game of the season.
The first three spots in the order are the same as they were for Game 3 on Monday, but Matt Joyce, who hit cleanup Monday, is being dropped to ninth in the order, perhaps because he’s just 2-for-11 in the series.
Kelly Shoppach, who was inexplicably held out of starting Game 3 despite hitting a pair of home runs in the first two games, is back in the lineup today, hitting sixth, and Sean Rodriguez is back as the starting shortstop, replacing Reid Brignac. Neither Rodriguez nor Brignac has hit much in this series; the Rays probably need to get off to a good start today to tie up the series and extend their season.
Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington has posted his lineup for Tuesday afternoon’s Game 4, scheduled for a 2:07 ET first pitch:
Not much new here; the first seven spots in the lineup are identical to Monday’s lineup that faced lefthander David Price. Today, against righthander Jeremy Hellickson, Washington has replaced Craig Gentry, who played center field on Monday, with lefthanded hitting David Murphy, who will play left field. Josh Hamilton switches to center field.
Mitch Moreland, who has just one hit in this series (although it is a home run), is dropped to the No. 9 spot in the order. Moreland hit 16 home runs during the regular season, all but one of them off righthanders.