Secret is out: Rangers’ pen is hardly mighty with late leads

Secret is out: Rangers’ pen is hardly mighty with late leads

Evan Grant – The Dallas Morning News

ARLINGTON – The one dirty little secret about the Rangers’ bullpen all season was that as good as the numbers were, they weren’t terribly trustworthy with late-inning leads.

The Rangers lost 11 games when they led after six innings. They lost nine games when they led after seven.

And now, the Rangers have lost two precious playoff games in the same fashion.

Teams rarely rebound from one such loss. The Rangers barely did in the Division Series.

Now, against the defending World Champions, the Rangers must rebound from a second such loss just as the American League Championship Series was getting started Friday night. A four-run lead in the eighth inning became a 6-5 loss after one reliever after another failed to do his job.

The Yankee comeback, built in part by a couple of defensive plays that weren’t made, also may have sent a reminder to those Rangers who have said past playoff failures against the Yankees are irrelevant. After Friday’s loss, the Rangers had dropped 10 consecutive postseason matchups with the Yankees. And they are still seeking their first home playoff win.

It also once again exposed the weakness in the Rangers’ playoff roster: An injury-depleted, inexperienced bullpen.

The Rangers had spent the time between surviving a bullpen breakdown in the Division Series and the start of the ALCS trying to re-fashion the bullpen to better match up with the AL’s most prolific offense. The Rangers began Friday by adding lefties Michael Kirkman and Clay Rapada to the roster and removing Dustin Nippert and infielder Esteban German.

The intent had been to better combat the cadre of lefties and switch-hitters the Yankees can throw at opponents. They came in waves in the eighth and neither starter C.J. Wilson, who had been magnificent for the first seven innings, nor any of the four relievers who followed could stop them.

The defense didn’t help, either. The inning began with speedy Brett Gardner bouncing a ball to first base, but Jorge Cantu, didn’t really charge the ball. By the time he flipped to Wilson as he stepped for the bag, Gardner had beaten him to the bag with a head-first slide.

Derek Jeter followed with a run-scoring double to force Wilson out. And it changed the complexion of the game.

Darren Oliver, who threw 59 pitches in five days during the AL Division Series, walked both batters he faced. The Rangers had added to the left side of the bullpen partly to take some stress off Oliver and keep him fresh for the eighth.

After Oliver, the Rangers went to Darren O’Day , who has been used mostly as a one- or two-batter specialist in the latter stages of the season. His one batter