Decision to pitch to Longoria costs Rangers
With base open in fifth, Rays slugger delivers pivotal blow
ARLINGTON -- Only one American League team issued fewer intentional walks than the Rangers during the regular season, and the philosophy continues in the postseason.
That might not be a good thing.
One day after getting away with pitching to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria with first base open and two outs, the attack mode backfired on the Rangers Sunday afternoon in their 5-2 loss at the Ballpark in Arlington.
The Rangers were behind, 3-0, in the fifth inning of Game 4 of the AL Division Series when a free pass to Longoria seemed to be the prudent move after left-handed reliever Derek Holland's first pitch caromed off catcher Bengie Molina's mitt for a passed ball, advancing Ben Zobrist to second base.
That created an opening at first base and waiting on deck was left-handed-hitting Carlos Pena.
The stat sheet showed that during the regular season Longoria was 5-for-9 with a home run off Holland while Pena was 0-for-6 with three strikeouts.
But the Rangers handed out only 24 intentional walks during the 162-game season, second only to the Twins' 19.
And so, it was game on between Holland and Longoria.
Holland threw two 94 mph fastballs that Longoria fouled off and a slider that dipped into the dirt for ball two.
The next pitch was a fastball that was hit into the left-field seats, giving the Rays a five-run lead and, basically, was the single blow that sent the five-game series back to Tropicana Field for a winner-take-all game on Tuesday night.
Rangers manager Ron Washington said afterward that he never considered an intentional walk.
"I thought Derek was throwing the ball well," he said, "and just happened to get a pitch in the wrong place."
"I don't really know his stats against other people," Holland said of Longoria, "but he's had my number, this year for sure. But I wanted to go after him and not be intimidated by that."
Holland said it didn't surprise him that he was allowed to face Longoria in that situation.
"I didn't think anything about walking him intentionally," Holland said. "It didn't cross my mind. The main thing was just not give him anything to hit because of the hitter on deck. You don't want to give in because you give him too much credit."
The last pitch was a fastball "that I wish was a little more [inside]," Holland said.
While Holland was not surprised at the Rangers' decision to be aggressive at that juncture of the game, neither was Longoria.
"Sometimes it crosses your mind," he said, "but at the same time, I have done that in the past where I think that might happen and I go up there and have a bad at-bat, or kind of give away the at-bat."
The fact he has been struggling during this series was another reason he expected the Rangers to go after him.
He was 1-for-12 coming into Game 4, including a groundout to shortstop in the seventh inning in Game 3 against left-hander Darren Oliver.
"I think Derek will tell you that he didn't throw that ball exactly where he wanted to," Longoria added. "I haven't been able to hit those mistakes throughout the course of this series. I am just happy that I was able to in that situation right there."
Maybe if he gets in that situation on Tuesday night, the bat will be taken out of his hands.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.