It was the Rangers who were supposed to be the ones playing a long shot. Alexi Ogando had recently come off the disabled list for the third time this season. He hadn't started a game since August 13th. He would only pitch three innings, four at most. Bollocks.
Ogando threw 69 pitches on the night, which was enough to complete five innings. Aside from a Jose Lobaton solo home run and a few other baserunners in the third inning, he was untouchable, averaging 95.5 mph on his fastball, according to Brooks Baseball, and approaching 96 mph with his 67th pitch. Joakim Soria, Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers, and Joe Nathan each worked scoreless innings to guarantee Ogando the win.
It was Jeremy Hellickson, starting for the Rays, who would need to turn the game over to his bullpen early. During their losing streak the Rangers never even held the lead, but Ian Kinsler took care of that quickly. Hellickson's very first pitch was an inside fastball that caught way too much of the plate, and Kinsler pulled it down the right field line for his 12th home run of the season. And while Hellickson was able to get through the rest of the first inning and all of the second inning unscathed, things fell apart for him in the third.
First Hellickson walked Mitch Moreland. Then he threw Leonys Martin a fastball down and in that once again caught too much of the plate, and Martin doubled into the corner. A good read of the bounce by Wil Myers kept Moreland from being able to try for home, but it wouldn't matter. Helly threw Kinsler his first and only curveball of the night, dotting the outside corner, but Kinsler did well to stay back on the pitch and swipe it up the middle into center, scoring both runners. Then, against Elvis Andrus, Hellickson returned to the same bad spot that had haunted him all game—a fastball down and in, but neither down nor in far enough, and Andrus turned on it, homering to right. It was only his third home run of the season.
Joe Maddon did give Hellickson the chance to get Adrian Beltre to fly out to right, but he then turned the game over to Wesley Wright and the bullpen. The bullpen pitched okay, but there wasn't anything resembling a comeback in the Rays bats tonight.
Some other notes:
- In the top of the third, Brian Anderson took Hellickson's struggles as an opportunity to discuss batting average on balls in play (BABIP). As is often the case when stats cross over from the periphery to the mainstream, he got it a little bit wrong. A very low BABIP, like Hellickson posted for his first two full seasons, isn't an indication that a pitcher is doing something right. Yes, it likely indicates that the pitcher is receiving soft contact. Yes, a very high BABIP likely indicates that the pitcher is being hit hard. In this sense, nothing that BA said was untrue. But the inference being made isn't what the stat is good for. Of course the goal of an offense is to make hard contact, and the goal of a pitcher is to produce soft contact, but BABIP is not telling us very much about a pitcher's ability to produce soft or hard contact. The differences between major league pitchers' abilities are smaller than the natural variation in BABIP over a season or two. So when you quote BABIP to discuss performance, it's important to be aware that you're talking about observed performance, and not necessarily saying anything of substance about the pitcher's true performance. None of this is to say that I don't appreciate BA's work. I do, and I'll take Darth Ba over Jedi Zo any day of the week.
- In the bottom of the sixth inning, Wil Myers hit a line drive into the gap (clocked at 106.2 by the broadcast) that just kept going until it hit the very top of the wall in left center field. It was a ridiculous double. Line drives are not supposed to behave like that.
- Wesley Wright did a good job, although he did leave an inherited runner who later scored. I'm beginning to see why he was less successful in Houston than the raw numbers might suggest. His command within the zone isn't that great. Still, his fastball and his changeup have amazing run, and the Texas lefties really struggled with his slider today. I'm doubling down. Next season, he'll learn to punch same-handed hitters out with his changeup, and he'll be a significant asset.
- Brandon Gomes did not look great today. I've been beating the drum for Gomes as a high-leverage arm since the beginning of the season, and after his 18 pitch whiffless performance, I'll admit that I may have been a bit premature. On the other hand, eleven of those eighteen pitches were sliders, seven were fastballs, and none were splitters. Perhaps the matchups called for it, but that's not the power-pitching aggressive mix I like to see from Gomes.
- Texas and Tampa Bay are once more tied for the two wild card spots, with Texas owning the tiebreaker.
- It was an all-around downer of a day for the Rays organization, as the Durham Bulls lost the triple-A championship to the Omaha Storm Chasers.