Game One of the American League Division Series between the Rangers and the Blue Jays was about losses. The Blue Jays lost home-field advantage, the Rangers lost one of their best players, and the postseason lost its streak of one-sided affairs.
David Price probably wishes the Rangers had lost something else: his postseason number. Price entered Thursday with five career postseason starts, including three against the Rangers. He'd suffered defeat and allowed three runs in each, with the latest coming more than four years ago. That number, four, was fitting in one sense, because the Rangers started four of the same players they had that day: Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, and Josh Hamilton. None proved to be Price's bugaboo.
That honor instead belonged to Rougned Odor, the 21-year-old second baseman playing in his first postseason game. Odor's overall numbers and low placement in the Rangers' lineup misrepresent how well he's played over the past four months. He started slow, heading to the minors in early May with seasonal marks of .144/.252/.233. But since his return, some five weeks later, he's been a force; we're talking a .292/.334/.527 line with 41 extra-base hits in 91 games. For reference, Ben Zobrist led all AL second basemen in regular-season True Average—he hit .276/.359/.450 (albeit in tougher parks).
On Thursday, Odor scored three runs and demonstrated to a national audience why he's considered a rising star by hitting a home run against Price. It wasn't just that Odor homered off Price—something only four other left-handed hitters did during the year—but how he did it. We tend to judge home runs based on their distance and hang time—the longer or quicker, the better. Odor's wasn't hit far, but it reached its destination in fewer than 3.5 seconds, according to Statcast. You can't read a sentence of this length in fewer than 3.5 seconds.
Odor didn't record another hit, but his speed helped the Rangers score the first run of the game in the third inning. After taking a Price curveball to the body, Odor advanced to second base on a hit-and-run—one that resulted in a ground-out—before then scoring on a Delino DeShields single that just escaped Ryan Goins. DeShields soon followed an almost-identical path around the bases by advancing to second on a run-and-hit and scoring on a single that just evaded Goins. Combined, those sequences confirmed that the Rangers are, as their reputation suggests, a good, aggressive baserunning team.
The Blue Jays, conversely, did not validate their standing as an offensive force. Toronto's vaunted two-through-four hitters contributed two runs on the afternoon: an impressive Jose Bautista home run and an Edwin Encarnacion infield single. What was supposed to be a propitious matchup against Yovani Gallardo, at least according to us railbirds, proved to be anything but.
Early on, Gallardo did little to assuage fears. He missed over the plate a few times in the first inning, to which the Blue Jays responded by hitting a few moderately deep fly balls. Thereafter he looked better, sticking to a gameplan that included working down and away with his fastball while mixing in his secondary pitches to control the Jays' bats. At times, this came across as nibbling—he'd miss with or yank a fastball, then do it all over again until he fell behind—but those stretches seemed to grow increasingly are as the game went on.
Entering the series, the Rangers knew they needed one of their other, non-Hamels starters to give them a solid start—two turns through the lineup with a close score—in order to have a chance at stealing this series. Gallardo didn't post flashy numbers—in five innings he stranded three baserunners and notched one strikeout—but he deserves credit for doing enough to win.
Jeff Banister, meanwhile, deserves credit for not getting greedy with Gallardo or his overworked closer, Shawn Tolleson. He went to the bullpen in the sixth, tasking Keone Kela, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson—as hard-throwing a trio as any in the playoffs—with holding a two-run lead over the final four frames. They did the job. Kela yielded a home run to Bautista, sure, but it came after Bautista was annoyed by a pair of well-placed breaking balls. Diekman then entered and threw two perfect frames, completing his first six-out assignment since mid-September. At last it was Dyson, not Tolleson, who came in and converted the save opportunity, thanks to a heavy dosage of his turbo sinker.
Knowing how the ninth inning played out, it's easy to shrug at Tolleson getting the day off. Think about this though: how many managers would have done what Banister did, by resting his closer with a two-run lead on the road in the playoffs? Probably not many, let alone many who were managing their first postseason game. Banister undoubtedly crossed the overuse line with Tolleson late in the regular season, but practicing mindfulness here was not a given; don't pretend that it was.
Unfortunately, Banister's carefulness with Tolleson didn't prevent the game from featuring a number of injuries to top players.
Adrian Beltre tweaked his back on a slide early in the game, and later departed in tears. As of this writing, his status for Game Two is unknown (the latest report is he's doubtful with a back strain). Beltre's absence on defense essentially led to a run when his replacement, Hanser Alberto, bungled two plays that Beltre probably makes. In addition to bobbling a potential double-play ball, Alberto later failed to make Beltre's signature play: a charging, bare-handed scoop and throw on a soft chopper, allowing a runner to cross the plate. Word has it the Rangers are bringing Joey Gallo and Ed Lucas to town, so Beltre and Alberto could have seen their last action of the series, albeit for different reasons.
The Jays, acting as a considerate host and whatnot, topped the Rangers by losing two stars to injury. Josh Donaldson left with a possible concussion soon after a head-to-knee collision, and Jose Bautista exited late with hamstring tightness. Both are expected to play in Game Two, according to Ken Rosenthal's report on the broadcast.
While the two Wild Card Games each had literal do-or-done implications, Game One between the Rangers and Blue Jays actually felt like a decisive game. You had aggressive managing (Banister used three subs for defensive purposes), excited dugouts, and a joyful home crowd enjoying its first live playoff action in more than two decades. Here's hoping they don't lose their exuberance overnight.
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