Andrus to Odor to Moreland.
That phrase was almost a description of the Rangers’ most recent and nerve-wracking comeback of the year. Instead, the phrase becomes the death knell for the Rangers 2016 season. It happened again.
Each of the three players involved in that mystifying, perplexing, and final play of the season had provided a big moment to help spur the comeback. Andrus’ third inning home run pulled the Rangers to within a run. Odor’s home run in the fourth did the same. Moreland’s double scored Odor and Jonathan Lucroy to take the lead. Lucroy, who scored the go-ahead run, was the fourth and final player to touch the ball on the play. History has a way of forgetting those contributions when the final score is so devastating. Baseball has a penchant for symmetry, redemption, and making beauty out of broken stories. Occasionally, like tonight, it also takes that beauty and capriciously breaks it again.
Colby Lewis is a good example of the former. The 38-year-old, veteran of more surgeries, more teams, more releases, and more disappointment than most, found a home with the Rangers in 2010 and has gone on to make himself the most prolific postseason pitcher in franchise history. Tonight, however, he struggled from the onset. After the Rangers took an early 1-0 lead without a single base hit (Carlos Gomez walked, stole second, advanced one station each on a pair of ground balls) Lewis gave up a leadoff single to Ezequiel Carrera, then struck out Josh Donaldson. His first pitch to Edwin Encarnacion was a swing and miss that resulted in Encarnacion’s bat flying into the stands.
His second pitch also induced a swing and an item in the stands, only it wasn’t a miss. The two-run home run gave the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead. Two batters later, Russell Martin would make it 3-1.
After Andrus’ home run in the top of the third made it 3-2, Lewis started the third inning the same way he had begun the first: Carrera single. Then he stole second. This time, Josh Donaldson didn’t strike out. Instead, after twice failing to get a bunt down, he hit a ball down the right field line at 84 miles per hour off the bat, at a launch angle of 32°. That is significant, because balls hit with those numbers are a base hit just 2% of the time. This was one such rarity. It bounced into the stands for a ground rule double. Colby’s night was finished, and Tony Barnette came on for the third time in the series.
Barnette, too, allowed a single, this one to Edwin Encarnacion. The score was 5-2. But here, for a time, the tide turned. Barnette retired the next three batters in order. Then in the fourth, Beltran walked, was replaced on first base by an Adrian Beltre fielder’s choice.
The boos were raining down on Rougned Odor from the moment the gates opened, and heartily each time he was announced. But his two-run blast in the 4th cast a brief pall over the Rogers Centre. The silence was reminiscent, actually, of Globe Life Park’s pause as Jose Bautista’s home run cleared the left field wall on Thursday. The ensuing boos, too, were similar, emerging only after the ball had safely disappeared over the wall.
It was now 5-4. Unlikely bullpen ace Alex Claudio pitched a clean fourth, then began the fifth by getting a groundout before Josh Donaldson singled. Jeremy Jeffress was the next man up. He walked Edwin Encarnacion, but escaped the inning when Bautista hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
In the top of the sixth, with two outs, it appeared that the Rangers had broken through to play another day. Rougned Odor, who had walked just 19 times in the regular season, walked for the second time in the last two postseason games. Jonathan Lucroy singled. Then Mitch Moreland hit a ball to the gap in left-center field that split the defenders. Odor scored the tying run. Lucroy, the go-ahead. It was 6-5.
But as with the Rangers’ only other lead of the night and the series, it would evaporate before another half-inning was over. Troy Tulowitzki’s one-out single sent Jeffress to the showers, and Jake Diekman was summoned. John Gibbons countered by pinch-hitting Melvin Upton for the left-handed Saunders. Upton hit the first pitch he saw into left field. An intentional walk later, Diekman, too, was done for the night. With the bases loaded, Keone Kela entered.
Kela’s performance was nothing short of fantastic. Darwin Barney popped out, and on a 1-0 count, Carrera flew out to right field to end the inning.
Oh right. That other thing.
Ball one to Carrera was a passed ball. Tulowitzki dashed home to score the tying run. We went to the seventh with the game tied at six. Grilli and Cecil confounded the Rangers. Kela, again, was masterful in the seventh before giving way to Matt Bush in the eighth. Bush struck out Russell Martin looking at a 93mph slider, then Tulowitzki swinging at 99. Tulo’s swing was so uneven that it finished with him dropping the bat on his backswing. The lumber lay helpless on the ground, and Tulowitzki looked at it for a moment, as if to ruminate on the truth: he might as well have placed it there upon arrival for the at-bat.
Melvin Upton struck out to end the 8th. Kevin Pillar struck out to start the ninth. Flyout from Barney. Pop-up from Carrera. Bush, like everyone else involved in the final play, was creating his own hero’s narrative.
In the top of the tenth inning, with two outs, Ian Desmond drove a ball to the warning track. Kevin Pillar caught it. Three up, three down, and though we didn’t know it yet, that would be the final at bat of the 2016 season for Texas.
By now, you know Matt Bush’s story, but perhaps you don’t know this. When Bush was pitching to Roy Silver in a Golden Corral parking lot this time last year, just trying to get a tryout, one last shot at being a baseball player after serving three years in prison, he and Silver had been watching the playoffs. And so, as he pitched, he visualized three hitters in the box: Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista.
When he made his Major League debut on May 13th, lo and behold, he faced Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista.
The preparation worked: Donaldson struck out, and Bautista and Encarnacion popped out.
Tonight, after having thrown a combined 22 pitches in the 8th and 9th innings, Bush emerged from the dugout to pitch the tenth. Only this time, Donaldson doubled to lead off the inning. Banister elected to intentionally walk Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista was up. Baseball likes to repeat itself, but tonight, Bautista did not hit a big three-run home run. Instead, he struck out.
With two on and one out, baseball repeated itself. Russell Martin grounded to Elvis Andrus.
Andrus to Odor to Moreland.
The throw was low. Moreland tried to make the pick, but could not. Instead of an inning-ending double play, it was a race to home plate. Donaldson beat Moreland’s throw. The season had ended on an error, an E4.
There will be time for reflection, time to look back on the season and appreciate what was. But for now, as baseball continues its hurtful dance of elimination, putting a blunt and sudden end on a season that so often feels endless, we will leave it here. Goodbye to the 2016 Texas Rangers: We will miss you.
ELVIS ANDRUS' first career postseason HR was also the 1st ever by a Texas shortstop, had been the only position (outside of pitcher) without a playoff HR for the Rangers
ROUGNED ODOR'S other postseason HR came in 2015 Game 1 here in Toronto, as he has hits and runs in all 4 postseason road games in his career (all here at Rogers Centre)...matches most postseason road HR against the Blue Jays, joining 4 other visitors with 2 HR in Toronto: Pat Sheridan, Kirby Puckett, Lenny Dykstra, Rickey Henderson
TONY BARNETTE became the 4th Ranger (5th instance) to appear in at least the 1st 3 games of a Texas postseason series...the others:
-Alexi Ogando - 2011 WS - 1st 3
-Darren O'Day - 2010 WS - 1st 3
-Darren O'Day - 2010 ALDS - 1st 4
-Darren Oliver - 2010 ALDS - 1st 3
MITCH MORELAND'S double was just the 4th go-ahead hit with the club trailing in Rangers postseason history...the other 3 were all HR (Texas won all 3 games):
-Juan Gonzalez 3-R HR in the 4th inning in 1996 ALDS G1 at NYY
-Bengie Molina 3-R HR in 6th inning in 2010 ALCS G4 at NYY
-Mike Napoli 2-R HR in 7th inning in 2011 ALDS G3 at TB