Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Rangers turn tables on Rays, steal Game 5
When Tuesday night's game is remembered, it will be remembered mostly for Cliff Lee's sparkling performance -- nine innings, 11 strikeouts, just one run -- which lowered his career postseason ERA to 1.44 in seven starts.
The real story of this game, though, was larceny. Plain and simple. The rest is just details (granted, some of those details could have mattered quite a lot, especially Ian Kinsler's two-run homer in the ninth).
In the first inning, Elvis Andrus scored from second base on a grounder to the first baseman. Andrus was stealing third, and just never stopped while Carlos Pena was tossing to David Price, who was covering first base and doesn't have eyes in the back of his head. It was a heads-up play but one (I think) most fast players would have made; the key was the steal.
In the fourth inning, Nelson Cruz scored after stealing third base when Kelly Shoppach's throw sailed into left field. What made the play so interesting was that Cruz should have been on third base already; he would have been, if only he had hustled out of the box on his long drive to center field, scant seconds earlier. But again, the key was the steal, which seemed to take every involved Ray by surprise.
In the sixth inning, Vladimir Guerrero scored from second on a near-double play because David Price paused, just long enough, to express his opinion of the first-base umpire's call.
How unpredictable is baseball? It was the Rays who relied so heavily this season on daring (and effective!) baserunning. How did Tampa Bay finish third in the American League in scoring this season, with just the eighth-best OPS? Two answers: clutch hitting and baserunning.
Baseball Info Solutions tracks what they call Net Bases Gained, which essentially counts stolen bases and other bases taken, then adjusts for outs made on the bases.
Tampa Bay finished the season at +196, tops in the major leagues.
Oakland was second at +144.
Nobody else topped 100 bases gained.
The Rays, always on the lookout for any small edge to be found, have actually discovered a fairly big edge. And they've essentially had it all to themselves.
Until tonight, anyway.
Except the Rangers' aggression on the basepaths wasn't completely out of character. The Rays led the majors in bases gained. The A's were second. And the Rangers, +96, were third.*
* Do I need to mention that all three teams are sabermetrics-friendly? And that a criticism commonly hurled at sabermetrics-friendly teams is that they do NOT care about baserunning?
The Rangers can beat you with Lee and C.J. Wilson. They can beat you with Cruz and Josh Hamilton. And they can beat you with their legs. Especially if you're not paying attention.