Purgatory Online

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The difference between Monday's game and last night's 8-2 pasting of the Rangers wasn't just the difference between a hard-fought victory and a blowout. It was the difference between wild creativity and solid production; the difference between a novel that pushes the boundaries of literature and a well-thought-out business proposal. The former lives forever in our memories, but the latter's how you pay the bills over the long term.

I actually had a premium seat for last night's game - six rows back, one section to the first-base side of the plate. My wife, hallowed be her name, ponied up the ludicrious $55 they charge for that seat as a birthday present. I may be spoiled for upper deck seats now; the fairly small amount of foul ground behind the plate at Ameriquest Field meant that I could see the speed and break on every pitch even better than I could've if I'd watched it on TV.

So I was actually in pretty good position to see Escobar's pitches as he became the first member of the rotation to go on short rest. And I have to say that, initially at least, I was unimpressed. During his first time through the lineup, he seemed to fall behind hitters too often, and got a couple of outs on balls that were pretty much smoked right at someone. During his second spin through, though, he was nearly unhittable, finding his spots and changing speeds well. The Rangers got back on him a little by the time the sixth inning rolled around, but by that time the Angels had a comfortable lead. I think, all things considered, Scioscia pulled him at exactly the right time - six innings pitched, 80 pitches thrown.

Shields, in throwing two perfect innings of relief, was fantastic. He had the best movement on his pitches of anyone throwing last night, and, to be honest, I'd like to know why he didn't just finish up the game. Three innings is a bunch for a reliever, but Shields has certainly done it before, and had only thrown 18 in the first two. Instead, the Angels used Donnelly, who ended up throwing 24 pitches to get through just the ninth.

About the hitting, it was obviously nice to see so much offensive production. They took care of business, wrote the business proposal, covered their bases (so to speak), and closed the deal. Let me say this, however:

Vlad Guerrero is a monster.

Yeah, yeah, what else is new. But lookit: none of the home runs hit in last night were particularly in doubt. They all had the right sound and the right trajectory off the bat; there were no cheapies. But that second homer of Vlad's just shocked the crowd; there was a palpable sense that, even for a home run, that ball had been obliterated.

Perhaps the most interesting move of the night, though, belonged to Buck Showalter when he brought in Joaquin Benoit to pitch the final three innings of an 8-2 ballgame. I can only surmise that he was trying to hold the Angels down to give the Rangers' bats a chance, which is to some extent understandable. And the "hold the Angels down" part worked out, at least - Benoit threw three scoreless, albeit not brilliant, innings. The problem for the Rangers this presents is that Benoit had been scheduled to pitch against the Angels on Wednesday night. If you'll recall, Benoit had the Angels completely flummoxed two starts ago, September 18 in Anaheim. On that occasion, he went four innings, giving up two hits and no runs while walking three and striking out six. He had also pitched in Anaheim on July 27, going two innings and giving up no runs on three hits, walking none and striking out three. In fact, his lone run surrendered to the Angels this year was back on April 11. His 2004 numbers against the Halos:

8.0 IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 10 K

So, instead of facing Benoit, who apparently has their number this year, the Angels will draw Kameron Loe, the recipient of the Rangers organization's 2004 Nolan Ryan Award for minor-league pitcher of the year, who split most of this year between Double-A and Triple-A. I'm sure he's a talented guy, but that sounds like good news to me - although, of course, the Angels have a troubling history of hitting poorly off guys fresh up from the minors.

At this point, the Rangers are not mathematically eliminated. In addition to winning the rest of their games, they need the A's to lose both of their remaining games with Seattle, and for the A's and Angels to split their final three-game series - at which point the Rangers would be tied with whichever team won two of those three games. The speculation on the call-in show last night was, therefore, that if the Rangers manage a win tonight, and the A's lose to Seattle, the Rangers would bring Ryan Drese back on short rest for Thursday afternoon's game instead of starting Chris Young. This may be a case of pick your poison - Young dominated the Angels in Anaheim last week for six innings, while Drese, though Texas's best pitcher this year, got slapped around in his last start.