ARLINGTON, Texas -- Two words appear again and again in and around The Ballpark at Arlington, on fans' T-shirts, on banners hanging from lampposts, on the porticos of motels and on the marquee of a business called Baby Doll Topless (not, as you're probably thinking, a purveyor of convertibles):
Time for the Rangers to become relevant, after 50 years of being everything but. Time for them to win not only their first-ever playoff series -- as they accomplished Tuesday -- but to go further. Time for them to reverse all the dubious trends that define their thin playoff history -- which included, entering Friday night, six losses and no wins at home, and nine straight defeats to the Yankees. Said manager
For the majority of Friday night's ALCS Game 1, it certainly seemed as if for the Rangers, it
It certainly seemed as if it was the Rangers' time when they jumped on normally steady Yankees' ace
Sabathia threw first-pitch strikes to just two of the first ten batters, and had already thrown 50 pitches (only half of them strikes) by the end of the second inning. Through four innings, Sabathia -- counted on to be the constant in the Yankees rotation (in the past two regular seasons, he had thrown 3,587 and 3,587 pitches) -- had thrown 93 pitches and that was the end of his night. The Rangers had knocked out the Yankees ace, their rotation's linchpin, after his shortest outing since last October 2, and held a 5-0 lead behind a locked-in
They had to be thinking: It's time.
"He was definitely off today," said Yankees manager
The top of the eighth lasted 35 minutes and seven seconds, give or take a few ticks. Before even a single out had been recorded, five Rangers pitchers threw 34 pitches to seven Yankees batters, and the Yankees turned a seemingly insurmountable 5-1 deficit into a definitively insurmountable 6-5 lead. It was here the Rangers seemed to lose track of the script, of their focus, of those two words emblazoned on fans' T-shirts and strip-club marquees.
Their outfielders suddenly couldn't pick up routine groundballs without bobbling them, allowing Yankee runners to take extra bases. Washington made a series of bullpen moves -- the thinking behind which scholars might one day be able to decipher. One questionable move involved leaving Wilson in to face
The Rangers' unexpected rash of bungling continued in the bottom of the eighth, when
In their clubhouse, the Rangers did their best to talk and look like a team that had not just blown a crucial game in a crushing fashion, referring to their resilience in overcoming obstacles this season, including the revelation of Washington's positive cocaine test and an unfair share of injuries. "We don't waste our time thinking about what's already happened,"
"Just one game, dude," said a smiling Wilson. "I think a lot of guys are encouraged."
There were, for the Rangers, a lot of
It was almost their time; but it wasn't.