Elite status eludes Rangers' C.J. Wilson
Free-agent-to-be's true value is revealed when ball bounces Tigers' way in Game 5
DETROIT -- All we can really do is go by what we see. This is not about hope. Or faith. Or optimism.
This is about reality.
Absolutely, positively not.
Wilson had the perfect stage to show he belonged among the AL's elite pitchers Thursday in a mano-a-mano battle against Justin Verlander, the league's best pitcher.
Match Verlander pitch for pitch and inning for inning and the odds were good the Rangers would have yet another postgame celebration with the bubbly stuff, especially since Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland revealed before the game that key relievers Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde would not pitch.
Wilson didn't. The Rangers lost. The American League Championship Series continues Saturday with Game 6 at Rangers Ballpark.
Detroit 7, Texas 5.
In the first five innings, Wilson had a lively fastball and effectively mixed his cutter, curveball and slider to keep Detroit's hitters off-balance.
"I had great stuff today," Wilson said.
Catcher Mike Napoli and pitching coach Mike Maddux concurred.
The game, however, turned for Wilson and the Rangers on a 90-mph cutter.
Dangerous Miguel Cabrera chopped a ball toward third base that seemed destined to wind up a double play, but it bounced off the left corner of the third base bag and ricocheted a foot over Adrian Beltre's head for a run-scoring double that gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
Still, the game wasn't over.
If Wilson pitches out of the jam without yielding more than one more run at the most, the Rangers could still come back and win because Verlander had a rising pitch count, and the Rangers had nearly knocked him out of the game in the top of the sixth inning.
Instead, Wilson suffered a meltdown.
“Victor Martinez tripled to right on a changeup that was supposed to dip low and out of the strike zone but instead stayed in the hitting zone. Two pitches later, Delmon Young homered to left on an inside pitch he wasn't supposed to be able to hit.
I'm trying to improve. I'm still a novice at this whole starting pitching thing.” -- Rangers starter C.J. Wilson
"Even with that play it's still 3-2 and we're still in the game. I didn't make the right pitches to get out of the inning," Wilson said of the ricochet. "You can't control something after it happens.
"I can't go rake the line or make the base move. The ball went over the base. I was done with it at that point. My job was to get the other guys out."
Wilson is supposed to be the Rangers' ace, their horse. He's supposed to be the guy who sets the tone for the rest of the starting rotation, which is what he did in the regular season.
He finished 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA, while pitching 223 1/3 innings and finishing sixth in the AL with 206 strikeouts.
In the postseason, Wilson has been awful based on the standard he established during the regular season.
We know it. We see it.
Wilson is 0-2 with a 7.59 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. His six-inning performance in Game 5 represents the longest of his three postseason starts.
More alarming is that Wilson has allowed six homers in the postseason; this from a dude who has allowed just 26 homers in 427 1/3 in two seasons as a starter.
"I'm trying to improve. I'm still a novice at this whole starting pitching thing," said Wilson, converted from a reliever before the start of last season.
"As much as I want to be a Cy Young winner and all that stuff like the other guy was tonight, I have to slug it out and take my lumps to be the best guy I'm going to be."
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Now, the Rangers must place their fate into the hands of Derek Holland or Colby Lewis at Rangers Ballpark for Game 6 or 7, if necessary. The Rangers remain in control of the series, but it's a lot more tenuous than it was Wednesday night.
And for those general managers wondering just how much cash to offer the quirky left-hander when free agency begins, a word of advice: Buyer beware.
Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.