Rangers' season lost during dreadful September, again
ARLINGTON, Texas – If only the Rangers could've faced the Astros or Angels in Game 163. Those are the teams that fueled a misleading 91-game win total that earned the Rangers an appearance in something called the 2013 Tiebreaker Game.
The Tampa Bay Rays showed up at the Ballpark on Monday and helped remind Texas why this season never felt like it was headed anywhere. The Rangers may have owned Rays ace David Price in the past, but they never came close to putting him away in a 5-2 loss in front of 42,796 towel-waving fans.
It was only his second win in 12 tries against the Rangers, including the postseason. He struggled a bit with his command in the early innings, but he was able to pick off Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler (officially caught stealing) in the first and third innings.
When you're facing one of the best pitchers in the American League, you can't afford to be so careless. But it's not like it was out of character for the Rangers. This team became addicted to the running game this season. It helped fuel a successful August, but it also caused the Rangers to give away an alarming number of runs on the bases.
Manager Ron Washington was defiant when asked about the base-running blunders after the game. This is the style of baseball he enjoys, but it doesn't seem to lead to consistent scoring.
"That's the way we play," he said. "Sometimes that's the result of it. We're a very aggressive team and we never stop."
It might be a good thing for Washington to set some boundaries on what he's referred to as "Raisin' hell baseball." You want to trust your players, but at some point they have to use better judgment.
With the Rangers trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Kinsler stroked a one-out double down the left-field line. Andrus had singled in the sixth inning and he had a .407 batting average and .515 on-base percentage in 33 plate appearances against Price.
So with Kinsler standing on second with one out, it's hard to fathom why Andrus decided to attempt to bunt for a base hit. Price, who fields his position well, gloved the ball and flipped it to first baseman James Loney for a relatively easy out. Kinsler was stranded at third when Alex Rios hit a skimmer to shortstop Yunel Escobar. It was a high-risk, low-reward decision by Andrus. A bunt hit wasn't going to score a run.
Rangers rookie left-hander Martin Perez was fortunate to only allow one run in the first inning after the first four hitters he faced reached base safely. But he issued a leadoff walk to Desmond Jennings in the third inning and then gave up a two-out home run to Evan Longoria, who is the worst player in baseball to face in the final game of the regular season. Longoria is batting .579 (11-for-19) with seven homers, 10 RBI and eight runs in final games of the regular season for the Rays.
Washington replaced Perez with Alexi Ogando when Longoria came to the plate with one out in the sixth inning and the Rangers trailing 3-1. Longoria, of course, doubled to right center-field and came around to score when pinch-hitter David DeJesus doubled to right field. DeJesus came into Monday's game 1-for-23 (.043) as a pinch-hitter this season.
It was hard to imagine this Rangers team staging a rally at that point. Washington said he inserted Nelson Cruz into the lineup because "every now and then a squirrel finds a nut, and he might catch something." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Cruz had been facing minor-league pitchers in an Arizona instructional league, so he hadn't seen anything like Price in more than two months. He received a thunderous ovation when he stepped to the plate in the second inning. He hit a rope right at first baseman James Loney for the third out. The rest of the night, he looked a lot like a guy who hasn't played in the majors in 50 games.
With a dreadful September, the Rangers put themselves in a position in which they needed to win eight consecutive games to qualify for the AL wildcard game. The back-to-back World Series teams rarely strung together losses. But this year's team fell into two terrible slumps. They dressed it up with all those wins over the Astros and Angels, but the Rangers couldn't beat anyone outside their division.
"If you look back at all those games where we struggled, that's why we were in this position," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We played well right at the end, but it's no consolation. We put ourselves in a do-or-die situation, and it didn't work out."
Just don't get the 163rd game confused with the postseason. The Rangers squandered the opportunity to win the AL West during a dreadful September. And unfortunately, that's becoming a trend.