October 4, 2011
ALDS Game Four: Rangers Advance
When folks discuss Game 4 of the Rays/Rangers Divisional Series in 10 years, the three main points of discussion will be, in some order: 1) the Rangers advancing to their second-straight Championship Series with a victory, 2) Adrian Beltre hitting three home runs, and 3) Matt Harrison borrowing Cliff Lee’s strikeout rate.
Postseason experience is supposed to be vital, but in reality, it is nothing more than an example of the availability heuristic. Because something has happened before, you can imagine it happening again. Beltre had the opportunity to pull off the home run hat trick in a playoff game before, but he only had four games of playoff experience coming into the series, and that was back in 2004. The world is an unjust place, and as such, none of the six Octobers since have featured Beltre. Until Beltre assaulted the Green Monster and pitching alike, the general perception of him included the term “tease”. This because Beltre seemingly reached his career’s apex during that 2004 season when he belted 48 home runs while playing a Glove Glove-worthy third base and hitting inside of a pitcher’s paradise. At least, that was Beltre’s reputation when people thought rationally of him, and people stopped thinking about him after he signed with the Mariners and disappeared into the Seattle mist.
Not all reactions were rational, and some were downright malicious, like the steroid accusations and the various ugly terminology thrown his way during his time in Seattle. Why is it that a baseball player perceived as an underachiever brings out the worst in people? Is it the pursuit of statistical porn, of a fantasy baseball messiah, or just the hunt for the next generational talent? Whatever the reasoning, Beltre’s world-conquering tour in 2010 created a new set of slams against him. Now, he was not a cheater but simply a player who would not get into shape or maintain focus throughout the season unless his contract expired at season’s end. Appropriately, the people who lobbed those attacks disappeared once Belre posted the second-highest True Average of his career in 2011, and to think, he will not be a free agent until after the 2015 season at the earliest.
There was a moment during Game 4 where one could detect a perceived slight. After Beltre hit his first home run, one of the announcers suggested his role was to serve as a good complimentary player to the likes of Michael Young and the other good hitters the Rangers possess—the four Longorias, if you will. Beltre then hit another home run and nobody made the comparison. After Beltre’s third home run on the day, the only comparison being made was to a select group that includes Babe Ruth, George Brett, Reggie Jackson, and Adam Kennedy—the only other players to hit three homers in a postseason game. Beltre had an opportunity at a fourth home run, but for the first time all day took a swing that did not end with a trot. As impressive as the quantity was the quality of pitches Beltre took out. The chart below sheds more light on the pitch details, but each came on a home run at various speeds, locations, and sequences during an at-bat. This was not a situation where Beltre just waited for an unsuspecting pitcher to toss a fastball into a designated zone but rather a good display of plate coverage and striking the ball well.
The final score read 4-3 Texas but not before Beltre added one more defensive gem to his expansive collection. The Rangers, with all their firepower and good hitters, needed every one of Beltre’s home runs to ensure victory in their biggest win of the season—fittingly, perhaps, since Beltre was on the cusp of becoming a household name the last time he danced with October, and with this latest waltz, he is.