The sky was gorgeous.
The home crowd, arrayed in red, was in full voice.
And the Texas Rangers, postseason-tested and winners of 95 games, had their best big-game pitcher on the mound.
The presumed plan was to win two at home and then take care of business, settling all scores, in belligerent, beered-up Toronto.
But as a learned philosopher — Mike Tyson, I think his name was —once said, “Everyone has a plan . . . till they get punched in the mouth.”
Ten times pow!
The Toronto Blue Jays took advantage of a wobbly, unraveling Cole Hamels and scored five times in the third inning and twice more in the fourth Thursday to win the first game of their American League Division Series by a very Mike Tyson-like count of 10-1.
But, in truth, how stunned should they be? Since first qualifying for the postseason in 1996, the Rangers have played 11 ALDS games at home. They have won only once. One of 11.
“They kicked our [bleeps] today,” Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre admitted.
An audience of 47,434 watched in alarmed disbelief.
But, in truth, how stunned should they be? Since first qualifying for the postseason in 1996, the Rangers have played 11 ALDS games at home.
They have won only once. One of 11.
What appears to be a statistical anomaly, however, or an open rebellion against baseball’s law of averages instead took a sinister turn in Thursday’s third inning.
Already battling with his pitch location, Hamels started the fire himself by walking the Blue Jays’ No. 9 hitter, Ezequiel Carrera. When the smoke cleared, Hamels had walked two, batted balls had caromed off Beltre’s glove at third and fallen beyond the reach of Ian Desmond in center, and the Blue Jays were flying 5-0.
The margin would reach 10-0, which included a Jose Bautista homer, before the Rangers were able to record a mockingly jeered solo run in the ninth.
“The first two innings he came out and was in control,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister assessed of his Game 1 starter. “He had control of all three of his pitches, and then it seemed to get away from him.”
Going into the game, I felt like we had a really good game plan. I felt physically good, with a lot of rest. There was great atmosphere. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go out there and set the tone early.
Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels
Hamels was 15-5 during the regular season despite a less-than-dominating last five weeks.
“Going into the game, I felt like we had a really good game plan,” Hamels said. “I felt physically good, with a lot of rest. There was great atmosphere.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go out there and set the tone early. When you give up the amount of runs I did early in the game, it can kinda deflate whatever kind of home-field advantage you have.
“It’s a major letdown.”
As ragged as Hamels was, Toronto starter Marco Estrada was beguilingly sharp. Before being lifted with one out in the ninth, Estrada had allowed only four hits, struck out six Rangers and walked none.
He knows how to pitch. He kept us off-balance by throwing the changeup, fastball up, fastball down. I don’t think he threw many pitches over the middle of the plate.
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre on Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada
All of these knots that he tied the deep and talented Rangers lineup in, he was able to accomplish with a fastball that seldom reached the 90 mph mark.
“He knows how to pitch,” Beltre said. “He kept us off-balance by throwing the changeup, fastball up, fastball down. I don’t think he threw many pitches over the middle of the plate.
“We didn’t have a great approach against him, and that’s always going to make it a difficult day for us.”
Rule One of the best-of-five MLB division series dictates that the home team must win the first two games. The penalty is losing the home-field advantage, not to mention whatever momentum the 95 wins and the 47,434-member audience bring.
But, Rangers chin, meet the cocked right knuckles of the Toronto Blue Jays.
When asked what went wrong, Hamels said, “They’re a very tough lineup, and you have to be very cautious. And you can be a little too fine.
“In the beginning you’re just trying to execute pitches, and I felt like I was doing that. But certain things just kinda came up.
“That’s when you need to make key pitches, and sometimes you overdo it.”
At least three times in the fateful third inning, balls were hit that could well have been turned into Toronto outs. Instead, Hamels, the Rangers would-be staff ace, failed to finish the fourth.
Now, with their chins bloodied, the Rangers will send Yu Darvish to the mound at noon Friday in what amounts to a must-win game.
“I’ve been here before,” Hamels said of his bad day. “I’ve had success, and I’ve had failures. I know how to overcome the failures and move past them and get ready for another game.”
He will have to hope the Rangers keep playing, if he wants to get that chance.
It will be Darvish’s turn Friday to try to reverse the Rangers’ puzzling home-field ALDS fortunes.
Which sounds like a plan.
Everybody has one.