By Gary Kerbow, September 30, 2013
TB 5, TEX 2
Martin Perez wasn’t enough to neutralize the Tampa Bay Rays in the tie-breaker game, number 163 for both teams, and the chance to participate in the play-in game against the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday. Tampa Bay’s David Price was all the Rays needed to end the Rangers season and send them off into the night, waiting until February 2014 to start this thing all over again.
Tampa Bay started early and never let up, staying at least a step ahead of the Ranger offense all game long. The first four batter reached on Texas starter and rookie Martin Perez, and it looked as if the Rookie of the Year candidate would not make it out of the first. With the bases loaded and one out, Perez surrendered a sacrifice fly to score Wil Myers for the 1-0 lead, then got left fielder Sean Rodriguez out swinging to end the inning. It’s likely the Rays would have scored more had not Craig Gentry gunned down leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings trying to stretch a single into a double. Had Jennings been safe, Tampa Bay probably would have plated at least two runs in the first and maybe even more. One never knows how hypotheticals would have worked out.
Meanwhile Texas bats were eerily quiet, like the nearly coming October moon just over the next 24 hours. While they hit the ball well at times, it felt as if they only did so because Price let them. David Price had gone 0-3 against Texas in the playoffs stemming back from 2010, so it was his turn to shine.
And shine he did.
Price gave up little, but showed signs of being human on several occasions. Unfortunately, at the times he looked human, Texas was unable to capitalize on his humanity. Priced scattered seven hits and gave up two earned runs over nine innings and defeated the Rangers in a complete game effort before the Texas home crowd of 42,796 on a perfect night for baseball.
Perfect for everyone except the Texas Rangers.
Even when the Ranger threatened, it had the feel that it would never be more than a veiled threat. Only Alex Rios and Adrian Beltre hit the ball hard, with both getting extra base hits. Rios’ double in the bottom of the sixth scored Andrus for the Rangers second and final run and mounted the only serious threat by Texas. Other innings ended on base running errors as Andrus and Kinsler were both picked off first base by Price at critical times during the game. Andrus walked in the bottom of the first and was picked off for the second out. Kinsler was picked off first while trying to get a head start toward second. Price threw to first James Loney, who threw it to Yunel Escobar who applied the tag to Kinsler to end the inning with Alex Rios at the plate.
Not to blame either Andrus or Kinsler, but nothing looked in sync for Texas, even though they had the advantage of being able to stay home for this extra game. When Texas hit the ball hard it was right at somebody, so from the outset it looked as if this was not going to be Texas’ night.
When Rios hit his double, it was about six feet from being out of the park for a two-run home run. Had that left the yard, Price probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer and if may have been a different ball game.
But hypotheticals are not for baseball, so what we are left with is the reality that what it took to get Texas into game number 163, was all it had to give for the 2013 season. Tampa Bay was clearly the better team on the night, as the curtain came down on what was a roller coaster season.
What we learned is that starting pitching is a valued commodity and, while the Ranger Farm System has been successful in developing home grown talent, there is still room for improvement. Martin Perez turned out to be what everyone in the front office expected him to be and should develop into a front line pitcher for years to come.
Neal Cotts and Jason Frasor, while aged veterans, both added veteran experience and were instrumental in getting the Rangers into this extra game. As for their longevity, only time will tell.
Joakim Soria, while healthy, still has room for improvement, but should be in better shape to contribute from day one next season. With a full spring training under his belt, he will complete for the seventh inning spot next year, should Frasor find himself a year older and several mph slower on this fastball.
Neftali Feliz came back and at time looked like his old self, but he still has lots of work before he can be depended on in any major role in the bullpen. A full Spring Training will do him good as well.
Tanner Scheppers has solidified himself as a late inning worker and heir apparent to Joe Nathan as the closer for the future. He needs to display more consistent command of that powerful fastball of his, which landed him in trouble at times throughout the year. Mostly, Scheppers was a strong contributor who has found a home in Arlington.
A.J. Pierzynski provided much needed leadership and often was the only one to add spark to the lineup at times. The team seem to feed off his energy, but that may not be enough to keep him around. While his power numbers were down, his defense came on strong toward the end of the year and he had a knack for getting clutch hits, so it’s likely he may be back for another year next year.
Lance Berkman fooled me by not retiring already. After an optimistic April, he vanished into oblivion following a few nagging injuries that he could not recover from and won’t be back for 2014.
David Murphy and Nelson Cruz probably has seen their last days as Rangers. Murphy was less than productive after being given the starting left-field job coming out of Cactus League play, but never could get going. He had times of greatness, but Craig gentry came on much stronger in the last weeks of the seasons and probably earned the starting job going into next spring. Murphy will probably find a lucrative contract during the off season, one that the Texas front office will not be willing to match, while I will hate to see him go, his roster spot becomes another opportunity for prospects in the farm system to move up and prove themselves.
The Rangers still need that every day catcher. Pierzynski and Soto, while serviceable, are not the type of run producing catchers needed for this line-up. Atlanta Braves’ catcher Brian McCann is a free agent and his name has been uttered around the Ballpark numerous times. Don’t be surprised if he isn’t in a Ranger uniform in 2014.
As for 2013, this season will go down as a disappointment, although one couldn’t help but get excited down the stretch with the way Texas had to play to extend their season for one additional game. It’s unfortunate that it had to end in Arlington, but was more of a transitional year than it was scheduled to be, given the early season success.
So we’ll watch with bitter interest to see who represent the American League in the World Series, them pick our rooting interest at that time. At this point, I can’t think beyond the disappointment of losing to Tampa Bay, so I’ll issues a full playoff report later when my mind can transition from disappointment back to baseball.
For now, I’ll say a simple thank you to the Rangers for the many moments of joy they provided me and my family this seasons and pledge my loyal support for 2014.