Role reversal: Texas playing as Yanks would
NEW YORK -- When it comes to clutch performance in this postseason series, making plays that must be made, the Texas Rangers have looked more like the New York Yankees than the Yankees themselves.
An objective view of the first four games of the 2010 American League Championship Series would indicate that the veteran, battle-tested, ready-for-anything postseason team appeared to be the Rangers.
And yet, the New York Yankees are the defending World Series champions, and they have qualified for the postseason 15 times in the past 16 seasons. The Rangers, until about five minutes ago, had never won a postseason series and had never even won a playoff home game.
But this is the beauty of October baseball; this is where reputations are made and unmade. The past may be fascinating, but it is still the past. The 27 World Series championships set the New York franchise apart from the rest of the baseball world. But they don't give the Yankees one pitch, one hit, one catch in this series. The fact that the Rangers have never won a pennant carries some historical interest, but also has absolutely no bearing on current events.
So now, the Yankees are on the verge of elimination, and the Rangers, with a 3-1 series lead, are one victory away from advancing to the World Series for the first time. The way the last three games have gone, this is no accident, no aberration, no fluke. The Rangers have been postseason-worthy; good enough to beat the ultimate postseason team on every available level.
Game 4 on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium was one big bowl of evidence on behalf of the Rangers. They won, 10-3, seizing the Yankees' specialty by coming from behind. And they stretched their road record in the 2010 postseason to 5-0. That is the mark of a top-shelf postseason team, the ability to win on the road. And in the postseason, the ultimate place for road difficulty is supposed to be the Bronx.
The Rangers needed a big hit. Boom, catcher Bengie Molina -- he of the Catching Molina Brothers -- hit a three-run homer. A 3-2 deficit in the sixth inning became a 5-3 lead. The game was never the same again.
They needed a big defensive play. Shortstop Elvis Andrus, a tremendous young talent, gave it to them in the fourth inning. In a 2-2 game, the Yankees had the bases loaded with one out. How many times have you seen this inning before from the Yankees? During the regular season, they scored four or more runs in an inning 52 times, and here they were, setting up shop for another game-turning deluge of runs.
Brett Gardner hit a smash into the hole, and it looked like a world of trouble for Texas. But Andrus made a diving stop, and then made the one and only play available to him, a throw to third for a force play. The Yankees scored a run on the play, but that was all they got, because reliever Derek Holland struck out Francisco Cervelli to end the threat and the inning.
The Rangers needed clutch pitching. The aforementioned Holland got them out of the fourth-inning danger and then delivered a sturdy performance in long relief, 3 2/3 shutout innings. And when the Yankees loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, bringing the tying run to the plate, veteran lefty Darren Oliver got the two outs the Rangers needed without any damage on the scoreboard.
Molina achieved maximum grace when he was asked about Yankees manager Joe Girardi intentionally walking David Murphy to get to him before the home run.
"Murphy, he's a great hitter and he kills right-handers, so why not walk him and face me?" Molina said. "I haven't been having a great season. I don't think it's a bad move. I think it's the right move that went wrong."
Of Andrus' game-turning defensive play, Rangers manager Ron Washington said: "It was huge, especially with Gardner putting that ball in play. He played him a little bit to the side, to the opposite hole there. Derek made the pitch away from him and he hit it in the hole and made an excellent play, diving to get it. That really minimized the damage right there. They took the lead, 3-2, but we minimized the damage and we got out of the inning."
And on the topic of this team being unbeaten on the postseason road against the Rays and the Yankees, by record the best teams the AL had to offer, Holland had this insight: "On thing is, we like being considered the underdog going into people's places. They all talk about home-field advantage; we want to be able to show that there's no such thing."
On the other side of the issue, Girardi was saying: "We just haven't got the big hit."
That's the sum total of it. The Rangers are delivering in the clutch in all areas. The Yankees are not. The 3-1 Texas lead does not look like a conventional expectation for this series, but if you examine the play of the two teams, it is not at all surprising. The Rangers have played this ALCS the way the Yankees were supposed to play it.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.