There were any number of moments, Friday night in the heart of Texas, that could have gone another way. If the right moment or two had gone another way, the Rangers might not have blown their five-run lead and gone from the driver's seat in this series to the back seat.
Let's return to the top of the fateful eighth inning. The Rangers still led 5-1. C.J. Wilson -- working after a full week of rest -- had thrown 98 pitches.
Pesky little Brett Gardner led off the inning, and was safe on a grounder to first when Wilson was just a split-second late covering the base.
(That was a moment, by the way.)
Derek Jeter drove home Gardner with a ringing double into the left-field corner.
(Michael Young had a chance to snag Jeter's drive, but didn't. That was another moment.)
The lead was now 5-2. Wilson had thrown 104 pitches. Two switch-hitters -- Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira -- were due up next. Ron Washington removed Wilson, and summoned left-hander Darren Oliver from the bullpen.
This seemed like an odd-and-perhaps-questionable choice.
This season, Oliver showed a huge platoon split: just .200/.234/.295 against left-handed hitters, but .281/.344/.421 against righties. Granted, (1) this was just one season, and (2) he wasn't exactly terrible against right-handed hitters. (In fact, Oliver has actually fared better against righties in two of the last five seasons.)
Still ... Why him, there? Why not simply call upon your best relief pitcher?
The guy calling the game on TV suggested (perhaps accidentally) that Oliver was deployed in order to "get" switch-hitters Swisher and Teixeira to bat right-handed ... But why would anyone want them to do that? Swisher and Teixeira have both -- this season, and in their careers -- hit somewhat better against left-handed pitchers than righties.
Based purely on everyone's platoon splits, Washington was going against the percentages. Which Oliver might have figured out for himself, which in turn led to his nibbling around the strike zone and ultimately the twin walks.
OK, so Washington wasn't going to use his closer with nobody out in the eighth inning. His closer wasn't even warmed up, and wasn't going to warm up until the ninth.
So his second-best relief pitcher, then. Maybe that's Frank Francisco. Maybe it's rookie Alexi Ogando. Maybe it's somebody else. The Rangers have a huge bullpen, full of guys with impressive numbers this season. Just not the guy who's been significantly better against left-handed hitters and does not, at 40 years old, have particularly good stuff.
Anyway, you know the rest. Both of the guys who walked, scored. Three relievers followed Oliver, and each of them gave up RBI singles to the first Yankees they faced. The Rangers lost a game they were supposed to win.
When the goat horns are handed out (sorry boys, no antlers in this one), they'll go to Oliver and Ian Kinsler (who walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and was promptly picked off). There's no accounting for Kinsler's gaffe. But when it comes to pitching changes, the buck should stop with the manager. Oliver performed terribly, and he'll probably take that to his grave someday. But his manager wasn't much better.
Ron Washington might be the Manager of the Year. But if we're voting for Manager of Game 1, he's going to finish dead last.
Dept. of Corrections: As readers have noted, Francisco's out with an injury. I should have checked that, of course. And (also) of course, Kinsler was picked off in the eighth rather than the ninth. All general points stand, I hope.