If there’s one annoying thing about being a baseball fan, in my experience, it’s dealing with the expectation of narratives. Baseball, especially over a long 162-game season, has such a granular quality that defining any team with a sentence or two glosses over so much as to be barely descriptive. You get the feeling, as a fan, that the way the media, other fans, heck even your own family understands your local team is so detached from reality as to be barely recognizable. You’re telling me the team I’ve lived and died with since April chokes in big spots, or doesn’t have the pitching they need for October, or needs more pop to really succeed in a short series? Hoo boy, we’re going to have to settle in for a long talk about how wrong you are!
These narratives are usually peddled by us writers in baseball media, and are often what we fall back on when we reach the postseason and are required to cover teams we’re only peripherally aware of during the moments of the season that matter most. There are very few things riper for generalization than a short series between two teams, each of whom have excelled enough to be in contention for a championship and who are, save for the small demographic of the country that follows them closely, mostly a series of unfamiliar names and numbers. Unlike football, or even basketball and hockey, the length of the MLB season is such that catching up on random MLB.tv games and the postseason is never enough to really know a team the way its fans do.
All of this is a long way of saying the Texas Rangers lost to the Toronto Blue Jays Sunday night, falling in extras to finish up what must be a truly deflating series sweep at the hands of the AL Wild Card survivor. The game was won by the Blue Jays as much as it was lost by the Rangers, and indeed very little could be written about the Jays’ year without commenting again on the transcendent offense of Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, etc, etc, etc. But the story that will be told again and again tonight, tomorrow, and through Jon Daniels and company’s long offseason in Arlington is that the Rangers were not as good as a 95-win team should be. That their record in one-run games was impressive but unsustainable, and that this was bound to happen once they reached the postseason grind. That the playoffs had separated the wheat from the chaff once again.
And that’s just not fair at all—the Texas Rangers’ season almost certainly deserves more than that ignoble epitaph. A potent and fun offense, a rotation headed by perennially wonderful pitcher Yu Darvish, and a youth movement mixed in with some of the most fun veterans in baseball in Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, and Carlos Gomez, the 2016 Rangers were an undeniably cool team. But I’ll be honest with you, I can’t tell you much more than that. It’s the same with the Blue Jays: I know Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, and I know the hitters and the bat-flip controversies. But do I know the team? Not especially, outside of professional interest.
And that lack of knowledge is why we as writers tend toward the narratives surrounding teams because on balance they seem more interesting than merely observing the product on the field without context. But here’s the thing: not only the team, but the game itself deserves more! In a series that began with an absolute shelling of the Rangers, and continued into a slug-heavy but decently close 5-3 loss for Texas, Game Three was a deeply pleasant surprise, a reminder of the promise of this ALDS matchup.
Five lead changes, four home runs, and a dramatic 10th inning hit from the reigning AL MVP made for a true all-hands-on-deck feel on Sunday night. On paper, Colby Lewis vs. Aaron Sanchez seemed unbalanced, but both pitchers struggled and much of the game was carried by a list of relievers that read like a who’s who of comeback player of the year candidates, from injury recoveries like Jason Grilli and Keone Kela to resurrection stories like Matt Bush. We could go blow-by-blow through each momentum shifting lead change, but the only ones that really will be remembered are the go-ahead double by Mitch Moreland off of Joe Biagini in the sixth inning that put the Rangers up 6-5 for their final lead of the series, and the soft Russell Martin ground out misplayed by Rougned Odor to score Josh Donaldson in the 10th. As TS Eliot warned us, the world ends not with a two-run double but with a whimper, but this is baseball—curiosity and tragedy make for good television.
And in that cursory recap of a game that, frankly, was too back-and-forth, frenetic, and strange to be properly recapped, we can see the story of the series as well. The Jays and the Rangers are both compelling teams with big bats, engaging personalities, and long stretches wandering the World Series desert. While as a Philadelphian, I don’t remember the Jays’ last triumphs with much pleasure, I find the explosive quality of our neighbors to the north deeply endearing; and there are moments I will think back, as others think upon personal tragedy experienced second-hand, to Neftali Feliz blowing the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals with two outs and two strikes. Both teams would totally have deserved the Cinderella stories their World Series championships might have brought.
Instead, we’re left with a series sweep and the historical legacy of an overachieving AL West champ beaten by one of the two AL East Wild Card teams. Geographic bias, confirmation bias, narrative bias—this series had all three, which is a real shame because it also had some incredibly fun baseball, too. Baseball will break your heart, but condolences Rangers fans: even if history doesn’t, I’ll remember this year’s team fondly.