Rangers Strike First and Furious to Take Game Four

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Do you like pitchers? Of course you do – you’re reading a recap of a World Series game on FanGraphs. Good news, then: Game 4 had so many pitchers. Swingmen, high-leverage guys, LOOGYs, ROOGYs, forgotten starters who had accumulated a light covering of dust throughout the playoffs, closers, setup men. You name it, this one had it. Unless, of course, you were rooting for the Diamondbacks.

When bullpen games work, a whirling mass of relievers traipse onto the mound and befuddle the hitters. When bullpen games don’t work, a whirling mass of relievers still traipse onto the mound, but with significantly less befuddling. Tuesday was one of those nights.

Joe Mantiply started off smoothly for the Diamondbacks, with four outs among the first six hitters. The bottom of the lineup was up, but Mantiply had already thrown 28 pitches, and Torey Lovullo started the bullpen carousel. Miguel Castro came in – and then things fell apart.

Castro retired the first batter he faced, but he just didn’t have it. Even that at-bat featured spotty command, and things got worse from there. With Leody Taveras batting, Castro uncorked a wild pitch that allowed a run to score. Then he walked Taveras. Then Travis Jankowski, who had only batted twice this postseason and was only in the lineup due to Adolis García’s oblique injury, laced a line drive single. Suddenly Texas’ best hitters were up with a chance to do damage.

As they have all postseason, the Rangers capitalized. Marcus Semien turned on a low and away slider and tucked it into the left field corner for a triple that scored two runs. Lovullo had just the medicine – another reliever. You can’t let Corey Seager face a righty in a big spot. But news flash: You can’t let Seager face a lefty in a big spot either. Kyle Nelson threw a slider in the strike zone, and Seager demolished it, 430 feet to center field. Suddenly it was 5-0 Rangers, and the Diamondbacks still had seven innings to cover.

Sometimes when these things don’t work, they really don’t work. Nelson wasn’t any better in a fresh inning, surrendering back-to-back one-out singles. Christian Walker booted a grounder, and suddenly the bases were loaded instead of the inning being over. Luis Frías – Arizona’s pitcher count was up to four – gave up a backbreaking two-run double to Jankowski. The game felt like it might already be over at that point, but it certainly felt like it was over when Semien cranked a patented three-run homer, fairly well hit and dead pulled. 10-0 Rangers, last Diamondback out the door please turn out the lights.

That’s not how it works, of course. It was only the third inning, with miles to go before anyone could sleep. All the Diamondbacks needed was a few crooked innings, and then maybe a few more crooked innings after that, an airtight rest of the game on the other side of the ledger, and probably a bit of luck.

While the Rangers had been bopping their way to a lopsided score, Arizona’s bats had gone quiet. Entering the game, Texas looked likely to go to some kind of bullpen game themselves. Andrew Heaney wasn’t supposed to go in Game 4; Jon Gray was the scheduled starter, but he was pressed into service when Max Scherzer left Game 3 with a back injury. The new plan: Heaney, followed by as many relievers as necessary to close things out.

That plan worked better than the Rangers could have planned. Heaney didn’t have his best stuff, but your best stuff is not required when staked to a 10-0 lead. He danced through five innings, ugly but effective. The Diamondbacks put a runner on in every inning, but they repeatedly failed to cash in. Ketel Marte got caught stealing. Alek Thomas couldn’t capitalize in a two-out opportunity; neither could Corbin Carroll. Runners on second and third with no one out turned into only one run in the fourth. Carroll got a second shot and came up empty again.

When Heaney departed, he did so with a 10-1 edge, and presumably with a standing ovation from the rest of the Texas pitching staff. His five innings turned Bruce Bochy’s pitching plan from some complex multivariate equation into a matter of simple addition. One inning from Dane Dunning, one inning from Cody Bradford; it was just a matter of time and gravity until the game ended.

That’s not to say that Arizona didn’t make things interesting. If you thought the belly of the Diamondbacks bullpen was bad, wait until you hear about the Texas ensemble. Brock Burke, Scherzer’s injury replacement, faced four batters and recorded one out. Chris Stratton, who might have been the least-trusted bullpen arm before Burke was in the fold, faced the next three and gave up two 100-mph laser beams. One of those hung up in right field for a sacrifice fly. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit the second one, and he didn’t treat the Rangers so kindly. He cleared the wall for a three-run home run, tightening the score to 11-5.

That’s right – while the Diamondbacks were slowly grinding away on offense, Texas’ bats went quiet. The reliever parade that had gone so poorly gave way to just one man: Ryne Nelson. Nelson has barely pitched this October. He was part of the rotation this year, but as I mentioned, that rotation only goes three deep these days. That made him the odd man out, but perhaps it shouldn’t have. He shredded the Rangers over five and a third innings, to the tune of six strikeotus, three hits, and a solitary run. Maybe the Diamondbacks should have started him!

Of course, that’s not how things work. Nelson got time and leash to cruise because Lovullo had shifted from win-the-game mode to preserve-my-good-relievers mode. Burke and Stratton gave up those runs because the game got so out of hand that Texas also used their weakest arms. When the game got back to even a somewhat close count at 11-5, Bochy went back to maximum effort mode to start the bottom of the ninth inning.

Will Smith came on as the sixth Rangers pitcher of the night, matching the Diamondbacks’ total. He was far from sharp – the first two batters he faced reached – but with a six-run lead, you have a little bit of room to play around and explore the studio space. Marte and Carroll, the most dangerous Diamondbacks, both struck out. Light was fading fast.

Somehow, it wasn’t fading fast enough for Bochy, though. His try-hard genes had been activated, and it was time to lean hard on the bullpen. Closer José Leclerc came in, with a six-run lead and two outs in the ninth, because I suppose you can never be sure enough. Gabriel Moreno greeted him rudely with a two-run single. But it’s pretty hard to dig out of a hole this deep; Leclerc persevered and got the final out of the game to close it out.

I just watched this game, and I can still hardly believe that the Rangers used more pitchers than the Diamondbacks. But really, that’s a weird way of looking at things. The game, the competitive part of the game at least, ended after three innings. The six innings after that were just a scrimmage that happened to take place at the World Series, more or less; both teams were playing for tomorrow. But that might be all there is; one more win will send Texas home victorious. For all the doom and gloom that had been in the air before the game – injured stars and uncertain pitching plans – it was a great night for the Rangers.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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3 months ago

I can’t feel my face

Jason Bmember
3 months ago
Reply to  MonkeyEpoxy

I can’t feel your face either with these damn t-rex arms