Police brutality—by or against—is a horrible thing. Unless you’re the Toronto Blue Jays against the Texas Rangers in the first two American League division games. The set goes to Toronto with the Rangers very much in danger of losing not only their badges but their minds.
Name one Ranger who expected to get destroyed 15-3 over the course of the two games. Name one who expected Cole Hamels to get billyclubbed for seven runs (six earned) in three and a third in Game One, or possibly still-slightly-ailing Yu Darvish to get bludgeoned for as many home runs as he had strikeouts in Game Two.
If the Blue Jays came into the series looking to get even for the Rangers’ shabby behaviour during the game that ended their regular season series in May, they couldn’t have chosen better. You want to throw at our guy seven months after the fact over a stupid bat flip after he brought our fans to their feet? See you in October, fools. And look out below.
The Arlington crowd spent almost as much time booing Jose Bautista as rooting for their charges no matter how hopeless Game One got. So how did Bautista answer? He waited until the ninth, measured up reliever Jake Diekman with first and third and nobody out, blasted one to the rear end of the left field bleachers, then laid his bat down quietly and ran the bases with perfect businesslike boredom.
In a way you could take that as a jab at the Rangers anyway. Anyone else would have pumped fists, high-fived, and taken a flying leap if not a somersault across the plate. Of course, when your team mugs Hamels for a five-run third, crowned when Troy Tulowitzki whacks a three-run triple to amplify an inning whose scoring binge began with two outs, you can afford to be just a little restrained.
“When you give up the amount of runs that I did early in the game,” Hamels said matter-of-factly after the massacre ended mercifully, “it can kind of deflate anything and everything of what home-field advantage really is. It was a major letdown for what I was able to not do.”
Tulowitzki benefitted on the triple by the late game shadows, with Rangers center fielder Ian Desmond running it down but probably losing it a moment as the shadow turned to sun on a dime as he approached the wall. “We’d be talking about how great a play it was if he made the catch,” said manager Jeff Banister afterward.
The Blue Jays looked like victims of a power outage until the last days of the regular season. This week they’ve looked like they could sell the surplus back to the electric company. Just what the Rangers needed the least. “Getting behind in the count,” said Darvish through his interpreter, explaining his Game Two victimhood, “and they were looking for fastball. When I left it on the plate, they got it.”
Top of the second, one out and Bautista aboard after a leadoff walk? Tulowitzki caught hold of one of those fastballs and hit it into the left center field bleachers. Top of the fifth, after the Rangers brought the game to within one with a fourth-inning RBI single (Desmond)?
* Kevin Pillar on 2-1 blasting one just in front of the left field foul pole.
* Ezequiel Carrera on 1-1 with one out, sending one over the right center field fence.
* Edwin Encarnacion—whose three-run jack courtesy of Oriole manager Buck Showalter’s inability to find Zach Britton sent the Jays to the ALDS in the first place—with two out, hitting one just inside the left field fence.
Just like that, the Jays went from hitting eight bombs in their final eleven regular season games to hitting eight in three postseason games this week. It was almost enough to make a pair of stellar pitching performances from Games One and Two starters (respectively) Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ seem irrelevant.
Happ could brag that he surrendered nine hits to Darvish’s five but that his hits were a bunch of measly singles. Not that he would.
It’s not unheard-of for a team to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a postseason set. A team that once came back from a 3-0 deficit in a League Championship Series is playing in Cleveland as I write. The Rangers wouldn’t mind bottling and drinking whatever it was that did it for the 2004 Red Sox. And the Jays wouldn’t mind keeping the tap on it turned off.
They could use a few fewer scares such as the one that chased reliever Francisco Liriano from a two-run Texas eighth. Carlos Gomez’s liner ricocheted off the back of Liriano’s head, forcing him from the game and bringing in youthful closer Roberto Osuna for a five-out save. Liriano walked away under his own strength and a local hospital cleared him to fly back to Toronto with the club.
Gomez cringed visibly as he made his way to first base on the hit. “It’s tough to see that,” he said, “but it’s part of the game. Just wait for the good news that he’s OK.”
How OK will the Rangers be? They had two men on in each of innings one through four—and couldn’t score them. They had the tying run on in each of innings eight and nine—and stranded them. Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran stranded five men on base each; Gomez, Rougned Odor, and Nomar Mazara stranded three each. They looked helpless against Estrada’s changeup in Game One and couldn’t find enough ways to puncture Happ on a night the Jays’ 20-game winning lefthander didn’t have his best stuff.
“Our guys continued to go up there and I felt their approaches were good,” Banister said, “but we didn’t come away with any type of hit that would break anything open for us.” Another game like that in Toronto and the Rangers could be coming away from the postseason without their badges. And maybe their minds.