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Roughned Odor's Baserunning and More Drama from Baseball's Division Series

As a chastened Orioles fan, I can take a little solace that the Texas Rangers’ surprise rise to the edge of the American League Championship Series may have started when they took three out of four in Baltimore just before the All-Star break.

It was before they made the trade deadline deals in late July that brought them a likely ace in Cole Hamels from Philadelphia, and also in the same deal lefty Jake Diekman who has become a key member of their bullpen. Add in Sam Dyson who came from the Marlins.

I don’t think I ever saw better baserunning than supplied by Roughned Odor in the Rangers’ 14-inning second straight playoff win over Toronto. He went first to third on an infield grounder, and then scored on a short fly ball to center, deking his left hand into home plate and pulling it away and touching it with his right hand before Russell Martin could apply the tag.

Center fielder Delino DeShields Jr. has also provided a lot of spark as the Rangers’ new leadoff hitter. He had three hits in the extra-inning victory and beat out a routine grounder to short for a big insurance run in the 14th inning rally. (Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is still hurting from the injury to his non-throwing shoulder and it may well have affected his throw to first. He certainly has not been hitting with authority.)

Like his father, who had been recruited to play point guard for Villanova basketball, DeShields Jr. before signing with the Montreal Expos, is a great athlete who both Ole Miss and the University of Georgia were interested in for football.

DeShields is only a rookie so it is too early to predict how great his career will be.
He may have a chance, though, to make most people forget that his father’s greatest claim to fame may be that the Expos traded him even up to the Dodgers for Pedro Martinez.

In an age when MLB is drawing more and more players from the international market, the Rangers may lead every team for being a veritable United Nations on the field.

Roughned Odor is from Maracaibo, Venezuela family filled with players and coaches.
Shin-Soo Choo is from Korea, Adrian Beltre and his temporary replacement Hanser Alberto are from the Dominican Republic, and injured ace starter Yu Darvish is from Japan.

There are a lot of home-grown stories on the Rangers including starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo who went to nearby Fort Worth Trimble Tech HS, and reliever Ross Olmerdorf who grew up in Austin TX and went to Princeton.

Arguably the brightest man in baseball, who has worked in Washington, DC as a high-level government agricultural researcher, Olmerdorf has rescued his career by resorting to a Bob Feller-style full windup.

Every playoff season has its own special drama and 2015 is no exception.
Joe Maddon's Cubs used two safety squeeze bunts in a row to stoke a 5-run rally to even up their series with the Cardinals at 1-1. And now the Cardinals must face Jake Arrieta at Wrigley Field. Every pitcher is ultimately hittable but Arrieta is as hot as any hurler in the history of the game.

Best thing about the Cubs is that they are versatile as well as talented and Maddon has them all thinking, "W" for winning and nothing else. When asked in spring training about Cub curses and 106 non-winning seasons in a row, Maddon replied, "I don't vibrate at that frequency."

The Mets’ chance for a sweep on the road against the Dodgers’ great aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke came to a dramatic halt on Saturday night when Chase Utley slid hard into Ruben Tejada at second base, breaking up a possible though not likely double play.

Unfortunately Tejada’s leg was broken by the slide and now Wilmer Flores, the Mets’ better-hitting more defensively-challenged shortstop, takes over that key position. I’ve always liked Flores’ bat and we’ll see how he responds to his big challenge.

Certainly Flores will always be remembered for breaking into tears on the field at the trading deadline in late July when he thought the Mets had sent him to Milwaukee in a trade for former Met centerfielder Carlos Gomez.

It was one of the most touching moments of the entire season and reminded us of how ballplayers, despite their celebrity and great riches, are human beings after all.

In my next post we'll have the answers to these still-unresolved questions:
Can Jake Arrieta lead the Cubs to the edge of the NL Championship Series?
Will the Rangers complete their upset victory over the heavily-favored Blue Jays at their home park in Texas?
Can Houston use home-field advantage to dethrone Kansas City as American League champion?
Will the Mets add to the Dodgers’ recent miseries in the playoffs?

In the meantime, Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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Rousing End To Regular Season Sets Stage for October Playoffs

Monday October 5 will be a rare day off before playoff baseball begins with the AL Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday Oct 6 with the rambunctious Houston Astros invading Yankee Stadium for the right to meet the Kansas City Royals in the best-of-five American League Division Series (ALDS).

I must admit that I was rooting for the Yankees to go on the road for the Winner Take All game. They finished the season as losers of six out of seven games, three out of four to the Red Sox at home and a sweep in Baltimore at the hands of last year’s AL East champion Orioles.

The Astros played very well in Seattle and Arizona, winning both series but unable to sweep the Diamondbacks on Sunday that would have given them the home game in Houston. It was still a remarkable year for the young Astros who rose from seasons in the lower depths to lead the AL West for most of 2015 until the Texas Rangers, another horrible team in 2014, roared past them to win the title.

There is nothing like baseball when everything is on the line. Players who gather in Florida and Arizona in February, who live with each other more than with their own families, go on the field in late September and try to relax while playing games that will determine whether they make the playoffs or go home also-rans.

The Saturday October 3 game between the Angels and Rangers will go down as one of the most remarkable ones in baseball history. I have cited over the years in this blog “Lowenfish’s Law”: “No four-run lead in baseball is ever safe until the last man
Is out.”

It came true on Saturday when the Rangers entered the 9th inning at home in Arlington, Texas with a 10-6 lead. Rangers rookie manager Jeff Banister played with fire by bringing in his closer Shawn Tolleson for the FIFTH straight game. He immediately gave up two solo home runs to cut the lead to 10-8.

Infrequently used righthander Ross Olmerdorf came in and got a bad break immediately when Albert Pujols popped a ball down the right field that fell out of first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove when second baseman Roughned Odor collided with him. Four hits later, some with two strikes and two out, gave the lead to the Rangers who closed out a 11-10 victory.

The Rangers were already in the playoffs so it wasn’t a devastating loss. “Tomorrow is your best friend” remains one of the great adages in baseball, and on Sunday southpaw ace Cole Hamels, a trade deadline pickup from the Phillies, pitched a complete game 9-2 victory to give the Rangers the undisputed title of the AL West.

Attempting a sweep at Arizona, always hard to pull off on the road, Houston tied Arizona in the sixth inning but Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt belted a two-run home run that proved the difference in a 5-3 Arizona victory.

There should be exceptional drama ahead in the wild card games. Houston’s homegrown stellar southpaw Dallas Keuchel is matched against the Yankees high-salaried Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday the Pirates, winners of 96 games, could find their season end because of the deliveries of the Cubs star righty Jake Arrieta who has enjoyed statistically the greatest second half of a season in baseball history.

Powerhouses Kansas City and St. Louis will have home field advantages when they take on the wild card winners, starting Thursday and Friday in the best-of-five league division series (LDS). Division winners Texas and Toronto and New York and Los Angeles will square off in the other LDS.

Playoff baseball is not the same as the daily grind of the regular season. I am pleased that my Orioles surprised a lot of us by winning the last two games over Toronto after the Blue Jays clinched their title in Baltimore. Even more satisfying was sweeping the Yankees this past weekend, forcing them to back into the home wild card game with Houston’s Sunday loss.

The pending free agent losses of slugger Chris Davis and effective southpaw Wei-Yin Chen made the victories bittersweet. Davis sure went out with a bang hitting two home runs in the last game of the season at Camden Yards. But what baseball teaches us is to enjoy the moments of triumph fully because losses of games, and personnel, inevitably lie ahead.

That’s all for now – in the meantime always remember – “Take it easy but take it!”
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