Rangers Dream Season Ends in Seventh Inning Nightmare
The Texas Rangers have never been through anything like the seventh inning of Wednesday afternoon's ALDS Game 5 with the Toronto Blue Jays. Neither have their fans, not in the 43 years the team has been in Arlington. It was, from the first pitch thrown to Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor in the top of the inning to Troy Tulowitzki's pop up to end the bottom of the inning, surreal, maddening and, above all, gut churning. When the inning started, the game was tied at 2 following an Edwin Encarnacion solo home run for the Blue Jays in the sixth. When it was over, the game was being played under a Blue Jays protest, four errors had been committed by the two teams and the Blue Jays led 6-3. The seventh took 53 minutes, included an 18-minute delay as Toronto fans winged beer cans onto the field and saw the teams' benches clear twice.
No one will remember the first two-thirds of the game. Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays' 24-year-old starting pitcher, was as dynamic as he was in his Game 2 start. Stroman worked both sides of the plate for six innings, largely befuddling a Rangers offense that really wasn't very good for the entire series. His Rangers counterpart, Cole Hamels, was good too, before being derailed by the defense behind him in the seventh. The game was well-played, taut in the way one would expect from a win-or-go-home contest. Encarnacion's home run signaled that an excruciating ending might be coming for one side, but that's pretty normal for a playoff game.
Then all hell broke loose.
Odor singled off Aaron Sanchez to start the seventh, got bunted over by catcher Chris Gimenez and advanced to third on a Delino DeShields chopper. Then he scored on one of the strangest plays in the history of baseball. Shin-Soo Choo took a ball, then Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin tried to throw the ball back to Sanchez. Tried. Martin's toss hit Choo's bat and bounded toward third base. Odor sprinted across the plate, but not before home plate umpire Dale Scott called time out, apparently believing Choo interfered with Martin.
After a conference with his crew, Scott decided that Choo had not interfered — correctly, the right fielder remained in the batters box throughout the play — and awarded Odor the plate based on Scott's belief that Odor would've scored had time not been called. More than 50,000 Canadians went bonkers. For the better part of a half hour, stadium workers picked up empty beer cans as more ended up on the field, and in the lower decks of the stands. The Blue Jays protested the call, but the run remained on the board, as the tension did in the stadium.
It felt like, and this was probably just the fatalism that comes with being a Rangers fan more than anything, that the Rangers' ump-aided lead would be short-lived. It was. The Rangers committed three errors in the bottom of the seventh. Shortstop Elvis Andrus had two, including a back-breaking dropped put-out at third, and that was that. Jose Bautista put the Rangers out of their misery with a home run that scored three unearned runs, capping the Blue Jays' comeback from 2-0 down in the best-of-5 series.
The seventh in Toronto joins a laundry list of horrific innings suffered through by Rangers fans. There's the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 1996 ALDS when Rangers starting pitcher Darren Oliver and woebegone closer Mike Henneman coughed up a lead to the Yankees. There's the Yankees' five-run bottom of the eighth in the 2010 ALCS. Then there are the ninth, 10th and 11th innings of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series against the Cardinals, which are still too painful to talk about.
When I started writing this post, I thought I was going to write about the hope the 2015 Rangers inspire. The way a team that was buried in July came back from 9.5 games and took out the Astros to win a division it didn't deserve to win. The way the Rangers best pitcher, Yu Darvish, didn't toss an inning this year, but will be back in 2016. The way Odor has become the most fun Rangers player to watch since the guy he replaced, Ian Kinsler. All of those things should make us, Rangers fans, hopeful. But it's hard to expect a different ending in 2016 when you feel like you've already read the book. I'll get over it, as we all will by Opening Day, but this one feels like it's going to sting until at least New Year's Day.
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