This game is pretty simple when you strip away all of the little nuances, in-game managerial options, and discussions of advanced metrics. The game really boils down to It. It wins you games. It can also win you a series and over the course of a long season, it can win you a playoff berth. It has definitely won a team a World Series title more times than not along the way as well. It was on display Sunday in Arlington when Martin Perez out-dueled Brett Hoberoltzer as the Texas Rangers won 1-0 to clinch the series finale. That it factor that Perez displayed is what keeps teams from losing multiple games or several series in a row. Great pitchers and pitching staffs find ways to shine and pitch lights out during crucial moments of the season and Perez did exactly that on Sunday.
Yu was fantastic on Friday and even though Scheppers got roughed up in the fourth on Saturday, he did give his team a chance and kept them in it and a lot of times that’s all you can ask for. On Sunday the Rangers needed a win in a bad, bad way. It wasn’t a must win and this time of year should never be labeled as a must win, but this team didn’t need to lose a series to the Astros. You just get the feeling that the local media and fans are itching to jump ship and abandon the 2014 season because of the myriad of injuries and the slow start by Prince among other concerns. Losing an early season series to the Astros may have been all it took to ignite panic among the fan base.
What was the key to Perez and his fantastic start on Sunday? Plain and simple his start boiled down to three pitches. He spotted two pitches and got a little luck on a third one. Yes, THREE pitches was the difference in this game, which saw a total of 119 thrown between Perez and Ogando.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Rangers went down 1,2,3 and it only took Hoberoltzer 12 pitches to set them down in order. Often times after a quick inning like that late in a scoreless game, momentum can swing quickly or at the very least take the air out of a team from time to time. It was imperative that Martin Perez came out in the sixth and reestablished himself and regained some momentum for the Rangers. Unfortunately, Corporan singled to start the inning and for the first time all game it felt like things were about to slip away. After throwing ball one, Perez tried to throw a sinker down and away to Villar (who appeared to be slashing on the play) and missed his spot up and away. Perez got a little lucky as Villar rolled over and hit into a 4-3-6 double play. Momentum was back in the Rangers favor and two pitches later they would come back to the plate and take the lead for the first time.
The second pitch that won this game came just one inning later after the Rangers had scored their first and only run of the day to lead 1-0. Jose Altuve led off the inning with an infield single and once again it felt like one run may not be enough on this stormy Sunday afternoon. After Jesus Guzman fouled off several pitches, Perez threw a beautiful changeup (location seen in the chart below) to induce another gigantic double play and quickly shifting momentum right back to the Rangers. As you can tell by the location of the pitch below, Perez threw the perfect groundball pitch at a crucial time to get out of a tight spot.
(courtesy of brooksbaseball.net)
The final pitch was thrown in the 8th inning after Robbie Grossman hit a one out single. Perez was starting to get up in pitch count and the fear of him leaving something out over the plate grew with each pitch late in this game. Carlos Corporan was the victim of another nasty Martin Perez changeup (seen below) that ended the inning, the Astros late threat, and a brilliant outing for Perez.
(courtesy of brooksbaseball.net)
These three pitches often go unnoticed during the course of a game if the pitcher has success, but they always get magnified if the pitcher misses or the hitter has success. How would this game have played out differently, if Perez had left any one of these three up in the zone just enough for the hitter to elevate or crush? I know you can say that about every pitch a pitchers throws, but these three pitches by Perez came at crucial moments and all three felt like gigantic changes in momentum. On a day when Perez had zero whiffs on his fastball according to data at brooksbaseball.net, pitch location was vital for his success and he executed it perfectly.