Ian being Ian: HR and a lift from Kinsler
September, 17, 2013
By Todd Wills | ESPNDallas.com
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Ian Kinsler added to his list of memorable home runs at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night with the first pitch he saw.
His first-inning long ball might be the hit that ignites a fourth consecutive postseason for the Texas Rangers.
Kinsler’s ninth-inning two-run homer in Game 5 of the 2010 American League Division Series gave the Rangers a 5-1 lead over the Tampa Bay Rays and sealed the Rangers' first playoff series victory in franchise history.
And did Texas ever need his blast Tuesday. The home run. Then a 7-1 victory with a huge performance by Alexi Ogando. The end of a grueling seven-game losing streak, during which the Rangers trailed for 63 consecutive innings.
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
The first-pitch leadoff home run by Ian Kinsler against the Rays on Tuesday represented the Rangers' first lead in 64 innings -- and a much-needed boost in their race for the postseason.
Oh, and the Rangers also pulled even with the Rays for the two AL wild-card spots, each a half-game ahead of the Cleveland Indians.
"Given the circumstances, it was a big win," Kinsler said.
Was it ever.
The Rangers also hadn't hit a home run during their seven-game skid, their longest such stretch in the 23 years. So when Kinsler crushed the first pitch thrown by Jeremy Hellickson into the left-field seats -- in the same direction as that Game 5 homer of his -- well, it gave the Rangers a big lift, and a lead they’d sought for so long.
"Obviously, we've been fighting from behind a lot this last week or so," Kinsler said. "So to be able to get one out of the way, to get the first hit out of the way, to get the first run out of the way, give Ogando a little bit of breathing room was big. It was a nice reaction, but we knew the game wasn't over yet. It was nice to get off to a good start like that."
The Rangers are looking to their best players to stop this September skid. Kinsler provided the first blow.
That is the player he has always been. When he's at his best, Kinsler makes things happen.
"The homer by Ian made the whole team relax," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "It was our first lead in a little while. To get on [the scoreboard] first helped Ogando a little, too. He did a terrific job today, quick innings."
Texas manager Ron Washington went with Ogando on Tuesday night over other candidates because he was the pitcher who gave the team the best chance to put up zeroes and give the offense a chance to get going.
Ogando did just that. Staked to a 1-0 lead, he retired the six batters he faced, striking out the side in the bottom of the second.
The Rangers' offense finally exploded in the top of the third. Mitch Moreland walked. Washington then put the hit and run on with Leonys Martin up. Martin decided to bunt and fouled it off. Washington took the play off and Martin laced a double into the right-field corner, moving Moreland to third.
Kinsler then came through with a two-run single, staying on a changeup from Hellickson and blooping it into center field. Andrus followed with just his third home run of the season, also a two-run shot to left field. It gave Ogando and the bullpen a 5-1 lead.
Ogando, who was expected to throw only 60 pitches, survived a home run by Jose Lobaton and two more base runners in the bottom of the third. He worked a perfect fourth and faced the minimum in the fifth, getting a double-play ball to take him to 69 pitches.
Ogando kept telling Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux that he was feeling strong, and they stayed with him. He'll start again Sunday against the Kansas City Royals.
"I pitched well, and the team won," Ogando said. "It's been a while since I had a really good feeling about my pitches. I worked hard today, and a lot of people had a lot of confidence, as I did myself."
The Rangers got to go the one of the AL's best bullpens for the first time with a lead in nine days. The quartet of Joakim Soria, Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan combined to give up two hits.
"Ogando gave us a chance to set it up the way we like to use it," Washington said.
The sum of it -- the Rangers don't have to talk about all of these bad streaks anymore, the big one the seven losses in a row.
"You have to have a sense of relief when you lose seven in a row," Washington said. "You know you're a better team than that. That's the way streaks start. You have to get that first one first."