True to the season’s rallying cry, they didn’t quit. They just didn’t hit.
And when you added another 10 innings of sputtering offense Sunday night to a third consecutive dose of home run-prone starting pitching, it spelled the premature end of what had been a promising Texas Rangers season.
Should second baseman Rougned Odor have thrown the ball to first base in the 10th inning?
Hindsight says of course not. But when there’s even the slightest scent of an inning-ending double play in the air, you should know by now that Odor is always going to try.
It wasn’t the safe play. But it was the Rougie play.
And with Odor, you take the good with the bad, the 33 homers with the ferocious swings-and-misses. You take the fearless competitor with the 22-year-old kid, and you don’t lose any sleep over his spontaneous decision-making.
His relay to first was wide and sent first baseman Mitch Moreland sprawling just to snag it. By the time Moreland could set his feet and throw home, Toronto’s Josh Donaldson had slid across the plate with the series-winning run.
A 10-inning, 7-6 defeat in the American League Division Series is the kind of final chapter that would send most teams home bitter and disappointed.
But as manager Jeff Banister’s Rangers probably realize, the series sweep was a procession of disappointments and failures, not a single unwise throw. They seldom, if truly ever, played like a 95-win, AL West championship team during the brief best-of-five showdown.
Their starting pitching failed them. Their clutch hitting deserted them. And they didn’t hit their first home run until Elvis Andrus and Odor finally connected Sunday night.
In the sixth inning, Moreland doubled to drive in two go-ahead runs, including one by Jonathan Lucroy, who had singled.
But those two hits, plus the two homers, were all the Rangers could muster against five Blue Jays pitchers all night.
“It was an uphill battle, down two, down early in this game,” Banister said. “But I’m most proud of how our guys continued to battle.”
Banister himself went to his bullpen six times. The two runs the relievers allowed were key, but unearned.
Toronto’s winning run came in reliever Matt Bush’s third inning on the mound. Banister elected to stick with the 30-year-old rookie in the 10th because he had thrown only 22 pitches in his two previous innings.
Donaldson’s leadoff double to the wall in right-center in the bottom of the 10th changed the script on Bush.
“He came to me early and said, ‘Look, I’m strong. I’m ready to go. My arm feels good,’ ” Banister said. “It was a situation of how we used the bullpen early. We had to go get Colby and play the matchup game along the way.”
For the third time in as many games, a Rangers starting pitcher struggled and was victimized by the long ball. This time it was veteran Colby Lewis, who allowed first-inning homers to Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin.
The Blue Jays’ three-run first inning dashed any notion of the Rangers flipping the script and quieting the Rogers Centre crowd.
When the people at Rangers, Inc., look back on this series, the starting pitching’s struggles will forever be a mystery.
“I congratulate those guys,” Banister said of the winning Blue Jays. “It doesn’t feel good for us. It doesn’t feel good for those players.
“I’m just as disappointed as anyone in that clubhouse. When you get into these things, they can end so abruptly.”
There was a lesson to be learned, Banister said.
His team just didn’t hit when it needed to. His starters couldn’t keep the ball in the ballpark.
“I’ll tell our guys again,” Banister said, “you’ve got to use these types of situations as that burning fire that keeps you going all winter to come back with the motivation to get back to this spot.”
But the truth is that “this spot” is exactly where it ended for the Rangers last season, too — eliminated by Toronto in a noisy Rogers Centre in the ALDS.
They didn’t quit. They just didn’t hit.
It all added up to an early trip home.