But the Rangers won this game thanks to a bullpen that allowed just two hits in seven scoreless innings against the best offensive team in the majors. They won thanks to an unlikely hero and to the dynamic play of a second-year second baseman who is breaking out in a big way before a national audience. The Rangers also won with help from what I felt was a crucial mistake by Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
Five key moments ...
Who is Hanser Alberto?
It's OK to admit that, unless you're a Rangers fans, you had never heard of Alberto. He's the rookie who filled in at third base for the injured Adrian Beltre (bad back). Unfortunately, his fielding error on Troy Tulowitzki's grounder leading off the second inning led to two unearned runs, and for much of the game it looked like that would cost the Rangers the game. Alberto is a 22-year-old who is considered a good defensive shortstop. He did hit .310 at Triple-A, but doesn't have much power and walked just nine times in 330 plate appearances. He was overmatched in his 104 PAs with the Rangers, hitting .222/.238/.263. Obviously, the Rangers didn't intend on using him except in an emergency, but the emergency situation arrived.
He stepped up in the 14th inning with two runners on and two outs against LaTroy Hawkins. Alberto was born in October 1992; Hawkins had been drafted in 1991 and made his major league debut in 1995. After the game, Alberto said he was looking for a fastball all the way -- probably not a surprise given his aggressive approach at the plate. He foul-tipped a 95-mph heater, then got another one and lined a base hit to center field. Rougned Odor -- he's our guy stepping into the spotlight in a big way -- raced around from second base to beat Kevin Pillar's throw. Facing Liam Hendriks, Delino DeShields Jr. then beat out a slow grounder to shortstop to plate another run.
The controversy in the inning came when Odor -- born in 1994! -- was on first when Chris Gimenez singled to right. He rounded second, Jose Bautista threw behind him and Odor may have come off the bag. After a lengthy review, the call stood: Safe.
Was he safe? The tweet below is the best view of the play and he appears out. I wouldn't say it's conclusive however; his spike may have been touching the base. (Blue Jays fans will vehemently disagree.)
Anyway, there was another issue in the inning: Was Hawkins the right choice over Hendriks? Hawkins has allowed 22 hits in 16 1/3 innings with the Blue Jays, with 14 strikeouts. Hendriks, admittedly working mostly in low-leverage situations, had a terrific season, with 59 hits and just three home runs allowed in 64 1/3 innings and and excellent ratio of 71 strikeouts to 11 walks.
And the other thing: Odor beat Pillar's throw. His speed trumped Pillar's so-so arm. Ballgame.
Hanser Alberto did not have an MLB hit in September/October, but had the game-winning hit in the Rangers' Game 2 win— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 9, 2015
2. John Gibbons screws up the eighth inning
Look, I get it: Marcus Stroman had pitched five scoreless innings after scuffling in the first two. He retired 14 in a row at one point. But when DeShields led off the eighth, Stroman was facing the top of the lineup for the fourth time. The Blue Jays led 4-3 and Gibbons had a full arsenal of bullpen arms to get those final six outs. Aaron Sanchez, in his career as a reliever, has held right-handed batters to a .129 average. Gibbons could have used Sanchez to pitch to DeShields and then brought in lefty Brett Cecil to face the three left-handed batters after that -- Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland. Or he could have just brought in Cecil to start the inning, considering Cecil limited both righties and lefties to an average under .200.
Instead, Gibbons rode the hot hand. This is often how playoff games are lost -- leaving a "hot" starter in one or two batters too long. DeShields singled, Cecil came in. Choo sacrificed, Fielder struck out and Mike Napoli pinch-hit for Moreland. Napoli has a huge platoon split: .954 OPS versus lefties, .603 versus righties. If Gibbons brought on a right-handed pitcher, the Rangers weren't going to hit for Napoli. The left-handed bat left on the bench was Will Venable, but that would have left the Rangers without a first baseman and Venable hasn't done much with the Rangers anyway.
Cecil was left in. On Twitter, I wondered if this suggested Gibbons only trusted Cecil and closer Roberto Osuna. The reasoning was probably less complex than that: Napoli was 2-for-17 against Cecil in his career, but that's too small of a sample size to draw a conclusion from. Blue Jays fans accosted me for not understanding their players. I get that: Cecil is a good reliever. Leaving him in wasn't a terrible decision, but I do think it was the wrong one. Plus, if Gibbons has that kind of confidence in Cecil against right-handed batters, why not bring him in to start the inning against DeShields, far less of a threat than Napoli?
Leaving in Stroman didn't work. Leaving in Cecil didn't work. Napoli did a nice job fighting off a tough curveball and dumping it into right field for the game-tying single.
This is a really, really bad call by Gibby. Stroman should have been out after 7.— keithlaw (@keithlaw) October 9, 2015
I didn't realize when the added a second LHP to the bullpen for this Texas series that it left them with zero RHPs to face a lefty-killer.— Jon Roegele (@MLBPlayerAnalys) October 9, 2015
3. Rougned Odor manufactures a run all by himself
He draws the leadoff walk in the second inning. On a high chopper back to the mound, he goes all the way to third base. He scores on a relatively shallow fly ball to center field, beating the tag from Russell Martin with a great slide. Risky, exciting baseball that paid off in this instance.
Experiencing Bob Costas experiencing the Rougned Odor experience for the first time is quite a wonderful experience.— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) October 9, 2015
4. Jake Diekman with two more perfect innings
The Texas bullpen: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 SO. For the second straight game, Diekman faced six batters and retired all of them. According to Kazuto Yamazaki on Twitter, Diekman became just the fifth pitcher to face six-plus batters and retire all of them in consecutive postseason appearances. The rest of the bullpen was pretty good as well, with Ross Ohlendorf pitching the 14th to get the save -- including a little help when Vic Carapazza rung up Tulowitzki to start the inning on a pitch that was inside. (Blue Jays fans have a right to complain about that one.)
5. Prince Fielder is so excited!
We also had a little bench-clearing incident in the 13th between Keone Kela and Josh Donaldson -- after a long foul ball. Donaldson may have been upset that he had been quick-pitched and was seen saying "something you," although it was unclear if Kela said something first. But this is our fifth moment.