A Tale of Two Losses

**ORIGINAL POSTED DATE 8/29/12**

Every year, baseball fans religiously chant the mantra that every baseball game is just one of 162. As you know, the baseball season is so long that each individual game does not make or break a season in the same way that it might in other sports. Baseball fans are conditioned to understand this, and strive to communicate that perspective to other, less-enlightened baseball fans. Yet, sometimes, there are those games that seem to mean more than just any other game.
After the day’s games on July 3rd, 2011, the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels were tied for first place in the AL West with identical 44-41 records. Then, starting on July 4th, the Rangers tore off 12 straight victories, the last of which was a 7-0 thrashing of the Angels in Anaheim. After that point, the Rangers had jumped to a five-game lead in the division, were steamrolling through opponents, while the Angels were reeling like they had taken an uppercut to the chin.

The next day was July 20th, and the Rangers were out to thrust the dagger into the hearts of the Angels season. They shelled Dan Haren for 7 runs in 4.1 innings, and took a commanding 8-3 lead in the 5th inning. Entering this contest, Texas had only allowed two runs in their last six games, so a five-run lead seemed nigh insurmountable. Fangraphs gave the Rangers a 96.8% win expectancy rate entering the 6th inning. They had the upper hand, the momentum, and were poised to move in for the kill.

Then, in the 6th inning, Derek Holland unraveled, and Tommy Hunter couldn’t put the pieces back together. Holland surrendered four hits, while only getting one out to start the inning. He left with three runs in, and one more runner on 2nd base as his property. Hunter followed by giving up three more hits and a walk, letting the inherited runner score as well as two more. All of a sudden, the Rangers’ five-run lead had flipped to a one-run deficit. If this had been a home game for Texas, the air would have been sucked out of the stadium. Since it took place in The Big A, a dead and defeated crowd rose to a raucous riot.

The Angels went on to win that game by the same 9-8 margin, and followed that with a 1-0 shutout the next afternoon. What seemed like a certain six-game lead after that July 20th game was swiftly cut to a three-game lead on July 21st. The Rangers locomotion that had rattled off 12 straight wins was derailed, while a staggering Angels team had their galvanizing point in the season. The tables were turned, all the momentum swung 180 degrees and the pennant race was on.

Or, so it seemed. While that July 20th game loomed larger than just one of 162 at the time, judgment cannot be passed on such things until better perspective has been gained. That perspective doesn’t come the very next day, or the next week, but only once more of the story has been written. The end of the story in the 2011 season was that after July 20th, the Rangers finished the season 40-24, while the Angels only mustered a 34-30 record, as Texas ran away to a ten-game division lead. Despite its appeared magnitude and season-altering attributes, the Rangers changed the fate of the narrative through their resiliency as a team, and they made July 20th just one of 162.

Fast forward one year and a handful of days, and we start a new story. The Rangers struggled mightily in July 2012, having one of their worst months in recent memory. They stumbled to a 9-14 record that was punctuated by consecutive losses, at home, to the Angels to end the month. The 9.5-game lead the Rangers had jumped to in April had slowly been chipped at, and now Mike Trout and the Angels were only three games back of the AL West leaders, with two games remaining in the series to whittle the lead further.

The first game in August started out by going no differently than the rest of July had. After a perfect first two innings, Yu Darvish and the Rangers defense had possibly their worst inning of the year. In total, it included four walks, two botched defensive plays, a double, and a home run, and ended with the Angels staked to a 6-0 lead. By the 5th inning, the Rangers found themselves down 7-1, with the Angels expected to win the game with 94.9% confidence.

The Angels climbing back to two games back in the division seemed a sure thing. The Rangers would almost definitely need a closed-doors meeting after this one to recapture their focus and stave off the Angels just a little longer. Personally, after that 3rd inning, I simply tweeted, “Low point.” Low point of that game, low point of the season, it was hard to imagine the sentiment towards the 2012 Texas Rangers season getting any lower in the dumps. I expected the team to maintain its resiliency and show themselves to be the superior baseball team. I didn’t expect that resiliency to manifest itself so quickly.

The Rangers scraped together four runs in their half of the fifth inning, and added one more in the eighth, and Ian Kinsler tied it up in the ninth with a solo home run off of the immortal Ernesto Frieri. It was a whole new ballgame, headed to extra innings. Climbing back to a tie was a moral victory in and of itself, but there isn’t a moral victories column in the standings.

Another gut kick was delivered to Texas in the form of a Chris Iannetta home run off of Joe Nathan. Then, another right after from a two-run Albert Pujols blast. After recovering from a six-run deficit in the fifth, the Rangers were back to a three-run deficit in the tenth. Yet, Nelson Cruz led off the home half with a 470-foot bomb off of Frieri, and the next four batters reached base before Elvis Andrus finished out the comeback victory with a walk-off single.

The Rangers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, while the opposite could be said from the Angels perspective. Just like July 20th, 2011, this was a momentum-swinging game, or at least they felt the same at the time. The Angels had mounted a charge through the month of July, and were on the verge of really putting serious pressure on the Rangers, only to blow a six-run and a three-run lead in an 11-10 loss. The Rangers went from needing to do some soul-searching in the third inning, to rejoicing on the same field seven innings later, giving Andrus playful jabs to the ribs.

Maybe we haven’t yet reached the point in the story where we’ve gained enough perspective to understand the significance of that August 1st game. However, the results since that date certainly point to it being more than just one of 162, and that it did indeed have the kind of sustainable momentum-shifting impact on the season for both Texas and Los Angeles. Since this Rangers comeback and Angels collapse on August 1st, Texas has gone 17-9 and LA has fallen to 10-14. The gap that was once a 95% certainty to drop to two games has blown up to ten games.

It seems unlikely that this one loss is still affecting the entire Angels team four weeks after its occurrence, but the significance of the defeat matched with the timing of the terrible August the Angels have had certainly points that direction. The 10-14 record is certainly correlated to this ugly loss for Los Angeles, but that doesn’t mean it was caused by that loss. Without being in that clubhouse, it’s impossible to speculate on that matter. However, whether the Angels like it or not, if their season doesn’t turn around quickly, this loss will stand out as another major footnote to an overall disappointing season.

Whether certain games mean more than just being one of 162 is nearly impossible to know for certain. All we can do is use our own emotions and sentiments towards certain outcomes, choose arbitrary end points after them, and draw mostly faulty conclusions. The Rangers loss on July 20th, 2011, and the Angels loss on August 1st, 2012 were similar in their significance on the night it occurred. In hindsight, they appear to be vastly different in their significance on the outcome of that season. Maybe a game can be more than just one of 162, but maybe it really never is. One thing is for certain – that determination cannot be made until the full story has been written.

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureG
Peter Ellwood

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