Remember back in February when Josh Hamilton said, "There are true baseball fans in Texas, but it's not a true baseball town."
Maybe that stung a little at the time, but things really sting now. If pain, suffering and agony are requirements needed to fulfill True Baseball Town status, Dallas-Fort Worth is now eligible to apply. After all, I'm not sure fans of any team have suffered a four-year span like the Rangers have:
--A World Series loss in 2010.
--A crushing World Series loss in 2011.
--An epic final-week collapse in 2012 that cost them the division title.
--A loss to the Orioles in the wild-card game. A game that Joe Saunders started.
--An impending epic September collapse in 2013.
Sorry, Red Sox and Cubs fans, but you have never gone through a four-year stretch like that.
The Texas Rangers suffered another devastating September loss on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, losing 4-0 in 10 innings when Justin Maxwell hit a two-out, walk-off grand slam on a 3-2 pitch from Joakim Soria. Combined with the Indians' 9-2 win over the Astros the Rangers are now 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the second wild card.
To be fair, the Rangers haven't yet completed this collapse. Yes, they're 5-15 in September -- they began the month two games up on the A's -- but they do have three games against the Astros and four against the Angels to close out their season. The Indians just swept the Astros (who have now lost nine in a row), so if the Rangers can pull of a sweep they'll at least head into the final series against the Angels with a chance. The Indians finish up with two against the White Sox and four against the Twins, a soft schedule that should essentially eliminate the Royals, Yankees and Orioles.
As I watched Sunday's 10th inning unfold, as I watched Maxwell flip his bat and raise his arms in triumph, my immediate thoughts:
1. What a great moment for Royals fans to cherish, even if their playoff chances remain minuscule.
2. How did Ron Washington screw it up again?
3. Doesn't Washington have to be fired?
Let's go through Sunday's game. Alexi Ogando had pitched seven scoreless innings. Tanner Scheppers had retired the next four batters, throwing just 15 pitches. With one out in the ninth, Washington replaced Scheppers with lefty Neal Cotts to face Alex Gordon. You can't argue that move too much, although (A) Scheppers has no platoon split; (B) Gordon has hit .306 against lefties and .245 against righties with more power against left-handers. And Cotts has actually been tougher on right-handed batters (.165, no home runs) than lefties (.202, two home runs). Still, lefty against lefty, and Gordon has historically been much better against right-handers. Still, there wasn't really much of a statistical reason to make the move, however, and you start running the risk of burning through your bullpen too quickly in an extra-inning game and having to use Joe Ortiz at some point (umm, see Wednesday).
Anyway, Cotts got out of the inning and was left in to face Eric Hosmer in the 10th. No issue there. Hosmer punched a ground-ball double over the third-base bag: Good pitch, bad result. Billy Butler and Salvador Perez were the next two hitters, two right-handed batters, Butler without a platoon split, Perez better versus left-handers. You could do two things here: (A) Leave in Cotts (who, mind you, has been as dominant as just about any reliever in baseball this year with a 1.04 ERA and, as mentioned, great platoon splits) or (B) go to the bullpen and bring in Joe Nathan even though it wasn't a save situation. After all, if you don't escape this inning, you won't have a game to save.
Washington, of course, chose option C: Bring in your fourth-best reliever, Joakim Soria.
Washington immediately made Soria's job a little more difficult by deciding to intentionally walk Butler, setting up a potential double play with Perez, but also making it more imperative that Soria throw strikes since you can't afford to load the bases. Also of note, Soria had walked 10 batters unintentionally in just 20 1/3 innings pitched. Soria almost got his double play, but the ball popped out of the glove of a diving Elvis Andrus and he failed to get pinch-runner Chris Getz at second. Soria almost got out of the inning with a pop out and force at home, but Maxwell worked the count to 3-2 and was sitting dead red -- Soria in a situation where he had to throw a strike or risk walking in the winning run.
Look, you can't blame Washington for the offense's failure to score a run, but it capped a miserable week of decisions for a manager whose in-game strategies have been questioned in the past, particularly in the 2011 World Series. On Thursday, he used Nathan to close out an 8-2 victory -- even though Nathan had pitched the previous two days, including a 29-pitch effort on Wednesday (his second-highest pitch count of the season). That presumably left Nathan unavailable for Friday, when Jason Frasor and Neftali Feliz -- something like his fifth- and sixth-best relievers -- let the go-ahead score in the eighth. In that contest, he brought in Feliz after Frasor had loaded the bases. Feliz had pitched just five games all season since coming back from Tommy John surgery. Even when Feliz was good he always had trouble throwing strikes, walking more than four men per nine innings in 2011 and 2012. Why would you bring him in with the bases loaded? Brutal.
The Rangers lost two games this week in part because of Washington's inability to be flexible and realize you don't manage games in late September with your season on the line the same way you do in May and June. He lost games by pulling his best set-up guy, Cotts, while leaving his closer, Nathan, on the bench.
It's amazing how far the Rangers have fallen in just 12 months. One year ago they were about to win their third straight AL West title and were praised as perhaps the best organization in baseball, right up there with the Cardinals. They had a young and successful general manager in Jon Daniels, they appeared to have a stacked major league roster with a deep farm system. Hey, some things went wrong this year -- Matt Harrison made just two starts, Colby Lewis never returned, Alexi Ogando missed about half the season -- but this was also a team counting on Lance Berkman to remain healthy and David Murphy and Mitch Moreland to be the big left-handed bats.
It was a team with flaws. And a team with flaws can't win if its manager is making decisions that hurt its chances of winning. The Rangers have seven games remaining. I suspect they'll be the final seven games Washington manages for the Rangers.