The Texas Rangers were one strike away not once, but twice, from winning their first World Series title in franchise history. But they let it walk away, literally and physically.
Many factors can be analyzed in their loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Games 6 and 7 of the Fall Classic in St. Louis. The one thing that stood out for me was how the much hyped pitching staff “dropped the ball”.
Outside of Derek Holland, who pitched brilliantly in the Game 4 win, the “heralded” staff performed poorly at the most important time of the year.
One thing that was stressed to us in college was first pitch strikes. It was kept on a chart and pointed out to us when we didn’t execute to the satisfaction of the coaches. First pitch strikes meant the world, and in this case the World Series. This is what I feel was the reason the Rangers lost.
They fell behind too many times to the Cardinals hitters. After that you are forced to play catch up and mistakes are more likely to be capitalized on. 1-0 counts quickly became 2-0 or 3-1 counts, and the result would be walks or the ball being smashed. The result also ends up being Game 6.
The Rangers should have never been in the situations they were. Even after Neftali Feliz gave up the double to Albert Pujols in the 9th, the key to the inning was the walk to Lance Berkman afterwards. Feliz was all over the place, and falling behind in the count constantly during that inning.
Next thing you know a “hit me pitch” is delivered to David Freese, and a 7-5 lead turns into a tie ballgame. You can argue that Nelson Cruz should have caught that ball, but you can also argue that if Feliz would have come out of the bullpen throwing strikes or at least stayed around the plate, that situation would’ve never happened.
Fast forward to the 10thinning and there’s free baseball for everyone. After Josh Hamilton puts the Rangers up with a 2-run homer, the end falls apart again. Getting behind in counts would lead to the Cards tying things up. Once again, you can make the case that Ron Washington should have left Feliz in the game instead of starting the inning with Darren Oliver. Washington wanted Oliver to get the first two lefties out, and Oliver failed to do so, giving up two singles and wasn’t exactly crisp throwing in the zone.
Moving to the 11th, there really isn’t much to say. Mark Lowe fell behind to the first hitter in the inning, that hitter being Freese. A 3-2 count ends up being a game-winning shot to straightaway center to force a Game 7.
This alarming trend continued in the ever-important Game 7. After the Rangers got 2 runs off Chris Carpenter in the top of the 1st, the Cards came right back. Two walks by Matt Harrison, with 2 outs already on the board, would cross the plate and we start all over again. A hard-earned lead disappears because of the inability to use or find the zone.
On the other side, Carpenter was the prime example of what college coaches stressed years ago. After a rocky 1st inning, Carpenter settled down by getting ahead of the hitters. And even if he started out 1-0 in the count, he came back with a strike and then worked his magic. The Rangers never got on track afterwards.
By getting ahead in the count, you give yourself a better opportunity to use all your weapons. You may not even have to throw another strike, just something around the zone, like Carpenter did on different occasions. Technically, you have six chances (not counting foul balls), to throw two strikes. But fall behind early on, you play catch up and the advantage swings to the hitter. The chances of him getting a good pitch to hit or you making a mistake just trying to get one over increase dramatically.
The Rangers pitching just fell behind and couldn’t catch up, walking 41 Cards in the series. That’s why the Cards are celebrating their 11th title and the Rangers fall short for a second straight year. What’s more bothersome for Rangers Nation is there may not be an opportunity like this for a long time. The road was clear for the Rangers to grab their first World Series championship, with the best teams record-wise knocked out of the playoffs early on. Honesty, it’s almost impossible to make it back a third straight time. And the way it went down this year will be very hard to overcome.
Ironic how a team that had so much trouble throwing strikes was just one strike away from being baseball’s best.