Rangers' collapse is Texas-sized LTC

September 22, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Can't wait for the wild-card playoff between the Orioles and Texas. Owner Peter Angelos will carry out the lineup card for the Orioles. Rangers manager Johnny Oates will see Leo Gomez's name, and faint at home plate.

Davey Johnson then will insert Todd Zeile at third base, and nap in the dugout while the Orioles pound the Rangers, 26-7 -- with Manny Alexander pitching a triumphant scoreless inning to end the game.

Where would the game be? Don't know yet. The league held coin flips 10 days ago to determine home-field advantage for possible one-game playoffs for the wild-card berth, but the Rangers didn't flip because of their nine-game lead in the American League West.

Hold all coins.

Texas is flipping out.

"Overall, I still don't feel the pressure of a collapse, yet I know it's heading that way," general manager Doug Melvin said yesterday. "We've got to stop the train."

The train?

That would be the Seattle Mariners.

Your basic runaway locomotive.

Six days ago, your favorite knucklehead columnist wrote that the Orioles needed to win the division so they could face Texas and avoid Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs.

Get me rewrite!

As it turns out, maybe the Orioles were better off losing two of three in New York. If they win the wild card and the Mariners win the AL West, the Orioles would draw Cleveland, and the Yankees -- heh, heh -- would face Seattle.

Obviously, the Orioles have to get there first and worry about the rest later. But the way this is developing, Angelos could look like the second coming of Branch Rickey.

Gulp.

If the Orioles make the playoffs, it would justify Angelos' refusal to allow GM Pat Gillick to trade veterans for prospects. And if the Rangers miss the playoffs, it would justify his purge of Oates, Melvin and Co.

Lest we forget, it also was Angelos' decision to sign Rafael Palmeiro over Will Clark against the recommendation of the previous front office -- which, of course, included Melvin.

Come to think of it, maybe it would be best if the Rangers reached the postseason and the Orioles didn't. Otherwise, Angelos might start thinking this game is easy, when the Rangers are proof that it's anything but.

Thought the California Angels' collapse last season was remarkable? That was a gallant march to the flag, compared with the Rangers' free fall in the past 11 days -- the great jock-market crash of 1996.

Griffey for President?

Sure -- Oates is Herbert Hoover.

Actually, this is no time to pick on poor Johnny. A week ago, he was still the leading candidate for AL Manager of the Year. Now, he's the captain of the Titanic.

The Angels led the Mariners by 12 1/2 games on Aug. 20 last season, but by Sept. 12 the margin was down to six. This collapse is even more dramatic. On Sept. 11, the Rangers led by nine games.

The common denominator?

Would you believe Rene Gonzales?

L That's right, ol' No. 88 was an Angel then and a Ranger now.

Next week, the National Enquirer will report that he also played for the '51 Dodgers, '64 Phillies and '78 Red Sox.

Heck, if the Rangers miss the playoffs, Oates might even get Gene Mauch off the hook -- the '64 Phillies tied for second in a 10-team league, with no wild card.

That team blew a smaller lead (6 1/2 ), but started a 10-game losing streak at an even later date (Sept. 21). Before beating the Angels last night, the Rangers had lost five straight and nine of 10.

"That's the most devastating thing," Melvin said. "Ninety-five percent of our season has been great, and it might all go down the tubes because of a 10-day stretch. I'm in favor of a 154-game season."

Melvin was joking, and he said the Rangers' players are loose, too. The question is, are they tired? If Juan Gonzalez plays every game the rest of the way, Texas will finish with eight players who appeared in at least 135 games.

Only six clubs in the past 30 years have relied so heavily on their regulars -- and one of them was the '78 Red Sox. Oates never trusted his bench in Baltimore, and apparently doesn't trust it in Texas, either.

Still, the Rangers arrived at the Kingdome on Monday with a six-game lead. One victory, that's all they needed to ensure a near-insurmountable, four-game advantage with nine to play.

They got swept four straight.

Series batting average: .187.

Jamie Moyer and Terry Mulholland combined to retire 27 straight Texas hitters in games 1 and 2. That vaunted Mariners bullpen needed only 28 pitches to get the final 10 outs in Game 3.

Yes, the Rangers missed left fielder Rusty Greer, who was out 15 games with a rib-cage injury before hitting a home run in his return last night. But they can't exactly use that as an excuse, not when the Mariners lost Randy Johnson.

Whatever, even after getting swept, the Rangers led by two games. And when Darryl Hamilton led off Friday night's game in California with a homer, it appeared they were due for a reversal of fortune.

The Rangers led 3-0, 4-3 and 5-4.

They lost, 6-5, in 10 innings.

Mark McLemore hit an RBI single to give the Rangers the lead in the 10th. Reliever Mike Stanton got the first two outs in the bottom half, He then got two strikes on George Arias.

"You're putting that one in the bag," Melvin said.

But the game, like the race, wasn't over.

Single by Arias. Single by Rex Hudler. Two-strike, two-run double by Garret Anderson.

The worst loss of all?

"This season, or in my life?" Oates asked reporters. "As Deion [Sanders] would say, 'Both.' "

Last night presented an opportunity to sink even lower, with the Rangers facing 2-16 Jim Abbott, but Texas prevailed, 7-1.

It was the first of two cracks they Rangers will get at Abbott, while the Mariners twice must face Oakland's red-hot Ariel Prieto.

Does it make a difference at this point?

The team that was too good for a coin flip is flipping out.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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