Pete Hodges recaps Game 1 of the ALDS between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers in which Josh Donaldson brought the rain.
Josh Donaldson‘s hitting line exemplifies the Jays’ offensive outburst in Game 1 of the ALDS: 4-for-4 with two doubles, a walk, two runs batted in, and two runs scored. Those are some big numbers, but the walk may have been the most important element of his performance. Donaldson worked a nine-pitch free pass in the first after Texas Rangers starter Cole Hamels forced leadoff hitter Devon Travis to pop out into foul territory on just two pitches. Hamels would need five more pitches to do away with Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in the next two at-bats, but on a warm and humid Arlington day, the taxing inning may have cost Hamels later.
Meanwhile, Marco Estrada was preparing to do his best Cole Hamels impression. The veteran right-hander struck out leadoff hitter Carlos Gomez on five pitches before retiring both Ian Desmond and Carlos Beltran with a single pitch. This would become the theme of the day, as the Rangers remained aggressive and Estrada continued to be effective.
Cole Hamels appeared to have regained his playoff mojo in the second inning as he made short work of Russell Martin (strikeout), Troy Tulowitzki (popout), and Kevin Pillar (groundout). Whatever mojo he had disappeared, however, when he walked number-nine hitter Ezequiel Carrera on five pitches with one out in the third inning.
Following Carrera’s walk, Hamels retired Travis by forcing him to pop out into foul territory once again. Then came the Bringer of Rain himself, Josh Donaldson. With the speedy Carrera on first, Hamels uncorked a wild pitch to the backstop, gifting a runner in scoring position to the reigning MVP. On the very next pitch, Donaldson ripped a two-out RBI double off Beltre’s glove and into left field, putting the Blue Jays up 1-0. Unfortunately for Hamels, Donaldson is just the beginning of the Jays’ version of “Murderers’ Row”. Five pitches later Encarnacion hit a line drive up the middle that Hamels tried to make a play on, but could not. The ball deflected to shortstop Elvis Andrus’s right after he was already moving to his left – infield single, men on first and second. Joey Bats came up next to a chorus of boos (thanks to last postseason’s heroics) and proceeded to foul off pretty much every pitch in Hamels’ arsenal. After eight pitches, and only two called balls, Bautista laced a curveball into center field, scoring Donaldson and advancing Encarnacion to second.
Hamels received a visit from pitching coach Doug Brocail, though it’s unclear what advice he could offer the veteran lefty making his 16th postseason start. Perhaps Brocail was attempting to allow the 36-year-old Hamels a moment to catch his breath. Regardless, the visit didn’t help as Hamels walked Russell Martin on five pitches. Troy Tulowitzki then stepped into the batter’s box and crushed a 2-2 two-seam fastball into the deepest part of Arlington Stadium. The flyball carried in the warm October afternoon air long enough for center fielder Ian Desmond to make a play on it, but the converted shortstop appeared to shy away as he approached the wall. The ball short-hopped the fence, resulting in a bases-clearing triple. Hamels would retire Pillar on a groundout on three pitches, but the damage was done and the Rangers were down 5-0.
But the Blue Jays weren’t finished with Hamels. Melvin Upton, Jr. led off the fourth inning with a tater to left field, increasing the lead to six. Carrera was set down by way of a flyout before an Andrus error allowed Devon Travis to reach for the first time. With old friend Josh Donaldson at the plate, a passed ball put Travis in scoring position and Donaldson took advantage by blooping an 88-mph four-seamer into right field that scored Travis and (mercifully) sent Hamels to the showers. The lefty’s final line of 3-⅓ innings pitched, seven runs allowed – six earned – on six hits, one strikeout, three walks, and one home run allowed marks Hamels’ worst career playoff performance. Alex Claudio followed Hamels and made short work of Encarnacion and Bautista, ending the fourth inning with the score at 7-0.
The two clubs would trade zeroes for the next four innings. Claudio finished his outing with 3-⅔ innings pitched, allowing two hits and two walks. He was replaced by Tony Barnette who tossed a scoreless inning, allowing one hit. Jake Diekman entered the ninth inning, looking to preserve the Rangers’ already slim chances.
With Donaldson set to lead off the ninth inning, Ranger fans should have known better. Last year’s AL MVP laced a single to center field to get the party started. Encarnacion followed with an opposite-field grounder through the infield. Public Enemy No. 1 then came to the plate and delivered a three-run home run to end any hope for the Arlington crowd. With the score at 10-0, manager Jeff Banister didn’t even bother replacing Diekman. The lefty reliever managed to escape the inning, finishing with a line of one inning pitched, three runs allowed on four hits, one walk and one strikeout.
Marco Estrada came out to start the ninth inning with 95 pitches thrown and the shutout intact. Elvis Andrus had other plans, as he crushed the first pitch he saw to center field for a triple. Shin-Soo Choo then hit a groundball to first base, ending both Estrada’s magnificent start and his shutout bid. The righty finished the day with 8-⅓ innings pitched allowing one earned run on four hits while striking out six and walking none. Ryan Tepera would come on in relief and sit down Carlos Gomez and Ian Desmond with no drama. Marco Estrada and they Jays’ potent offense combined to wrest home-field advantage away from Texas. Will the Rangers be able to bounce back against Cy Young candidate J.A. Happ in Game 2?