04/21/10 12:37 AM ET
Rangers unable to steal opener vs. Sox
After swiping nine bases, Francisco gives up walk-off single
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
But instead of celebrating this feat, the Rangers had to spend their postgame pondering how they let a four-run lead get away, which led to their fifth consecutive loss.
The most logical answer was supplied by Rangers manager Ron Washington after Darnell McDonald's two-out, bases-loaded shot off the left-field wall in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Red Sox a 7-6 walk-off victory at Fenway Park.
"The one that hurt most was not catching that fly ball down the left-field line," Washington said. "If we catch that fly ball, it's a different ballgame."
That one play in the sixth inning did seem to change everything on a night when the Rangers were running rampant on the basepaths. Outfielder Josh Hamilton overran a fly ball at a crucial moment, and everything started to unravel after that.
"I don't know, man." Hamilton said. "We've just got to get it figured out and get this done. We haven't done the things we needed to do. We're hitting the ball better lately, but the defense and stuff hasn't been there. We've got to get it right."
The Rangers led 6-2 after five, but starter Colby Lewis, having thrown 105 pitches, had to leave the game after giving up a leadoff single to Victory Martinez in the sixth. Chris Ray retired the next two hitters, but Jeremy Hermida singled through the right side to put runners on first and second.
Josh Reddick, the Red Sox's No. 9 hitter who would later be pinch-hit for in a crucial situation, followed with a high fly ball down the left-field line. Hamilton gave chase but the ball, instead of slicing into the stands that are right on top of the foul line, pushed back into fair territory.
"[David Murphy, who used to play for the Red Sox,] told me that balls hit down the line here have a tendency to do that," Hamilton said. "I ran over there, overran it and it got behind me."
The ball landed just fair inside the foul line, bounced high in the air and seemed to hit a fan in the face in the front row of the stands. Then it bounced back again in fair territory. Both runners scored.
If the umpires had seen the ball hit the fan, the second runner might have been held at third on a ground-rule double. But that wasn't the case, even though Washington tried to protest otherwise.
"I probably should have argued, but it probably wasn't going to make a difference," Hamilton said. "I just missed it."
From then on, bad things started happening to the Rangers. They set a record for stolen bases, but none came after the fifth inning. Instead, they were limited to just one single over the final four innings. They did load the bases with two out in the eighth with help of some walks, but Vladimir Guerrero popped out to end the threat.
Rangers left-handed reliever Darren Oliver got out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh before running into more trouble in the eighth. Jason Varitek, who had entered the game late on a double switch, led off the inning with a double into the left-field corner. That brought up Reddick, a left-handed hitter, but Red Sox manager Terry Francona sent up McDonald, a right-handed hitter who had also been called up from Triple-A before the game.
Oliver went 2-2 in the count and then went with a curve down in the zone. McDonald went down and smacked it, hitting it over the left-field wall for a two-run home run.
"I thought it was a good pitch," Oliver said. "I just got beat."
The Rangers were hoping Neftali Feliz would be pitching the ninth inning in a save situation. He started warming up as early as the seventh. Instead, it fell to Frank Francisco, the closer-in-exile, to keep it tied.
He couldn't do it. Kevin Youkilis, leading off the inning, hit a wicked grounder back to the mound that went off Francisco for an infield hit. Youkilis went to second on a passed ball and was bunted to third by Bill Hall. Francisco then walked Mike Lowell intentionally, got Adrian Beltre to pop out and walked Varitek to load the bases.
That brought up McDonald, and this time he slammed an 0-1 pitch off the wall just above Hamilton's reach for the game-winner. For the fifth time this season, the Rangers lost a game when leading after seven innings.
That happened just six times over 162 games in 2009. The Rangers have played just 13 games so far this season.
"We've got to figure out a way to shut games down," Washington said. "We had the people in there we wanted. That was who I wanted in there."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.