The Texas Rangers are making the most of their first post season in quite a while. The Rays, who just missed last year's post season party after making it to the World Series the year before have unraveled so far in their first two games and now stand one game away from going home to an uncertain future. The Rays knew going into this post season that this was their shot. Next year they will lose Carl Crawford and Joaquin Soria which are big losses. They will also lose Carlos Pena, who might not be that big a loss. But certainly they will be cutting payroll after the season and this was their one shot with this current team to do something special. Instead they are unraveling.
The Rays were already down 2-0 and C. J. Wilson was doing his best Cliff Lee imitation. The Rays knew they needed to keep the game close but everything came undone in the fifth inning. James Shields got the start and that alone will be a source of questions if the Rays do indeed lose this series. Shields has a gaudy ERA, gives up a lot of homers and a lot of hits. There were a lot of apologists before the game stating things like Shields is a better pitcher than his record. Just look at his K/BB ratio. So what? Before this year, A. J. Burnett always had a good K/BB ratio and you wouldn't want him to pitch the second game would you? Whoops! He did last year. But anyway. Shields lost his way in the fifth. It was building way before that though.
Shields just never looked comfortable with his own home pitching mound or his mechanics. His pitches were all over the place. He hit Treanor in the back with one pitch. He slipped and threw one behind Michael Young. But still, he was, as they say, uncomfortably wild. Two runs in the first four innings isn't horrible and one was a long homer which Shields is prone to give up anyway. But in the fifth, he led off the inning by hitting Treanor in the back for the second time. Borbon tried to bunt (stupid play) but bunted it too hard and Longoria got Treanor at second. Elvis Andrus followed with a seeing eye single. And to the surprise of everyone, Maddon came out to get Shields and bring in Qualls. None were more surprised than Shields.
Shields was obviously agitated and was griping on the bench. It sure looked like he was griping about being pulled. You could tell by the body language of his teammates who were doing their best to ignore the diatribe and keep their expressions bland. But Shields wasn't happy. Then Michael Young came up for the Rangers.
Qualls battled and got two strikes on the Rangers' veteran. Qualls threw a slider and Young tried to check his swing. He didn't succeed, but the Rays didn't get the call. Shields went ballistic in the dugout. He was already hot about getting pulled so early and the umpire became the focus of his wrath. And it certainly was a childish reaction. The reaction showed that Shields wasn't emotionally prepared for this start and thus the wildness and the end results. Qualls then threw a belt high fastball and Young deposited the pitch over the centerfield wall. More theatrics from Shields.
Before we get to the call, let's go back to Maddon pulling Shields. The manager made a statement to his team that he was going to stick with the players that got him there. That's why Shields started in his regular rotation spot. But then Maddon didn't seem to trust his own decision and pulled Shields at the very first opportunity. It was like Maddon didn't believe in his own choice to start the game. To this observer, it was a bit of a desperate flip-flop.
Okay, now back to the call. Listen, the Fan is the only one in the world it seems that wants to replace the home plate umpire on balls and strike with PitchF/X or another system. But until that happens, you have what you have and that's a bunch of humans doing the best they can to arbitrate a game. Sometimes they miss a ball or a strike and that's a part of the game as we know it. Once Qualls didn't get the call, he has to come back with a quality pitch. Bad calls happen. You can't throw a meatball every time you think you get jobbed. For Young's part, he got a gift and he made the most of it. That's baseball.
After a Hamilton hit, Maddon went on the field for a huddle with the infield. But you knew he was itching for a rumble with the umpire. And he got his wish. Much to his discredit, the umpire rung Maddon up in about 3.2 second. Gardenhire got tossed during the Twins playoff game too. Shouldn't the umpires have more tolerance in the playoffs? Should managers really get tossed that easily in what is the team's biggest games of the season? The Fan totally disagrees with heaving Maddon in that situation. Yeah, the rulebook does say you can't argue balls and strikes, but this is the playoffs!
But when it all comes down to the nitty, that entire inning wouldn't have changed the outcome. The two runs were all that the Rangers needed. The Rays couldn't muster any offense against Wilson and his merry band of relievers. The Rangers have exposed the Rays as a weak offensive club, particularly against left-handed pitching. Other than a couple of guys in the line up, they don't make enough contact. They have no DH to speak of. Against good pitching, they are toast. The only chance they had was to pitch Niemann or Hellickson, both of which have better stuff than Shields and shut the Rangers down. That way they could possible scratch out a run or two to have a chance. But they couldn't overcome two runs, never mind six.
And now they have a good chance of catching the same flight out of town as Dioner Navarro. Speaking of which, he's certainly getting the villain stroke for quitting on the team and he probably deserves it. Though it does seem that the Bay Rays had abandoned their 2008 hero. He fell off a cliff after that post season and the Rays didn't seem to think he was worth trying to fix. Who knows the entire story. It's just one more side note to what has become a nightmare for the Bay Rays. They may win the next game, but when it comes back around to Cliff Lee, they will be going home.