Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sherrington: Mind-boggling Rangers collapse is as bad as World Series nightmare

Of all the ways a most improbable Rangers season could have come to a close Wednesday before 49,742 fairly-crazed Canadians, this 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays provided the worst-case scenario.
Because a mind-boggling defensive collapse in the seventh gave the Jays at least six outs and the lead, which will mostly muddy the memory of what they've accomplished.
And it feels like 2011 all over again.
Now joining Nelson Cruz late to the wall of Game 6 in St. Louis, we add the postseason horrors of Elvis Andrus booting a grounder to kick off the seventh and, later in the same frame, dropping a throw.
Mitch Moreland bouncing a potential double-play attempt.
Roogie Odor freezing on a flare.
And that's just how the bottom of the seventh inning started for poor Cole Hamels, who deserved much, much better after getting the Rangers there with a 3-2 lead. He wasn't exactly coasting, but if the Rangers' infield had simply made routine plays, Hamels would have made it at least into the eighth. For that matter, who knows?
Nine innings?
"That's what I was trying to do," Hamels said, smiling thinly.
He didn't get the opportunity because of three consecutive errors and Odor's misplay. You simply can't give a lineup like Toronto's six or seven outs, no matter how great your pitcher. At 111 pitches and the bases loaded, Hamels' season was over, along with the Rangers' chances. Two batters into his appearance, Sam Dyson, the Rangers' most dynamic reliever, a man who'd gone 84 right-handed batters since the last time he gave up a home run, saw his streak snapped on a three-run bolt by Jose Bautista.
Here's how devastating the bottom of the seventh was: It nearly made you forget the top half of the inning, which only included one of the craziest plays in anyone's postseason history.
Odor started it off innocently enough with a single, then went to second on a sacrifice bunt and third on a groundout. He was standing there, minding his own business with Shin-Soo Choo in the box, when a curious thing happened: Russell Martin's return throw to Aaron Sanchez caromed off Choo's hand and bounded up the third-base line.
Odor, reacting instinctively, broke for home, where plate umpire Dale Scott initially ruled dead ball. But Jeff Banister, who'd once been guilty of the same rule as a minor league catcher, knew it was no such thing. Once he got Scott to call a meeting, the play was reversed, and it started raining in the Rogers Centre.
Or as Mitch Moreland put it, "They want to waste their beer, that's part of it."
Beer cans, plastic bottles, hot dog wrappers, programs and Lord knows what else came down in sheets. This is what sometimes happens in Canada. You go to a baseball game, and a hockey match breaks out.
A water bottle whizzed by the ear of Prince Fielder, who looked up, smiled and retreated to the relative safety of the dugout.
"I've seen anything like that," Fielder said. "But, hey, it's all cool."
Helps when the crazy play that precipitated it goes in your favor.
"We thought we caught a break," Adrian Beltre said. "Instead . . . "
Instead they wasted an opportunity to do the unthinkable: Beat Toronto on its home turf three times in a five-game series. They wasted a typical Rangers run in the first when Delino DeShields opened the game with a double off Marcus Stroman; a ground-out moved him to third; and he scored on Fielder's grounder to first.
The Rangers wasted a homer by Choo in the third, the first from anyone who doesn't occupy the bottom third of the Rangers' batting order. For awhile, the 2-0 lead felt like it might be enough for Hamels. He gave up Edwin Encarnacion's game-tying homer in the sixth, but the crazy seventh had given him the lead back.
And then the infield gave it away, ALCS and all.
"I don't want to look for any excuses," Elvis said. "If I do something wrong, I'm going to put my face on.
"If people want to blame me, I'm here, and I'll take it."
He won't have to take all of the blame, because it was pretty much a group effort. Moreland could have erased Elvis' first error when he fielded Kevin Pillar's grounder and threw to second. The ball had "crazy spin" on it, Moreland said. Never got a good grip. Rushed his throw, and the ball bounced in the dirt and off Elvis' glove.
And then it got really ugly. With Ryan Goins bunting into a wheel play, Beltre fielded the ball, turned and threw to Elvis covering third. Except Elvis, who appeared to be looking up to check out a potential throw, dropped the ball.
Just . . . flat . . . dropped it.
Odor, who'd had a fairly spectacular ALDS performance overall, put his own stamp on the inning when Josh Donaldson hit a blooper right at him. Odor froze, then backpedaled instead of turning sideways and going back, which would have put him on a faster track. Or that's how the manager and I saw it, anyway.
As for Odor, he could only say, "It was very tough. The ball was slowing down and going back. It was a tough play."
Not that tough, it wasn't. None of the plays was all that difficult. Neither was David Freese's liner to the wall at Busch Stadium in 2011.
An infield chock full of errors on Wednesday doesn't resonate as deeply as Cruz's slow track to the ball in that fateful game, because the stakes weren't as high. A World Series rode on Cruz's mistake. This was just an ALDS, after all. But God help me, it doesn't feel much different.

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