Rangers stymied as reign atop AL comes to end

Rangers stymied as reign atop AL comes to end

Rangers stymied as reign atop AL comes to end
ARLINGTON -- A week ago, the Rangers were sitting in good position to get home-field advantage for the playoffs. Now they will be sitting at home and sitting out the playoffs.

A team that went to the World Series two straight years is finished and a team that finished in last place the past two seasons while losing 189 games is advancing to the American League Division Series.

The Rangers, despite the best efforts of starter Yu Darvish, had their season come to an end when they lost to the Orioles, 5-1, in the AL Wild Card game at the Ballpark in Arlington on Friday night.

"It's a miserable feeling," outfielder David Murphy said. "Compared to the last two years ... it was frustrating to get to the World Series and lose. But I would definitely rather get there and lose rather than being at this point. Next week we'll be watching teams on TV knowing that we're good enough to be there. But we didn't perform. We don't deserve to be there."

Rangers hitters produced just nine singles on the night, grounded into three double plays and were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre were a combined 0-for-8 in the middle of the order.

"We just didn't get it done," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It came down to being able to execute against good pitching, and it wasn't the base hits or anything like that, it was just the fundamentals that we just -- we tried and we just couldn't get it done."

The Rangers led the AL West by five games on Sept. 24 with a record of 91-62. Then they lost seven of their last nine games in the regular season, letting the division title slip away and forcing them into the Wild Card game. Then they were outplayed by the Orioles as completely as they were by the Athletics in Oakland earlier this week.

"We just fell into a funk, plain and simple," closer Joe Nathan said. "We know we're better than this, but we didn't play good when we needed to."

Darvish acquitted himself well in his postseason debut, allowing three runs (two earned) in 6 2/3 innings on five hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out seven.

But Orioles starter Joe Saunders was a little better and there were no signs of the past problems that he has had at the Ballpark. Saunders, who was 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts against the Rangers in Arlington, held them to one run on six hits and a walk through 5 2/3 innings. Saunders struck out four, including Mike Napoli twice with runners on base.

Hamilton's best chance to do some damage came in the bottom of the first. The Orioles took a 1-0 lead on an unearned run, but Ian Kinsler drew a walk and Elvis Andrus singled on a hit-and-run, giving the Rangers runners at first and third for Hamilton. But Saunders got him to ground into a double play. Kinsler scored, but the Rangers' chances for a bigger inning were lost.

"I went out and gave it my all like I always do," Hamilton said. "I came up short and didn't get the job done. Overall, I had a great year. I think everyone's expectations were up there after the first couple of months, but then I came back to reality and played the best I could."

    Another crucial at-bat was in the fourth inning with the score tied at 1. Singles by Nelson Cruz and Michael Young put runners at first and third with one out, giving the Rangers their best chance to take the lead. But Saunders struck out Napoli on three pitches and then retired Geovany Soto on a grounder to second to keep the game tied.

"In the next couple of days, I'll think about it and play it through my head 1,000 times," Napoli said. "Plain and simple, we didn't get it done. We got beat tonight. We had it in front of us and we didn't take advantage."

The Orioles did in a similar situation. Baltimore got a rally going in the sixth when leadoff singles by J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis put runners at the corners with no outs. Adam Jones followed with a fly ball to right to bring home Hardy with the go-ahead run.

"A little execution here and a little execution there in certain situations, it's a different situation," Washington said. "The sacrifice fly they got and the first-and-third situation, that won the ballgame. We didn't score another run."

The Orioles did, adding another run in the seventh. Ryan Flaherty reached on a one-out single and pinch-runner Robert Andino was bunted to second by Manny Machado. Left-hander Derek Holland came in to replace Darvish, but Nate McLouth singled to left to make it 3-1.

"Tacking on runs were big, you knew they were going to make a run at you," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Our guys approached it and we talked about it being sudden life instead of sudden death, and we played that way. You've got to seize the opportunity. We don't get many."

The Orioles added two more in the ninth off Nathan. The Rangers were able to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth against Orioles closer Jim Johnson on a one-out single by Cruz, a two-out walk to Napoli and a pinch-hit single by Jurickson Profar. That was the Rangers' first hit with runners in scoring position.

It was also their last. Murphy came up and flied out to left to end the game. It also ended the season for a team that two weeks ago seemed ready to make another extended run through the postseason. Instead, the Rangers fell flat getting out of the starting gate.

"You know, to be honest with you, I never thought anything like this would happen," Washington said. "I was very positive. After we played Anaheim and went into Oakland I was very positive. A few situations, a ball bounce our way here or there, it may have changed. I'm not a negative person, I don't get pessimistic, I always stay optimistic, and when things like this happen, I am shocked. And right now I'm shocked."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.