I’m the guy who thinks mismatching my socks is the right baseball thing to do, so I’m not going to continue to dismiss the way Texas seems to play in Oakland. It’s pretty ugly.
Now, baseball being what it is, it shouldn’t necessarily be cause for alarm that a good team coming off a four-game win streak, and seven of nine, would regress a bit to the mean when traveling to the house of another good team, one coming off losses in six of seven and due for its own market correction. Good teams still lose more than 50 times a year. They also tend to win more games than they lose.
But you thought the same thing I did in the top of the seventh, as Ian Kinsler, sporting a batting average better than his career best and a slug higher than his career best, stood in against a lefthander with two outs and men on second and third: It probably wasn’t going to happen.
Or maybe it occurred to you earlier, when A’s nine-hole hitter Michael Taylor, who hadn’t drawn a walk in his 44 big league plate appearances in 2012 and 2013 (54 trips if you go back to September 21, 2011, when Texas starter C.J. Wilson lost him), drew a Derek Holland walk with two men on in the fifth . . . and a Robbie Ross walk with two outs and a man on in the sixth . . . hours before he’d be optioned back to AAA Sacramento.
Or maybe it was seeing Holland, entrusted with a 3-0 lead and featuring a really good changeup, unable nonetheless to get out of the sixth, allowing the final 10 A’s he faced to go 6 for 9 with a run-scoring “Luke Montz” sac fly.
You were thinking what I was thinking. The best team in the league wasn’t going to get it done.
You start to develop a feel, for better or worse, when you watch a team day to day, season to season, and O.co Coliseum is not only a terrible name for a stadium, it’s also been a brutal place for the Rangers to play for a good while now.
Going into last night’s game, Texas had lost 9 of 11 in Oakland.
Including those three disgusting games in October.
The first of which Texas had tied in the fourth.
The second of which Texas led in the fifth.
The third of which Texas led, 5-1, after three. Before losing by seven runs.
Nobody’s been a better regular season club than the Rangers since this stretch of ineptitude in Oakland began, and yet Texas seems overmatched in that ballpark, a vibe that I was able to shake off for about half an hour last night after Mitch Moreland did Mitch Moreland things to a Bart Colon pitch in the fourth, but that resurfaced in the fifth and took root after that.
Even when Texas tied the game back up in the eighth, it still didn’t feel very good.
Men on first and second in the top of the ninth with Kinsler and Elvis Andrus coming up, just one out, and I’m not exactly counting on a lead.
Each goes down on strikes, meekly.
There’s no reason for this team – which Richard Justice of MLB.com points out has been in first place for 490 of 526 days since June 8, 2010, including 204 of 226 days since the 2012 season began – to be this good, and yet so irritatingly ham-fisted in Oakland.
Argue small sample size if you wish, but only if you were reasonably optimistic when Texas had Lance Berkman on third with one out in the sixth, two men on for Kinsler in the seventh, that golden opportunity for Kinsler and Andrus in the ninth, or even just one of those situations.
How’d you feel when Adrian Beltre unleashed on a 3-0 pitch in the 10th and gave Texas a 5-4 lead? Better, I’m sure. But good?
How about when Moreland blasted his second shot of the game minutes later?
I was only sort of confident. Which is crazy.
Joe Nathan coaxes a lazy fly to center from Josh Donaldson, previously 4 for 4, in two pitches to start the bottom of the 10th.
And I was still more certain that Geovany Soto would double-pump his next throw back to Nathan and then wipe the dirt in front of the plate than I was that Texas had this one locked up.
And now I know I’ll be going to work on about four hours’ sleep in the morning, no matter how this one would end.
Now it was Oakland with men on second and third – the tying run and the walkoff run – and just one out. And suddenly Nathan can’t find the plate. The first three of his 19 pitches had been strikes, but only five of the next 16, just one of which was swung through.
Four more out of the zone, intentionally, and they’re loaded up with one out. Daric Barton is up, though it feels like it doesn’t matter who is due, as long as he has an elephant (appropriately) on his shoulder.
Ball. Foul. Ball. Foul.
I have a sudden, unwanted premonition that Barton is going to hit a screaming, one-hop rocket to Moreland, and he steps on the bag – cursed to make a decision I know he knows better than to make, because this is O.co, after all – and throws to second, but Brandon Moss alertly stops short of the bag with the force gone, allowing John Jaso to cross the plate with the tying run.
The stupid premonition still haunts me until Barton swings through a slider low and outside – just Nathan’s second swing-and-miss of the night, on what was his 30th pitch. Two outs.
Still feels like something bad is imminent as Eric Sogard steps up with two outs in this objectively ordinary mid-May game with subjectively mid-September adrenaline levels that I barely remember Derek Holland pitched in.
First-pitch slider, up and over and really fat, and Sogard absolutely squares up, barreling a laser between first and second, the kind of bat-on-ball contact you don’t even feel when its yours.
The game is over, one way or the other.
Kinsler gloves it, making the play look easier than it was, and the game is over in the right way, the way I never really felt it would until Kinsler lobbed the ball toward first.
Which is just dumb, but this is baseball – spectacularly tense mid-May baseball – and with a chance this afternoon to win the damn series, in the O.co mausoleum, this morning’s sock decision is simply out of my hands.