Rangers on the brink
It seems so hard to believe, but as we sit here right now, the Rangers are one game away from vanquishing the mighty New York Yankees and heading to their first-ever World Series.
After the Rangers melted down in the eighth inning of Game 1, one member of the media asked aloud in the press box, “How many teams in baseball are not afraid of the Yankees?”
The implication, of course, was that the Rangers clearly were intimidated by the Bronx Bombers as evidenced by their 10-game playoff losing streak to them.
Now, the Yankees may indeed make a comeback in this series — though really after watching the last three games you have to really wonder about that likelihood of that — but Ron Washington’s Rangers are not afraid of anyone.
Speaking of Washington, the more I am around him or listen to him hear him talk, the more impressed I am with him. Nothing seems to rattle him and the confidence he displays in his players is clear and surely must play a role in the way the Rangers have handled this postseason.
One other thing that jumps out to me about this series is the way the bullpens have been managed.
Now look, I understand that we are in the Era of Closers and as such managers are careful to only use their closers in save situations (after all there’s that whole loud music/video presentation that needs to accompany their entrances). But consider this: Each team has hurt itself during this series by not using their best relief pitcher at crucial times.
First there was Washington electing not to use his closer Neftali Feliz in the eighth inning of Game 1. Maybe Feliz would have done no better than Darren Oliver, Darren O’Day or Clay Rapada, but don’t you have to go down with your best on the mound? What if Feliz had been the one to come on in the eighth and shut the Yankees down? It would mean the Rangers would be back in Texas right now getting ready for Game 1 of the World Series.
Yankees skipper Joe Girardi made a questionable decision in Game 3 when he elected not to bring on Mariano Rivera to start the ninth against the Rangers.
True, the Yankees were down in that game, 2-0, but with Cliff Lee at 122 pitches through eight, the Rangers were going to have to go to Feliz in the ninth. Maybe Feliz would have gotten the job done, but if you’re the Yankees don’t you like the thought of the youngster having to get the final three outs at Yankee Stadium with just a two-run lead?
Instead, Girardi went with Boone Logan, David Robertson and Sergio Mitre, the Rangers scored six runs and Feliz had a nice cushion to work with in the bottom of the ninth.
It just seems like the whole closer situation has gotten out of control. I get the arguments for the specialized role — there’s a lot of pressure in the ninth inning, pitchers like to know their roles, if you bring in someone to pitch the eighth you still have to worry about those three outs in the ninth etc. — but teams have created a cottage industry of sorts around the closer with all the entrance music/graphics that the salaries and importance of these pitchers continue to grow even while the amount they pitch seems to shrink.
It just seems counter intuitive to not have your best reliever on the mound when the game is on the line, whether that’s in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings.