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Opinion: Rangers must show resiliency in Game 2

ARLINGTON, Texas — The first playoff game was decided in a hurry, long before the shadows crawled across the ballpark, as the left-handed ace got roughed up for six earned runs while the Rangers bats fell silent.

And the Rangers would go all the way to Game 7 of the World Series in 2011 after that 9-0 loss to the Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS. If you're a big believer in history repeating itself, then what transpired Thursday at Globe Life Park wasn't so bad. In fact, it was eerily familiar.

On the other hand ...

Cole Hamels was supposed to be better than this, way better than what we saw in a 10-1 loss to Toronto. In his last five playoff starts — three with Philadelphia going back to 2010 plus two against these same Blue Jays in 2015 as a Ranger — he had five quality starts and most of them were beyond quality. They were brilliant. That's what this team was counting on his delivering in Game 1. That's why manager Jeff Banister had Yu Darvish and Hamels exchange places in the rotation four weeks ago.

Instead, the Rangers got more of what they saw from him in a puzzling September in which Hamels earned run average fell off the wagon. A man who was in contention for the Cy Young Award, Hamels' 5.86 ERA in five September starts was a sign of trouble that continued right into the playoffs Thursday afternoon.

He threw 42 pitches in a five-run third inning, surrendering cheap hits before Troy Tulowitzki's three-run double put the game and command of this series in Toronto's grasp.

"Ten runs isn't pretty," Hamels said. "Thank God this isn't a wild-card game."

How does someone so gifted in postseasons past come up this short on the biggest stage?

"We're all human," he said. "It's the game of baseball. When the ball leaves my hand and the hitter decides what to do, it's out of my jurisdiction."

Thursday's game wasn't do-or-die, but I don't think it can be labeled an ordinary defeat, either. First of all, a Game 1 loss is obviously a much more serious thing in a best-of-five series than in the best-of-sevens that follow. Beyond that, as good as this Rangers team is, it relies heavily on what it considers its two aces.

The Rangers could march home with their first World Series trophy by winning all of Darvish's and Hamels' playoff starts. We know this series shifts into the Blue Jays' favor when the series moves north Sunday. American League ERA leader Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, who gave a strong performance in Tuesday's wild-card triumph over Baltimore, get the edge — at least on paper — over Colby Lewis and Martin Perez.

Now, by throwing just 82 pitches in fewer than four innings Thursday, Hamels could return for Game 4. The prospect of being able to recall an ace on short rest is diminished for the obvious reason. Toronto won't exactly lack confidence after producing six hits in 31/3 innings against Hamels in Game 1. And Thursday's game marked the fifth time in seven starts he has allowed at least six runs.

Banister said the struggles Hamels endured in the season's final month were not apparent in this abbreviated playoff start.

"To say that they're comparable, I'm not sure I'm going to go that far," Banister said. "The challenge for me is the first two innings he was in control. And then it did seem to get away from him. But he was still one pitch away from being out of that inning."

Tortured Rangers fans know all about "one pitch away" moments and their minuscule value. Their team is in deep trouble against a lineup that may be emerging from its own September slumber.

Josh Donaldson went 4 for 4 and, yes, Jose Bautista was hardly rattled by the boos that washed down from the crowd of 47,434. He produced his second playoff home run, having opened Tuesday's wild-card scoring with one, and drove in four runs.

Bautista's three-run homer late in the game was the only knockout punch this crowd got to witness.

The other one was drawn out over four innings as Hamels unraveled and the Blue Jays took charge of a series that will teach us much about the resiliency of these Rangers.

Opinion: Rangers must show resiliency in Game 2 10/07/16 [Last modified: Thursday, October 6, 2016 11:05pm]
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