Game 162 – The Biggest of Them All

3 10 2012


Here we go.

Today is the day that could lead to the reigning AL Champions reestablishing themselves as the Buffalo Bills of the MLB or simply closing out a tight race when push comes to shove. Dempster will soon step out onto the mound at the Coliseum and must pitch his best game since he put on a Rangers uniform if he wants to give his team a chance to save face. A lot of face.

The Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers are all tied up with a record of 93-68. That’s right – the AL West team that doesn’t have one player making over $10 million, compared to the team in Los Angeles that has seven of those, will be challenging the team that has been the sole leader of the division for 177 straight days. (Can you say #Moneyball?) You know that new one-game, wild-card playoff that will implemented this year? A trial run is about to take place.

Winner takes all Wednesday afternoon as the team that comes out on top between the A’s and Rangers will claim the AL West pennant. Even though Texas had a 13-game lead on June 30 and had a four-game lead with six games to go, that is just as in the past as the Rangers past two failures in the World Series. This entire six-month long season will literally be defined by one day of baseball. That one day has arrived.

Ryan Dempster (7-3, 4.64) will attempt to avoid pitching as he did last Friday when he allowed the Angels to rack up four earned runs in 5.2 innings pitched. Since he came down south, it has been difficult to figure out Dempster as he has been one of the more inconsistent starting pitchers. Even though he has pitched fairly well of late, he must be at the top of his game since he will be facing a stout, young pitcher that hasn’t been afraid of the limelight. A.J. Griffin (7-1, 2.71) has been one of the best rookie pitchers of late, winning 10 of his last 12 outings. He has a certain command that is not often seen from first-year pitchers and will be difficult to slow down.

The Rangers can only blame themselves for the pressure at hand. They have played nowhere close to their level of baseball during the most important stretch of the season. Losing eight of their past 12 games, including four of their last five, this would go down as one of the best representations of choking in modern-day sports.

Inconsistency seems to be the new consistent and making the crucial hit seems to be a constant struggle for everyone in this lineup – even AL’s player of the month for September Adrian Beltre (2-11, no RBIs in his last three games). Speaking of inconsistent, Josh Hamilton has decided to go into yet another slump as he has gone 1-8 in the last two losses, while failing to hit a home run in the past eight games. When he carelessly swings the bat, he again looks like the man that went through that dreadful drought midway through the season. How can the Rangers put their faith in that type of unpredictable batter?

Pitching has it’s fair share of problems. The players in the projected playoff rotation – Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Dempster – have all had recent off nights while a lingering injury to Mike Adams has put the bullpen into question. Yes, closer Joe Nathan picked up his 37th save against the Angels Sunday night, but also blew one while picking up the loss earlier in the day to the same team.

The Rangers not only want to win this game for their own dignity, but they do not want to allow an A’s team to enter the playoffs even hotter than they already are. Remember the last time they had to face a surging team in the postseason? Alexi Ogando, Matt Lowe and Neftali Feliz sure remember. If Oakland pulls this one game out and takes the division, you would have to give them the clear advantage if they face Texas later on in the AL playoffs.

Even though the Rangers’ current situation can only described as frustrating and stressful for a DFW sports follower such as myself, this is what makes sports one of the most intriguing genres on television. Most season finales do not have the ability to promise their viewers a finish that will either evoke pure joy or utter distress – two emotions all television shows dream for from their viewers. And once this intense game comes to a close, fans of the losing team will only have to wait a short time period before they get yet another one-game stress fest.

“Take one game at a time” never has seemed to be more fitting for Ron Washington and the Rangers than it does right now. Before they can begin their quest to conquer the MLB mountain known as the postseason that they have geared up for, attempted to climb and come right near the peak two years in a row, it all starts with this one game. They may have already clinched a playoff berth and will live to play another day no matter the outcome of game 162. However, game 162 will shape the mindset of every single Ranger. Game 162 will either start their playoff run with a bang or a bust. Game 162 will give Texas the AL West or give them a win-or-go-home playoff game.

Go take your third straight pennant if you want it. Or continue to crumble toward the finish. It’s all in your control, Rangers.

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