Some Quick Thoughts On Day 7 Of The Playoffs

Antlers

Two days off. Two days off! And then our second consecutive round that doesn't feature the Red Sox! Life is good.

  • It's weird to think that that went exactly as I wanted it to go. Rationally, I shouldn't have been rooting for the Rangers. What's good for the Rangers is bad for the Mariners. Not directly, but it's close. The better the Rangers do in the playoffs, the more money they make. The more money they make, the more money they can spend on their team. The more money they can spend on their team, the better they'll be. That's bad. They're a divisional rival. And that doesn't even touch on the whole they-could-make-the-Series-before-we-do thing. That's the kind of meaningless bit of trivia that, to a fan, can sometimes mean everything.

    But as I so often do when I can't figure out a rooting interest, I sat there and let my heart decide. And as I watched the Rangers take on the Rays in a decisive playoff Game 5, I found myself rooting for the rival. I found myself rooting for the Rangers to succeed, and I found myself hooting and cheering out loud when they scored, or when Cliff Lee made a phenomenal pitch.

    (Granted, that might be because many of the Rangers' runs, and many of Lee's pitches, were hoot-worthy.)

    I can't really explain it, and I don't have to explain it, because nothing about fanhood is rational. Rational fanhood is non-existent fanhood. It's why no one can ever write a serious rootability article. Who you cheer for is left entirely up to the individual, and sometimes that individual will cheer for a team even without knowing why he's doing it. I don't know why I was cheering so hard for the Rangers. But there's no denying that I was.

    I suspect it had a lot to do with Cliff Lee, and obviously I feel a stronger connection with him than I do with any other player on that team. Even without Lee, though, I think I still would've been cheering for the Rangers. And if they'd been able to advance without Lee's services, I think I still would've been happy. They're a fun team. What can I say? The Rays are a fun team, too, but I saw enough of the Rays in 2008. I've moved on.

    If the Rangers make the playoffs again in 2011 - and the Mariners don't - I'm guessing I'll move on from them, as well, and cheer for somebody else, like the Pirates. The Rangers will be old hat to me. For now, they're still fresh. They're fresh, and I find them likable. Even if the damned claw and antlers are starting to drive me up a motherfucking wall

  • Cliff Lee makes me laugh. Or, I should say Cliff Lee makes me giggle. In Game 1, he took a few innings to get settled, and then he was automatic. Today, in Game 5, it took him a few innings to get settled, and then he was automatic. The tipping point was the fourth inning. After falling behind a couple times in the second and getting into trouble in the third, Lee found his spot in the fourth, and decided that would be a good time to start flipping that big loopy curve. He struck out the side. The Rangers had just taken the lead back in the top half of the inning, and when I saw Lee carve through the Rays 5-6-7 the way that he did, I chuckled to myself. That was it. The Rays had blown their last chance the inning before, and now Cliff Lee was ready to pitch.

    And, obviously, he was incredible, despite the best efforts of Jason Bartlett, who deserves a gold star for getting three hits against Lee and working him for a ten-pitch at bat in the fifth. Once Lee got going, the Rays' only hope was to work long at bats and chase him from the game. Bartlett did his best, but no one else could manage. So Lee just kept pitching.

    His final numbers are obscene, or they would be obscene for anyone who isn't 2010 Cliff Lee. Lee worked a complete game. He didn't walk a soul, and he struck out 11. Of his 120 pitches, 90 were strikes. A bunch of pitchers have thrown 90 strikes in a playoff game - it's been done 16 times - but only three times has a starter thrown strikes with at least 75% of his pitches. Lee's company? Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, and last week's Roy Halladay. And the highest any of those guys went was 108.

    Lee's just on another level. He isn't alone on that level, but there aren't enough others to form a basketball team. I guess they could play tennis. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay could play tennis against each other. And they'd probably be awesome at it.

    At most, the Rangers are only going to get two starts from Lee in the ALCS. They, and we, can have as much confidence that Lee will pitch well as they, and we, have ever had in any pitcher. The man is so nails he could give a guy tetanus.

  • In the ninth inning, Rays fans were streaming out of Tropicana Field by the thousands. I can forgive the Rays for their lousy attendance. I understand the problem. They're in a difficult situation. But these people were already there. They were already in attendance for Game 5 of an ALDS, and though most of them started to leave after the Ian Kinsler home run, that only made it a 5-1 contest. It's not like the task at hand was impossible. And besides, even if the Rays were doomed, this would be their last game of the season, and the last game of Carl Crawford's Tampa career. How important was that 5-10 minute head start?

    Some fans will leave any sporting event early. That's just the nature of big crowds. But this left a bitter taste in my mouth. I feel bad for the hardcore fans the Rays have, because they're not the problem. The problem is the shitty support among the others, and those are the people with whom the hardcore fans are being lumped in when critics say the Rays have the worst fanbase in baseball. They have some great, great fans. They also have thousands upon thousands of people who would leave Game 5 early.

  • In case you weren't watching, here's how the Rangers scored their first three runs:

    (1) Elvis Andrus scores from second on a Josh Hamilton groundout to first

    (2) Nelson Cruz scores from second when he attempts to steal third with two outs and the throw sails into the outfield

    (3) Vladimir Guerrero scores from second on an Ian Kinsler groundout to first

    These were three weird, weird plays that you just don't expect to see in such a critical playoff game. In order:

    (1) I thought Andrus' baserunning was terrific. Andrus briefly slowed down as he rounded third, but he has good speed, and as soon as he noticed that David Price had his back to the plate, he bolted straight home. It was a super aggressive play, but it was by a guy with quick legs, and it set the tone early.

    (2) I thought Cruz's baserunning was awful. With two outs and none on, Cruz hit a long fly ball to straightaway center and walked a few steps out of the box before he realized the ball would stay in play and started sprinting. He wound up with a double, which meant he was already in scoring position. I don't know why he suddenly bolted for third. Obviously, it worked, as he caught everyone by surprise. But he got a terrible jump, and had Kelly Shoppach made a better throw, he would've been meat.

    The approximate break-even rate on that attempt was about 90%. Cruz had to be 90% sure he'd make it for the attempt to be worthwhile, because going from second to third with two outs doesn't mean very much. I think he got lucky. It panned out, and it gave the Rangers a huge run, and it earned Cruz a lot of high fives, and that's great, but he was a normal throw from having some questions to answer.

    (3) I thought Vlad's baserunning was okay and weird. It was a very similar attempt to Andrus' in the first, as Vlad went 180 feet on a groundball. The big difference is that Vlad isn't Elvis Andrus. Andrus can fly. Vladimir Guerrero runs like he's sneaking a bottle of beer in his sock. Again, he made it because David Price had his back to home plate and then double-pumped on his throw home while Shoppach made a poor try at a tag, and the run was enormous, but that's something I don't want a guy like Vlad doing very often. I just don't trust him.

    Vladimir Guerrero ran 180 feet on an infield groundout, and Bengie Molina stole second base. If that happened against me in a video game I'd submit a bug report to the developers. "See, you have these things happening that don't happen ever."

  • Of course, we couldn't let the game go by without a little umpire controversy. First, there was Michael Young barely tagging Jason Bartlett in a pickle in the third. Second, there was the grounder on which Vlad came home, where first base umpire Mike DiMuro ruled that Ian Kinsler beat the throw to first even though replays showed that the ball arrived ahead of him. If Price truly caught the ball before Kinsler arrived, and Kinsler had been called out, that would've completed a 3-6-1 double play, and the inning would've ended without the Rangers' third run going on the board.

    Both calls were very, very close. I haven't seen anything conclusive on the replays. I suspect that Kinsler was out, but I'm not sure. I think baseball needs to expand its list of acceptable uses for instant replay. I also think baseball needs a hell of a lot more cameras.
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