From Joe: I was unable to attend or watch this game due to a personal commitment, so I had a good friend of mine Jeff Winget take his family to the game instead of me, and is sitting in on this commentary. Thanks to Jeff for going in my place last night!
First and foremost, a shout-out to both Chevrolet and Joe Siegler for giving me and my family the extraordinary opportunity to attend this game. A million thanks is not enough!
So, having been given an extremely rare opportunity by Joe to attend this game, there was no way I could turn it down, and I was hardly disappointed by the baseball played on-field, not to mention the playoff atmosphere that was in the air. I always enjoy attending regular season games, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just something about a playoff game that really brings out the most energetic and hardcore fans. When my wife and I attended the ALDS game last year, we had a blast. And then my trip to the only World Series game the Rangers won was by far one of the best experiences of my life. But for some reason, I just don’t remember so much energy as there was tonight. Granted, I think that having the bases loaded – TWICE – probably had something to do with it (although the second time was due to an intentional walk). But overall I felt like the fans in that stadium tonight were a step above – and they were repaid by witnessing history by the Rangers, all 51,351 of them!
Now, on to some real substance. The first inning started out rocky for Holland, which I expected considering the circumstances and his youth. But after loading the bases as the result of a walk, and then walking the runners around the bags, Holland managed to close out the inning with a fielder’s choice. The next couple innings for Derek were rather effortless, but in the 4th, the Rays extended their lead with a rather deep homerun from Joyce. Holland worked one more inning after that, then Washington called upon the bullpen for the 6th.
Fortunately, after Joyce’s homer, the Rangers came roaring back in the fourth, scoring 5 runs off good hits and solid base-running. After Elvis was beaned by Sheilds (three HBP for the Rays in a single game), the Rangers managed to make it all the way back to the top of the order with hits from Hamilton, Young, Napoli, Murphy (as the result of a strike-out that got away from Shoppach), and Moreland (sacrifice). During this inning, while the bases were loaded, is the loudest I can remember hearing the fans be at the ballpark – period. It was sensational.
After a fairly quite fifth inning, Washington called on Ogando to take the reins from Holland. Ogando performed very well, making quick work of the pinch hitter, and finishing the inning by causing Joyce to ground out. The Rangers came to life again in the bottom of the sixth, scoring two more runs on a double by Kinsler. Texas again loaded the bases, and again the fans went wild cheering, clapping, and shouting. Unfortunately, this inning would be cut short by a strikeout for Young after Hamilton was intentionally walked to load the bags.
In the seventh, Ron Washington made another pitching change which I very much disagreed with. Seeing Uehara come into the game turned my stomach, as I’ve seen him perform very poorly in some situations where we have a seemingly comfortable lead. My suspicions were confirmed when he opened this inning with a walk to Jennings, followed by a BJ Upton single, moving Jennings to third. Then, Evan Longoria stuck a knife through the heats of Ranger fans with a deep shot to left-center field. After pandering around for a few moments, Washingon (thankfully) emerged from the dugout, and Koji’s night was finished. In came Darren Oliver to quickly finish things off in order, leaving the score at 7-6, Rangers leading.
The bottom of the seventh and top of the eighth were rather uneventful, with Gomes quickly retiring the batters he faced in order, and Mike Adams taking care of another pinch hitter, followed by Kotchman and Joyce.
In the bottom of the eighth I just so happened to have my camera out, snapping away pictures of my daughter, when BOOM, I hear the crack of a bat, and the place goes nuts! I had an inkling that he would be the guy to do it, and since he only went 1-3 the whole night, he made that one hit count. If there were any fans starting to get distracted by things other than the game, Moreland’s solo shot to right field certainly brought them back. At the longest home run hit tonight, Moreland’s run added insurance to the Ranger’s slim lead.
In the ninth, Feliz came on to finish the job, and while he did walk the second batter he faced, Upton, Feliz did great work, and after only 15 pitches, the game was over. A much needed win, as I would not have felt very comfortable traveling to Tampa down 2-0 in a 5 game series. Now, with the series knotted, it’s really a best-of-3 with the Rays having home-field advantage, if you can even call their paltry attendance numbers and “advantage”.
Again, I want to extend my thanks to Joe and to Chevrolet for their kindness and generosity. Ballgame!