All season long, the big-picture question has been “Which Rangers?”
Are they the team that rattled off ten wins in a row? The world-beaters who swept the Nats in D.C, then won a series in Houston? Or are they the team that has blown more late-inning leads than any in baseball, including two more this week? Contenders? Or Sellers?
Tonight, tasked with choosing the high road or the low road, the team instead sat down, opened up a picnic basket full of room-temperature yoghurt, room-temperature coffee, and room-temperature bologna sandwiches (no condiments), put on their Michael Buble CD at a reasonable volume and refused to be goaded into picking any side at all.
To look at Yu Darvish’s line, you’d think it was a decent night for the starter, and by moderate standards, it was. He lasted six innings, striking out six, walking just one, and giving up three runs. But that line is a testament to his ability to overcome the 7 hits allowed and the lack of sharpness from the defense.
He didn’t get much help in the first. Nomar Mazara just plainly whiffed on a fly ball and allowed Jason Kipnis to start the game on second base rather than back in the dugout. Three pitches later, Francisco Lindor singled Kipnis home and Cleveland led 1-0. Darvish worked out of the inning without another run scoring, but even that was done in this fashion: 4-6 fielder’s choice on what appeared to be a turnable double-play ball / double (runners now at second and third) / 1-5-2-5-1 rundown (runners still at second and third) / strikeout. It wasn’t dominant, but it worked.
The third inning bore a striking resemblance to the first: Kipnis led off with a walk, Lindor singled, Michael Brantley singled home a run, Rougned Odor’s pause-to-glance-at-the-runner-on-third cost them a double play, and there was another rundown, this one as Jose Ramirez was caught advancing between first and second. The third, too, ended on a strikeout, but this time Darvish had allowed two more runs to make it 3-0.
There were some hot-coffee moments: in fact, Robinson Chirinos could probably heat up your coffee just by standing near it - he hit his 12th home run tonight in his 99th at-bat of the season. Chirinos now has home runs in each of his last four games. Elvis Andrus continued to breathe deep of whatever chemicals Cleveland air has in it, hitting his 10th home run of the year. Andrus entered the game hitting .409 in Cleveland, then proceeded to go 3-for-4 tonight to boost that to .419.
So it wasn’t all bad. If it had been all bad, it would have been ...bad.
Neither was it all good: Ernesto Frieri only got one out, but he walked three guys, then Dario Alvarez came in and let two of them score. It’s a sneaky move, trying to increase the ERA of your closest bullpen competition, but I don’t think it will work. Had the Frieri/Alvarez combo been able to hold the game at 3-1, then the 9th inning would have been much more interesting.
And that’s saying something, because the ninth was interesting as it was: Andrus’ home run made it 5-2, then with two outs, Jonathan Lucroy singled, advanced to second on defensive indifference, and scored on a Rougned Odor single. The Rangers–who had been down 5-1 entering the ninth inning–now trailed just 5-3, with Hot Coffee Chirinos at the plate as the tying run.
Alas, where the coffee had once been hot, the yoghurt once chilled, and the bologna once meat, but now here they all were, smooshed together in one tepid bite, leading neither to ecstasy nor agony, not spine-tingling, nor bone-chilling. Just a Baby-Bear-Porridge of a baseball game. Chirinos struck out, and the game was over. 5-3.
Texas has a chance to even up the 4-game series tomorrow at 11:05am (Texas time). Andrew Cashner will face Corey Kluber.
*Yes, I know that the baby bear porridge was the "good" porridge in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. But baseball, for all its fairy tales, is best served hot or cold.