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Friday, September 30, 2011
Wilson's awful outing has Texas in hole

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- You could spend the next 48 hours perusing a thesaurus and not find a word that adequately described just how poorly C.J. Wilson pitched in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

In less than three innings, Wilson's performance sucked the emotion from a previously raucous throng of 50,498 and sapped the energy from his teammates.

C.J. Wilson
C.J. Wilson allowed eight runs on seven hits with six strikeouts in five innings of work against the Rays in Game 1.
Five innings. Seven hits. Eight runs.

In the playoffs? From your ace?

Ridiculous.

About the only thing Wilson did right Friday afternoon was throw a couple of lollipops to weak-hitting Fort Worth native Kelly Shoppach, who homered twice and drove in five runs.

Just so you know, Shoppach hit .176 in the regular season. Hey, you can't make this stuff up.

Tampa Bay Rays 9, Texas Rangers 0.

"It was just one of those days," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He didn't get it done."

After Wilson's flawless, nine-pitch first inning, you never would have suspected long man Scott Feldman would be warming up for the Rangers in the third inning. But Wilson fell apart in the second and third innings because he consistently fell behind the Rays' hitters since his mechanics were out of whack.

Wilson's struggles began when he hit Ben Zobrist on a 1-2 pitch to lead off the second, forcing him to pitch out of the stretch for the first time.

C.J. Wilson
C.J. Wilson had been terrific in September this year with a 3-1 record and 1.21 ERA.
Coincidence or not, that's when his mechanics betrayed him. Wilson fell behind Johnny Damon, who homered to right on a 3-1 pitch that was down and away.

It was supposed to be up and in.

Shoppach followed with a single on a 3-1 pitch, and scored on Matt Joyce's dribbler to right that somehow eluded Michael Young and Ian Kinsler.

In the third inning, Evan Longoria singled on a 3-1 pitch, Zobrist reached on a bunt single and Shoppach smacked a first-pitch fastball onto Greene's Hill for a 6-0 lead.

Two innings later, Shoppach homered to left on a 3-2 pitch. As Shoppach rounded second base, Wilson angrily swiped at the rubber with his red mitt.

"I tried a couple of different things," he said. "Some of the adjustments worked and I thought they would stick, but then they didn't.

"It was pitch to pitch. Batter to batter. Sometimes I felt like I had guys totally under my thumb, and other times I was chasing the strike zone."

No one is saying the Rangers are done. They're too resilient, too good. Besides, we saw them recover from a 1-0 series deficit to the New York Yankees in last season's AL Championship Series.

Remember, the Rangers also won Game 5 in Tampa after blowing a 2-0 series lead in the ALDS in 2010.

The difference this season is the Rangers will be facing James Shields in Game 2. All he's done this season is go 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA.

Against the Rangers, Shields is 2-0, having allowed eight hits and one run in 17 innings with three walks and 13 strikeouts.

The Rangers wouldn't find themselves in this situation if Wilson had turned in his typical performance, which would have given the Rangers a chance to put some pressure on Matt Moore, making just his second big league start.

No one could have seen Wilson's sorry performance coming after he'd been so brilliant in September with a 3-1 record and 1.21 ERA. He was the staff anchor, the lead horse.

The guy who stopped losing streaks and extended winning streaks. He was the guy who pitched in Cliff Lee's shadow last year and was ready to show the baseball world he had arrived.

A terrific regular season has already guaranteed Wilson a nine-digit contract. A strong performance in the playoffs, and he might persuade some East or West Coast club to pay him more than $20 million, which is what guys like Lee and CC Sabathia earn.

No more.

Reputations are forged in the playoffs. Wilson is an outstanding pitcher, but he's not on the same tier with Lee, Sabathia and Roy Halladay.

Not yet. Maybe, one day.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.