TORONTO – Whether they deserved to be or not is stuff best left to those scholars who spend years dedicated to the study of the major league baseball rulebook but the facts and circumstances were hard, fast and simple: The Texas Rangers were nine outs away from a berth in the American League Championship Series. And, further, to that point, the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 5 of the division series that the Rangers once held a firm grasp on.
All of this compounded Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus’s grief in the wake of Toronto’s four-run top of the seventh. True, it wasn’t all Andrus’s fault—he committed just two of the three Rangers errors in the inning—but his first set things in motion, all of it downward. The collapse was not without controversy and bad blood. Nothing in the game on either side really went on without dispute or enmity.
To lead off the Toronto half of the seventh, Russell Martin hit a grounder that Andrus dropped—Error No. 1. The next batter, Kevin Pillar, hit another grounder, this time to first baseman Mitch Moreland, who decided against his better judgment to take a sure out at the bag steps away but instead bounced a throw to second base—first and second with none out. At that point manager John Gibbons pulled Martin in favour of pinch-runner Dalton Pompey. And when the next batter, Ryan Goins, hitless for the series, laid down a bunt to advance the runners and test the mobility of the Rangers’ banged-up third baseman Adrian Beltre, the Rangers’ and Andrus’s whole world crumbled.
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Beltre, the Rangers third baseman and their leader in the field, made a clean pickup of a bunt and what looked like a clean, unobstructed, not quite waist-high throw to the shortstop who was covering on the play. The 49,000 in the park and everyone in the field and the dugout were sure it was an out and a rally might be quelled bit by bit. But, as they say, ‘Ball don’t lie,’ and in this case the ball did not lie in Andrus’s glove. It deflected away.
Andrus wanted to explain what happened but couldn’t. He told reporters after the game in a sombre Rangers dressing room that his muffing of Beltre’s relay wasn’t a case of his looking to try to get two outs on the play and taking his eye off the ball. “I was just trying to get the one out at third base,” he said. “The ball hit the end of my glove and came out. There’s no excuse for that. I have to make that play. This is the toughest time of my career right now. I can make that play 100 times, for sure. There’s a lot of pain right now. I let down my team and my city.”
Media types offered Andrus seemingly plausible explanations for the meltdown. Most pointed to the almost interminable top half of the inning, with umpire conferences following umpire conferences with no play in between, with a protest lodged, drinks, toilet paper and projectiles of various sorts raining down on the field, with police standing in the outfield (apparently playing straight-away), and just about everything but a price laid on the head of umpire Dale Scott. Had the team gone cold, tightened up, lost focus or come down with a bad case of shpilkes in the interim between stints in the field? Andrus was having none of it.
“We knew they were going to be loud before we took the field [in the bottom half of the seventh] but it’s not the first time we’ve played in front of a lot of people,” Andrus said. “Everything just went down after the first error. Everything just changed.”
And Andrus denied that he was still thinking about the error on Martin’s grounder when he dropped the ball at third. “No, you don’t think about it,” he said.
By rights, it should have been a three-up, three-down inning for Cole Hamels, the Rangers starter. A proven big-game performer with a spotless record in these highest-leverage situations, Hamels had been solid throughout the game and should have been walking back to the dugout. Instead the sacks were loaded, none out. Even in this undeserved jam, Hamels managed to get another out, Moreland this time picking up a ground ball and relaying cleanly to the catcher Chris Gimenez to get Pompey out. When manager Jeff Banister came out to the mound and waved in reliever Sam Dyson, Hamels might have had an inkling that things had quite finished going sideways, even though the Rangers’ pen was a perceived strength and advantage over Toronto coming into the ALDS.
Dyson, however, gave up a tweener to Josh Donaldson that pushed the tying run in and then Jose Bautista’s bomb that at last put the Jays in front in the series. More mayhem followed immediately, a bench clearing of course, when Dyson and Edwin Encarnacion jawed at each other—Dyson claiming that he came to the plate when Encarnacion was trying a little crowd control, only to offer his support. “I touched him,” he said. “I didn’t mean anything by it. But he said, ‘Don’t touch me’ and then …”
And then doesn’t matter for the game and the series was decided.
That Andrus was inconsolable didn’t stop Beltre from trying. “I talked to him after the game,” Beltre said. “He hurts because he cares. Everyone does. He takes it personally. We all do.”
Maybe, but no one took it harder than Elvis Andrus. He played every inning of every game in the ALDS, but he’ll be haunted by a couple of outs that should have been and weren’t.