The Best Game This Writer Has Ever Seen

by Dan M | Posted on Thursday, October 13th, 2011

We’re going to call it an “instant classic”


By Dic Humphrey



Monday afternoon’s Tigers/Rangers game is at a minimum an instant classic and is certainly in the conversation as the best game ever played at the Ballpark in Arlington. This was a game that had it all – great pitching, timely hitting, great fielding plays, and questionable strategy. There is the pressure of a short series, where one play, even one pitch can turn the tide and make the difference between playing golf or playing in the World Series. The game had so many emotional ups and downs that Nolan Ryan later compared it to the “Texas Giant” roller coaster. It was a marvelous game to attend, and I am forever indebted to my friend who extended an invitation Monday morning to join him in seats near the Rangers’ dugout.


Derek Holland started for Texas. Holland received the best run support of any starting pitcher in baseball this year. It looked like business as usual in the bottom of the first, as three batters into the game, Texas took the lead. Ian Kinsler opened with a pop out, but Elvis Andrus singled and scored on Josh Hamilton’s double. Adrian Beltre later doubled Hamilton home for a second run before Mike Napoli struck out to end the inning.


But Holland struggled through the first and second innings. His fastball command was a problem. He threw his breaking ball for strikes, but not a lot of them.

The luck runs out

His luck ran out in the third. A one-out double didn’t immediately look problematic, but he hit Victor Martinez on an 0-2 count. That brought up Ryan Raburn, who homered to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead, their first of the series. A double and a ground out later Holland was out of the game, and for the second time in two games, the Rangers’ starting pitcher failed to last five innings.


From that point, the pitching for both teams was magnificent. Scott Feldman replaced Holland and matched Scherzer literally pitch for pitch. He retired the first five Tigers he faced. He didn’t allow a hit until a lead-off single in the sixth, after which he retired the next six. His final pitching line was 4.1 innings pitched, no runs, one hit, no walks and four strikeouts. It was a performance that would have made him the star of the game if it weren’t for Cruz’ later heroics.


Scherzer started the bottom of the seventh by surrendering a game tying home run to Cruz that ended his day. He was out of the game with a no decision and a pitching performance that was far better than his final numbers.


A frustrating ninth

Both teams had scoring opportunities in the ninth. In the top half, Santiago singled with two outs and advanced to third on Don Kelly’s double to the right field corner. The adage for coaching third base is that if the play is going to be close, send the runner with two outs. It’s going to take another hit to score the runner from third, so make the defense make a play. Tigers’ third base coach Gene Lamont certainly knows the routine but he inexplicably held Santiago at third, putting up the stop sign early.


Rangers’ manager Ron Washington then replaced Mike Gonzalez with Neftali Feliz. The next Tiger batter was Miguel Cabrera, this year’s American League batting champion. With runners on second and third, the logical strategic move was to intentionally walk Cabrera. The preference is usually for the outgoing pitcher to issue the intentional walk. However, Washington admitted later that he jumped out of the dugout without thinking about forcing Feliz to issue the intentional walk after entering the game for Gonzalez. Washington and the Rangers were bailed out of their bad strategy by a shaky catch by Elvis Andrus in short center field, an out that he finally secured by hugging the ball to his chest after fumbling it in his glove.


Texas then appeared to have the game in hand in the bottom of the ninth. Beltre opened with a double. It at first appeared to be a walk-off home run, but it hit off the fence in left center field. A foot or so to the right and the ball flies into the Tigers’ bullpen. Valverde intentionally walked Napoli, and then unintentionally hit Cruz to load the bases with no outs. He escaped scoreboard damage though starting with a fly to left from David Murphy in short left, too short for Beltre to score. Mitch Moreland then grounded to first to start a 3-2-3 double play that ended the inning.


Obviously, that was the low point of the game for me,” Rangers’ president Nolan Ryan said on the MLB Network a day later.


Exhilaration in extras

Detroit had a base runner in each of the 10th and 11th innings, but didn’t score. Valverde breezed through Texas in the 10th, his first outing this year of more than one inning. The Rangers’ 11th worked out much better as Texas loaded the bases again with three singles off Ryan Perry to start the inning.


That set the stage for Cruz. He titillated the crowd by knocking a long foul ball into the left field stands, followed by his third hit and second home run of the game, a high majestic fly down the left field line that kept everyone waiting to see if it would be fair or foul. It was the first walk off grand slam home run in postseason baseball history, and the crowd of more than 50,000 erupted into bedlam.


The game took 4:25 to play. Personally, I never left my seat. No trips to the concession stands or bathroom. We stood for most of the final four to five innings. It was an exhilarating experience that left me exhausted, mentally and physically, and one I’ll always remember.


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