It's a shame in a game like this when one of the teams has to lose. It was epic. It was glorious. It was one of the best games of the year. You have to be a true Fan of baseball to appreciate games like this one because most would say it was boring. There were twelve innings and only twelve total hits and seventeen total base runners. But it was also two pitchers not giving an inch and battling until they had to turn it over to somebody else.
First, there was Cliff Lee, making his first start of the year after a long stint on the disabled list. He was the centerpiece of the big trade that brought Halladay to the Phillies and sent a bunch of prospects scattering in the wind. The Mariners seemed to get stiffed as Lee had a muscle that was the kind of injury that really messed him up three years ago. What would he have to offer when he finally did come back? The Fan has to admit his skepticism. But all Lee did was throw blanks for seven innings, gave up three hits and struck out eight.
Then there was Colby Lewis, which is an unbelievable story. The guy bounced around the majors and could never find himself. He won ten games for the Rangers way back early in his career despite an ERA over 6.00. In fact his career ERA was over 6.00 as the Rangers gave up on him and he bounced around through 2007. Finally, out of options and career choices, he went to Japan for two years. Two years! But that was the best thing that ever happened to him. He found discipline. He learned how to pound the strike zone and repeat his delivery. Now he is back with the Rangers after all those years and has single-handedly kept them relevant.
Last night, Lewis was awesome. Sure, it was against the Mariners, who can't hit very much. But Lewis was already 3-0 with a minuscule ERA coming into the game. So this wasn't exactly a fluke that he pitched nine innings of shut out ball giving up only three hits, a walk while striking out ten. He was masterful. And then he had to turn it over to the bullpen.
The Rangers' bullpen has been a scary place. They are on their second closer. And that bullpen flirted with disaster for at least two innings. Darren Oliver, who has been around since the dawn of the DH it seems, loaded the bases in the tenth in a third of a scary inning. But O'Day came in and got Sweeney to hit into a double play and that inning was over.
Francisco came in to pitch the tenth and showed the kind of reasons why he lost his closer role. He too gave up three base runners and loaded the bases, but he too escaped by striking out two batter to end the threat.
All this disaster-averting stuff gave the Rangers the time to finally break through against the Mariners' own good pitching. The Rangers found themselves with the good fortune to lead off the 12th inning with Elvis Andrus and Michael Young, two guys that accounted for four of the five Ranger hits in the game. True to form, Andrus singled and Young singled. Andrus went to third on Young's hit and then Young was able to scamper to second when Mariners' shortstop, Tuiasosopo botched the cut off throw. Josh Hamilton came up and Andrus scored on a wild pitch. Isn't that sad to have a game that is 0-0 after 11 innings broken up by a wild pitch? Hamilton was then intentionally walked and pinch hitter, Julio Borbon grounded weakly to third but Young scored on the play to make it 2-0.
Neftali Feliz then pitched a perfect inning to record his fourth save and probably the easiest one yet. It ended a stellar night of pitching for the Rangers and an exciting win in what was a great pitchers duel. And now for a couple of comments about these teams...
Vlad Guerrero played right field for the Rangers last night so Garko could DH. After last night's game, Garko is hitting a solid .100. Smoak, who was brought up to begin his career with much fanfare is hitting .130. Young Gentry was brought up because Murphy wasn't hitting and he isn't faring any better and is batting .125. Murphy pinch hit for him and of course, made an out and is now hitting .167. Josh Hamilton is not off to a great start and is batting .265. The Rangers have to find some offense from its outfield and soon. Hopefully Cruz won't be out that much longer.
Meanwhile, the Mariners' decision making is puzzling. Jack Wilson is never going to set the world on fire with his bat. But he makes contact and can do some things. Yeah, he's that scrappy kind of player that the Twins say Punto is, but only much better. Wouldn't you rather have him up with the bases loaded and one out rather than Mike Sweeney who was batting less than .200 at the time? That double play just killed the Mariners.
And what are the Mariners going to do with their line up? Neither of their catchers are batting over .200 at this point. That's really bad. Bradley is hitting .200 and that's good compared to where he has been most of April. Figgins is just barely over .200. Griffey is too old. Sweeney is too old. Kotchman isn't very good. Only Ichiro is being Ichiro. The rest of this line up is just crappy. The Mariners were praised for making a lot of supposedly smart deals, but they aren't working out and the team just can't hit. It's going to be a tough season unless some of their veterans can start edging closer to their career norms.