ARLINGTON, Texas — Anyone who was shocked to see the Texas Rangers’ 2012 season come to a crashing halt Friday apparently didn’t watch this team in September. The collapse had taken place before the Rangers and Orioles took the field Friday in a one-game wild card playoff game.
The Rangers tried to lean on the pedigree that comes from winning back-to-back American League titles, but experience only goes so far when everything comes down to one game. Both the Orioles and A’s charged down the stretch, and it seems fitting they’ve both outlasted the Rangers in the postseason.
This team will have a much different look next season based on this abject failure. Players and perhaps coaches will not return because of how this team performed down the stretch. Manager Ron Washington will absolutely return, but his reputation has taken a body blow with the manner in which he led this team at the end.
You can point to several moments, but for now I’ll stick to how Washington handled the top of the seventh inning. Yu Darvish suffered some neck pain in the sixth, but he stayed in the game and froze Jim Thome with a 64 mph curveball to end the inning. Darvish struck out Mark Reynolds to open the seventh before allowing a single to second baseman Ryan Flaherty. Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre made a gorgeous play to get the second out of the inning on a sacrifice bunt by Manny Machado.
With a runner on second, there was no sign Darvish was running out of steam. But for the second time in three days, Washington popped out of the dugout and signaled for left-hander Derek Holland to enter the game. As you might recall, Holland’s appearance against the Oakland A’s on Wednesday did not have a happy result. He entered that game with the Rangers clinging to a 5-3 lead, but by the end of that fourth inning they trailed 7-5. Josh Hamilton’s dropped fly ball accounted for two of those runs, but it was still a poor outing for Holland. And that’s just one reason why it didn’t make sense to go back to him in a big spot Friday.
After a wild pitch advanced the runner to third, Holland gave up a run-scoring single to Nate McLouth, another one of Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s reclamation projects.
“I wanted the matchup right there, a lefty against a lefty,” said Washington. “That was the fourth time they were coming around, and I just thought in that situation, try to keep the game at 2 to 1. I thought Derek could come in and make some pitches on McLouth. It just didn’t work out. Once again, you make moves and if the players get it done, great move. Players don’t get it done, you’re left open. So I’m left open.”
But in light of Holland throwing 113 pitches Sunday followed by another 50 Wednesday, it never seemed like anything close to a great move. In 9 1/3 innings this week, Holland gave up 15 hits, four walks and eight earned runs. It would be one thing if Washington was riding a pitcher with a hot hand, but Holland didn’t come anywhere close to meeting expectations this season. Plus, right-hander Koji Uehara has held left-handed hitters to a .188 average this season. And perhaps more importantly, he’s no stranger to entering a game mid-inning. Washington was asked if he considered left-handed rookie reliever Robbie Ross or Uehara in that situation.
“No, I went with who I wanted to go with, Derek Holland,” said a defiant Washington.
One of Washington’s best traits is that he’s extremely loyal to his players. But that still doesn’t explain why he would run Holland out there again in an unfamiliar spot.
“I love that he was counting on me,” Holland said. “He was counting on me, and I didn’t do my job. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.”
Darvish, the one pitcher that flourished in August and September, was asked to describe how he felt after his first season in the majors.
“The way I feel, it’s almost like they tell you to run like a 30-mile marathon,” said Darvish through an interpreter. “At the last stretch, second wind, third wind, and you’re about to finish, they tell you to stop. Like I had to step, and it was just a little bit more to go. And I could have finished it.”
Darvish was describing the whole season, but you couldn’t help apply his words to Friday’s game. Darvish was the Rangers’ best hope of extending their season in Friday’s game against the Orioles. And Washington pulled him.
It helped finish off a stunning collapse for a team that acted like it was entitled to the AL West title. Oakland dismissed that notion by sweeping the Rangers earlier this week. And the Orioles finished the job Friday.