Monday, October 3, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Rangers 4, Rays 3
By Richard Durrett
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was a tremendous Game 3 with all kinds of key decisions and performances. Colby Lewis pitched well, Mike Napoli's hands were all over the game and the bullpen was up and down but did the job at the end for Texas. The Rangers lead the series 2-1 and have a chance to clinch it at 1:07 p.m. Tuesday on TBS and ESPN 103.3 FM. We'll have plenty on ESPNDallas.com and on the blog, so stay tuned. To get you started, here are some quick thoughts:
* Napoli continues to put on a hitting clinic (and make the Angels look bad for trading him). He turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 Rangers lead with one swing of the bat. Napoli fell behind 0-2 and just kept fouling off pitches. He then got a fastball on a 2-2 count and crushed it to left. Napoli hit .291 with 12 homers and 30 RBIs with two strikes on him this season. He was 2-for-7 with two RBIs and two runs scored coming into Game 3. He hit .450 (9-for-20) with three homers and seven RBIs in five games at Tropicana Field during the regular season.
* He then made a great throw on a pitchout in the eighth to get B.J. Upton trying to steal second. It was a nice call by the Rangers (either by the dugout or Napoli).
* The Rangers scored two more runs in the inning with two outs. Craig Gentry singled, Ian Kinsler walked and Elvis Andrus walked to load the bases. That's when Josh Hamilton did what you'd expect last year's MVP to do: Make sure to take advantage of the opportunity. He hit a two-run single to right to put Texas up 4-1.
* Rays manager Joe Maddon brought lefty J.P. Howell in just to face Hamilton, who hit .260 off lefties this season. But two pitches later, Hamilton had a base hit and built the lead.
* The insurance runs proved crucial thanks to a crazy eighth inning. Mike Adams came in and struggled, giving up a home run to Desmond Jennings (his second of the game) and then issuing three walks. He issued three walks in a regular-season outing just once in his career: April 25, 2005, when he was with Milwaukee. He had two walks once this season (July 17 versus SF) when he was with San Diego.
* Left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez came in with two on and one out to face Johnny Damon and struck him out on three pitches. That's exactly why the Rangers got Gonzalez, trading Pedro Strop before August ended to acquire him.
* Neftali Feliz was then asked to get the final out of the eighth and all three outs in the ninth. He came into the eighth with the Rangers leading in a close game once in the regular season: April 10 at Baltimore. He got the save in a 3-0 win. Feliz allowed a one-out single but got Sam Fuld to ground into a 5-4-3 double play with Jennings on deck.
* Lewis was solid Monday and gave the club exactly what it needed. Against Price, who also pitched well, Lewis came through with a one-hit performance in six innings. His slider got better and better, allowing him to mix things up and not give the Rays a chance at big innings.
* Lewis was perfect through the Tampa Bay Rays' lineup the first time. He needed 10 pitches to get leadoff man Desmond Jennings but threw just 28 more to get the next eight batters. Lewis threw first-pitch strikes to seven of them.
* But Jennings, who saw more pitches than anyone against Lewis in his first at-bat, hammered the first pitch he saw -- a fastball -- out to left field for a homer in the fourth. Lewis allowed an AL-high 35 homers in the regular season, second most in the majors. It was the Rays' sixth homer of the series.
* Give Lewis credit for not letting things get away from him in the fourth. After a walk to No. 2 hitter B.J. Upton, Lewis struck out Evan Longoria for the second time. He fell behind 3-0 to Matt Joyce but struck him out looking on a changeup and then fell behind 3-0 to Johnny Damon, but got a fastball and curve over before Damon missed a fastball. Upton ended up stealing second and then third on a wild pitch and was stranded there. From ESPN Stats & Information: Lewis struck out just two hitters all season after going to a 3-0 count.
* Price made a great athletic play in the sixth inning. With Craig Gentry and Elvis Andrus at first and second and one out, Josh Hamilton hit a high chopper just past the mound. Price gloved it over his head and ran to first to get Hamilton. And it was clear he learned from the 2010 ALDS, too. The Rangers got aggressive on plays like that with runners making big turns and scoring. Price immediately looked Gentry back to third to make sure Gentry didn't go anywhere.
* Young came up in that sixth inning with runners at second and third and two outs. Michael Young hit .377 with RISP this season but batted .242 with RISP and two outs. He grounded out to end the threat.
* Casey Kotchman had a great first inning in the field. He took a two-out RBI base hit away from Michael Young with a diving catch on a liner toward the line. Kotchman also caught a popup in foul ground off the bat of Ian Kinsler. He had to find the rail and then keep his eye on the ball (he appeared to lose it and then find it again). Kotchman also flipped to Price for the second out on Josh Hamilton's ground ball.
* Napoli's approach at the plate sure is fun to watch. In his first at-bat off Price, Napoli fell behind 1-2, but stayed away from off-speed offerings outside of the zone. He got the count to 3-2 and hit a changeup to center.
* Napoli stole second base when the Rays didn't hold him on at first. He had just four stolen bases in 2011 but took advantage of the opening. He was left stranded when Nelson Cruz and Mitch Moreland grounded out.
* Gentry was caught stealing second base in the third inning. It's the first time he's been caught in his career, including postseason. He was 19-for-19 (18 of those in 2011) before going a little too soon Monday. Price saw it, threw to first and then Kotchman threw to second to get Gentry.
* The seventh inning ended with Elvis Andrus getting tagged out between third and home. Hamilton headed toward second and catcher John Jaso faked a throw to second and then got Andrus caught between third and home.