The Texas Rangers watched a division title slip out of their grasp Sunday, took a cross-country flight more than five hours from Seattle to Tampa Bay and somehow still looked like the crisper, calmer, more energized team Tuesday to start the wild-card series.
Here’s more from their 4-0 win in Game 1 at Tropicana Field.
What we’ll remember
The final dagger came in the sixth inning, when Corey Seager lined a ball toward Rays center fielder Jose Siri, who hadn’t played in a game in three weeks and was questionable entering the series as he recovered from a fractured right hand.
Siri looked uncertain as he charged it, getting caught in between. The ball bounced in for a hit, and Siri was lucky to get any part of his body in front of the ball as it ricocheted off him and up into the air. As one run scored to run the Rangers’ lead to 3-0, Siri grabbed the ball then airmailed a throw over third base to bring in another run.
It was the Rays’ fourth error of the game — their most in any game this season.
The play from Siri came one batter after starter Tyler Glasnow departed. Glasnow walked five in the outing, but the first three errors of the game also ran up his pitch count and played a significant role in his removal after five-plus innings.
The way Jordan Montgomery was cruising for Texas, that play felt like the end.
The best deadline acquisition in baseball took the mound for Texas in Game 1.
Montgomery has developed into the Rangers’ ace, going at least six innings allowing one or no runs in each of his final four starts of the regular season. His production has been vital for a Texas rotation missing Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Jon Gray, and it was more of the same Tuesday in Tampa Bay as Montgomery held the Rays scoreless for seven innings.
While the defense behind Glasnow failed the Rays starter, the Rangers — one of the best defenses in the majors this year — looked stout behind Montgomery. Evan Carter ended the first inning with a diving catch and Montgomery added his own an inning later to record an out on a sacrifice bunt attempt before stranding two.
Montgomery stranded a runner in scoring position in the third and sixth innings, but the Rays rarely threatened. Montgomery allowed just four hard-hit balls, only one of which dropped in for a hit. He struck out five and needed only 93 pitches to go seven.
Inside the box score
The Rays scored the fourth-most runs in baseball this season, yet Tuesday felt like cruel déja vu for a Tampa Bay offense that hasn’t scored a run now in 27 consecutive playoff innings (the Rays mustered one run in 24 innings in their 2022 wild-card defeat to Cleveland). Randy Arozarena’s third-inning double off Montgomery was the Rays’ only extra-base hit of the day.
Nursing a 4-0 lead might seem like a simple feat, but considering the late-inning troubles in Texas, it had to feel like a relief (no pun intended) to shut it down. Aroldis Chapman and Jose Leclerc combined to allow just one baserunner in the final two innings, which could be a confidence booster for a maligned Rangers bullpen that entered the playoffs with a 4.77 ERA and more blown saves than converted saves on the season.
For a while, it looked like the Rangers might rue their bevy of missed opportunities. Through five innings, the Rays had already committed three errors and thrown a wild pitch with the bases loaded, and yet Texas led just 2-0. They finished the day 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position with 13 left on base, an area they’ll likely have to clean up if they want to advance.
What surprised us?
Not really a surprise, considering the way he played in September, but it’s worth noting rookie Evan “Full-Count” Carter’s performance. The 21-year-old hadn’t played above Double-A as of late August. In his first postseason game Tuesday, he made a diving catch and reached base all four times up with two six-pitch walks and two of the Rangers’ three doubles. If there were still any questions about how he’d handle the pressure, he answered them.
The Rays have thrived all year at home (53-28), but the announced attendance for Game 1 was 19,704 at The Trop. Even for a game in the middle of a work day (first pitch was 3:07 p.m. local time), that’s not a typical playoff home-field advantage.
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