A baseball game, whether on April 9 or Oct. 9, ultimately is won by the team that makes the fewest mistakes, said catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
For three games over the four days in the American League Division Series, the Texas Rangers weren’t that team.
Game 3 was no different, even though the Rangers gave the Toronto Blue Jays their best effort in the best-of-five series.
When it was over in the 10th inning, after a replay review, it was a harmless looking play that inflicted the worst kind of pain — the off-season — on the Rangers.
Reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson scampered home from third base as a throw to complete an inning-ending double play briefly bounced too far away, and the Blue Jays completed a three-game sweep of the Rangers with a 7-6 victory.
The Rangers’ season ended with five consecutive losses, and they have lost six consecutive postseason games — all to the Blue Jays. After racing to the league’s best regular-season record and top seed in the playoffs, the Rangers were stunned to see their season end.
“We all expected to compete a little better than this,” Lucroy said. “It’s very disappointing, and it’s something that you’ve got to take and learn from. That’s all you can do with it and try to get better.
“The thing is with the playoffs is the teams that are best over the course of the year get to the playoffs, but the teams that make it to the end are the hottest teams. They were hotter than we were. They outplayed us.”
The Rangers actually led twice Sunday, their first two leads of the series. They were up 6-5 in the sixth inning, when a passed ball on Lucroy on a Keone Kela sinker that tailed sharply allowed the Blue Jays to tie the game with two outs.
“It’s tough. I haven’t really watched it,” Lucroy said. “It was just one of those things that was baseball. I tried to knock it down, and it just got away. They were one play better than us.”
Kela and Matt Bush kept the Rangers alive with brilliant relief work in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. But Toronto opened the 10th with a Donaldson double and an intentional walk to Edwin Encarnacion as Bush worked a third inning for the first time in his career.
Bush struck out Jose Baustista for the first out and got Russell Martin to hit a chopper into the hole between second and third. Shortstop Elvis Andrus gloved it and threw low to second for the first out, and Rougned Odor threw low and wide to first base.
First baseman Mitch Moreland came off the bag to stop the ball, and it bounced far enough away from him for Donaldson to race home and beat Moreland’s throw.
“It got a few feet away from me,” Moreland said. “I didn’t get him.”
Game over. Season over.
“In that situation it’s always hard to think about it,” Andrus said. “I know Roogie is trying to make an out like I did. It’s a tough way to lose the game. That one doesn’t feel good at all.”
The Rangers were forced to use Bush for a third inning after starter Colby Lewis was removed after allowing five runs in two-plus innings. The Rangers gave him a 1-0 lead in the first, but Edwin Encarnacion erased that with a two-run homer and Martin connected two batters later for a solo shot.
Lewis breezed through a perfect second inning, and returned in the third down only 3-2 after Andrus’ first career postseason home run. Lewis, though, was yanked after allowing a leadoff single to Ezequiel Carrera and an RBI ground-rule double on a pitch that Donaldson somehow kept fair just inside the right-field line.
“It’s Game 3,” Lewis said. “I know it’s going to be a short leash.”
The bullpen then gave the Rangers a chance. Tony Barnette allowed an inherited runner to score in the third, but got the Rangers out of the inning down 5-2.
Odor smacked a two-run home run in the fourth, cutting the deficit to 5-4. Alex Claudio followed with scoreless fourth, and Jeremy Jeffress finished off the fifth and became the pitcher of record when the Rangers took the lead in the sixth.
Their rally started with two outs, as Odor took a walk when it looked like the Blue Jays were pitching around him. Lucroy followed with his first hit of the series, chasing starter Aaron Sanchez from the game, and Moreland delivered a two-run double off Joe Biagini to put the Rangers in front 6-5.
Once again, the lead didn’t hold. Jeffress caught Martin looking to start the sixth before allowing a looping single to Troy Tulowitzki. With a left-handed hitter due, manager Jeff Banister turned to lefty Jake Diekman and the Blue Jays countered with the righty-hitting Melvin Upton Jr.
He turned on Diekman’s first pitch for a double that put runners at second and third. After an intentional walk to Kevin Pillar, Kela got Darwin Barney to pop to third for the second out, but his next pitch got away from Lucroy as the tying run scampered home.
The Rangers didn’t have a base runner after the sixth inning as the Blue Jays retired the final 13 batters. Bush was brilliant in the eighth and the ninth, needing only 22 pitches. But the Blue Jays did enough against him in the 10th, and the Rangers couldn’t make one more play.
“We always find a weird way to lose the game,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “ Credit to the Blue Jays. They beat us straight up. It’s tough. We didn’t expect to lose three in a row.”
They did, and their season is over.