At its material essence, baseball is simply a game of probability. A two-run lead in the 9th inning is better than just one, but not as good as three. A .300 hitter has a better chance of netting a base hit than one who hits .250, but not as good as someone hitting at a .330 clip. And a pitcher with a 2.5 ERA has a better chance of throwing a great game than someone with an ERA closer to 4.00. In 2012 the amount of statistical information we have the ability to process leads us into generating well-informed conclusions for the future. There is no other sport where the more talented team has a greater chance of losing than in baseball, where general human traits like “heart” and “will” and “effort” are each cast aside in favor of the unpredictable physics involved when a roundly-shaped off-white thing with red laces is hurled through a horizontal plane over a pentagon, while the offense looks to destroy it with a long piece of wood.
Baseball is limitless in possibilities, so all we really have to operate on is the likelihood of certain outcomes. Nothing in baseball can be assumed. You didn’t start drinking champagne before David Freese’s 9th-inning at bat in Game 6 of last year’s World Series. You didn’t call it quits after he hit the walk-off home run. Or, maybe you did, but that just makes you a dead-hearted pessimist like myself. Baseball is something you can take the ultimate of educated guesses at as to what will happen, but to assume anything at all creates the potential of biting you square in the ass. And that’s why I love it so.
Assumptions were my own mistake heading into the series against the Rays this week in Arlington. They have the best pitching staff in baseball, and although their offense has never intimidated much of anyone on paper, they always seem to surprise you. In Monday’s opener when David Price went up against Derek Holland, my own presuppositions got the best of me. You don’t expect much when you’re facing one of the league’s best pitchers, particularly when you pin the inconsistent nature of Derek Holland up against him.
It turned out to be anything resembling a pitcher’s dual, as Price exited after just four innings of work, allowing 6 runs on 10 hits. The hottest hitter in baseball, Adrian Beltre, found it in his arsenal to derail the freight train Price has become by way of a laser home run on a 97 mph fastball, depositing it into the left-field seats. It was Beltre’s 6th home run in his last 6 games, as he finished the night 3-3 with a walk, falling just a triple short of his 2nd cycle in 4 games. Derek Holland wasn’t at his best, allowing 5 runs (3 earned) in 6 innings of work, bailed out by the juggernaut offense at his back on his way to his 9th win of the season.
In last night’s middle game, we saw perhaps the most intriguing matchup of pitchers, as Tampa’s “Big Game” James Shields went toe-to-toe with Rangers quasi-Ace and Japanese import, Yu Darvish. Over the early portion of the game, Shields looked like the more dominant of the two pitchers, netting 5 strikeouts in his first three innings of work while facing the minimum. Darvish was not as sharp, walking two in his first four innings, but, almost miraculously, weaseled his way out of a 1st-and-2nd nobody out and bases loaded 1-out proposition in the 4th, which was the last real chance the Rays had to plate a run in the game. Darvish induced a smash grounder from Tampa catcher Jose Lobaton which was perfectly picked by Mitch Moreland, ending in a clutch 3-6-1 double play where Yu Darvish was able to awkwardly stretch out and keep his foot on the bag.
The bottom of the frame started with Ian Kinsler upper-cutting a middle-in fastball high over the wall in left-field, landing about 4 rows deep. And that was all the offense the Rangers needed. Shields finished with an impressive 7 innings of work, allowing just 3 hits and striking out 8, but it wasn’t enough to best his counterpart who only got stronger as the game went on. Yu Darvish didn’t allow a walk after the 4th, and finished up with 7 innings himself, striking out 10. It was Darvish’s 8th start of the season where he amassed a double-digit strikeout figure, the highest total for a Ranger since Nolan Ryan accomplished the feat 18 times all the way back in 1989.
Mike Adams and Joe Nathan pitched near-flawless baseball in the 8th and 9th, making the 1-0 lead stand up. According to Joey Matchulat of Baseball Time in Arlington, it’s just the 8th time since 2000 the Rangers have won a game 1-0, but the 3rd time they’ve done it in 2012. Just a great pitching performance against a great team. A fantastic victory for the Rangers.
By way of winning the first two games against the Rays, the Rangers have won yet another home series, running their record at The Ballpark to 43-24 — best in baseball.
Facing Tampa Bay is never a fun task, but if you told me we’d take two of three in the series before it started, I would have gladly accepted that and moved on with my life. Tonight behind Matt Harrison the Rangers will be going for the series sweep, as the Rays throw out Matt Cobb.
It should be fun.