Anatomy of small ball, comeback 9th inning
July, 23, 2011
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Rangers played small ball in the ninth inning on Saturday. Maybe more like Ron Washington ball. Whatever you want to call it, the Rangers went from bashers to bunters and turned a one-run deficit into a dramatic 5-4 walk-off win complete with a loud crowd and a celebratory huddle around Michael Young after his game-winning hit.
"It shows you our versatility," Moreland said. "We can swing our way out of it, or if we need to play small ball we can do that, too. It gives you confidence as a team to know that whatever situation you're put in that you'll be able to prevail. It was a lot of fun and it won the series for us."
Washington made some key decisions, and his players executed to make it happen. Let's look at why certain decisions were made, what the players were thinking and how it all came together:
* Chris Davis was slated to lead off the ninth inning, but when the Blue Jays elected to keep LHP Marc Rzepczynski in the game instead of going to the closer, Washington opted to use right-handed hitting Mike Napoli to pinch hit for the left-handed hitting Davis. One big reason: Lefties were hitting just .159 against Rzepczynski this season.
Napoli said he was trying to drive something early in the count and quickly fell behind 0-2. Napoli then stayed patient and used a good eye to take four straight balls -- some of them close to the zone -- to draw the walk. It was his 29th on the season, second-most on the team (Kinsler has 58).
* With Napoli at first base, Mitch Moreland came up and was asked to put down a sacrifice bunt for just the second time this year. He put down a good one and Rzepcynzki's throw pulled Adam Lind off the bag, putting runners at first and second with no outs.
"Mitch's bunt was huge," Young said. "That was the one that setup that inning. That was the bunt that really got it going."
Moreland said he works on bunting every day in batting practice and was convinced he could get it down.
* Toronto then went to closer Jon Rauch. At that point, Washington had a decision to make. Because Napoli pinch hit for Davis, catcher Yorvit Torrealba was still in the game. So the manager could have pinch hit for Napoli and put a faster runner at second to represent the tying run.
"The object was to pinch run for Moreland," Washington said. "I never thought about pinch running for Napoli because if we tie the game up, I still have Napoli in the game at first base. That’s what I was thinking. Napoli knows how to run the bags. He came from the Angels. All they did was run the bags."
So Washington put Craig Gentry in at first to run for Moreland. Besides making the potential winning run a speed guy, it also made it difficult for the pitcher to throw to second to try to start a double-play should a bunt be hit right back to the mound. If Napoli had come out, it would have left Torrealba as the only catcher available. So if he got hurt in extra innings, the Rangers would have been in a tough spot.
"I thought Gentry was pinch running for me," Napoli said. "I started to go to the dugout and then stopped. But I knew I was fast enough."
Napoli gave the dugout a quick antler sign and laughed, knowing many of them noticed he took a few steps toward the dugout to leave the field.
* Before Ian Kinsler walked to the plate to face Rauch with two on and no outs in the inning, he asked Washington what he wanted him to do. "I said drive it home," Washington said. "Then I thought and said, 'No, take one shot and see if we can get them to second and third and if it doesn’t work the first time, they’ll probably charge on you and swing the bat.' He got it down."
Kinsler executed the bunt on the first pitch and made it a close play at first. That moved the runners over with one out.
* Elvis Andrus strolled to the plate and knew what we was going to do.
"That was already planned," said Washington about the squeeze play.
Andrus said he just wanted to make sure to get the bat on the ball and knew Napoli was charging home. Rauch tried to flip the ball to home plate with his glove and was late. Catcher J.P. Arencibia still managed to throw to first and get Andrus as Gentry moved to third.
* The Blue Jays didn't want to take a chance on Josh Hamilton beating them, so they intentionally walked him. It's the 10th time he's been intentionally walked. That allowed Michael Young to come up with the winning run on third.
* Young hit a 1-2 fastball deep to right field and it carried more than Corey Patterson expected. The right fielder got turned around and the ball went over his head. The Rangers rushed out of the dugout and mobbed Young at second base.
"To be successful, you have to be able to execute," Washington said. "I believe it’s the little things in certain situations of the ballgame that come into play. It was great execution."
Give the manager and bench coach Jackie Moore some credit too. They made all the right calls in that dugout to give the Rangers a chance at the comeback. Texas is now 2-32 when trailing after eight innings.