Rangers’ Washington grilled on Game 1 decisions

ST. LOUIS – Well, see, this is the problem when one is playing in a National League ballpark, playing a National League game, “matching a wit” against a National League manager.

For every ballplayer one takes out of an apparent unpromising situation, there remains the complementary proposition, which is to uncover the better alternative.

Assuming there is one.

The Texas Rangers, whose game is about as National League as there is in the American League, for the better part of three hours Wednesday night worked the angles and hunches and the bullpen door right alongside the St. Louis Cardinals.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina tags out the Rangers' Esteban German after German struck out swinging and the ball was dropped during the seventh inning.
(AP)

Still, they would lose Game 1 of the 107th World Series, 3-2.

They lost it when the Cardinals scrambled for a run in the sixth inning, after C.J. Wilson(notes) put a couple men on base and Allen Craig(notes) singled one of them home against the previously impenetrable Alexi Ogando(notes). Then the Cardinals’ bullpen held, predictably.

They lost it when they failed to push a run across in the sixth inning themselves, and when two on and one out in the second inning produced not a run, but a double-play inning killer.

They lost it because the Cardinals were better by an inch.

But there was a moment – or two – when the Rangers didn’t win it. And that’s the turbulent area in which Rangers manager Ron Washington found himself later, where strategy met failure, and failure bore curiosity, then demanded explanation.

So, how was it that in the seventh inning, facing a one-run deficit, with two Rangers on base, that Craig Gentry(notes) and Esteban German(notes) were standing at the plate in the critical at-bats?

It’s complicated, perhaps. These games get frenetic.

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Hell, 15 minutes earlier, Cardinals pitcher Marc Rzepczynski(notes) had his right contact lens pop out and land somewhere in the bullpen grass. He raced through corridors beneath the stadium to the clubhouse, slapped in a spare, raced back to the bullpen, warmed up, crossed the field, continued his warm-up, then struck out Gentry and German.

But that’s the way the Cardinals go anymore – phones ringing, relievers grunting, scouting reports twirling, games ending and handshakes exchanging.

It’s Washington’s job to keep up, which he often does. He’s good at this.

So, along comes the moment that might beat the Cardinals. Rzepczynski, the left-hander, arrives. David Murphy(notes), the left-handed batter who four days earlier helped end the ALCS with a single off left-handed reliever Daniel Schlereth(notes), was due to hit.

Washington beckoned Gentry, a right-handed batter who this season hit 50 points higher against lefties than Murphy did.

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Back-up catcher Yorvit Torrealba(notes), a so-so right-handed hitter who’d earned himself some love by batting .444 in the ALCS, and who’d apparently been cleared for pinch-hitting assignments with the roster addition of still another catcher, Matt Treanor(notes), was left on the bench.

Gentry struck out on a slider he watched dip into the strike zone.

With two out and the pitcher’s spot due up, Washington needed another batter. This time, he chose German, who’d spent all but a few weeks of 2011 in Triple-A, then hit .455 for the Rangers in September. Now, German can’t do a lot on a baseball field, but generally he can hit.

Still, no Torrealba. Maybe this is why: In his career, Torrealba has 27 pinch at-bats and has one hit. (For the curious, think 2006, Coors Field, a single against Brandon Medders(notes).) That’s a .037 batting average as a pinch hitter.

Now, Washington could have assumed a second right-handed hitter against Rzepczynski would dupe Tony La Russa into bringing in right-hander Octavio Dotel(notes), in which case Washington would have countered with lefty Mitch Moreland(notes). But La Russa stood by his man Rzepczynski and the matchup at hand.

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Here’s another layer: Torrealba had faced Rzepczynski once in his career. And, we’ll let Rzepczynski describe the result: “He about took off my knee cap. A 2-and-0 fastball, hit it through the middle for a single.”

Then another. The club views Torrealba as more capable against a fastball pitcher than a pitcher who leans on off-speed stuff. Rzepczynski’s finishing pitch is a slider. He also loves his changeup.

Like we said, a little complicated.

These aren’t the kinds of moments that arrive very often over in the designated-hitter league. The Rangers used 61 pinch-hitters during the regular season. The Cardinals used 224. (So Allen Craig, who does this sort of thing for a living – he had 22 pinch at-bats, or more than a third of the Rangers’ whole team – beat the Rangers with a pinch hit Wednesday.)

German saw three sliders in his at-bat. They were – in order – strike one, strike two and strike three.

“No excuse,” German said. “I go out there ready for anything.”

And, as they say on the streets, ballgame.

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The choice of German hung in the postgame air. No matter how Washington attempted to wave it away, the question lingered. Did he have a better alternative? Was it Torrealba? Was it Murphy?

“Well, Gentry, generally when I take the outfielder out, which was Murphy, he’s usually the guy I put in there,” Washington said. “I thought Gentry had a pretty good swing. Rzepczynski beat him.

“And in German’s case, he’s a contact hitter. I thought he can handle Rzepczynski’s off-speed stuff. He beat us. You know, they beat us tonight.”

Washington was asked again.

“Can you guarantee me that if I used Torrealba he would have done anything different?” Washington demanded. “I used the guy that I thought could get me the base hit.”

And that’s where it’ll lie, too. Because these are the decisions he won’t get back.

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Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Oct 20, 2011