Wilson's uncharacteristic woes force early exit
Rangers lefty yields eight runs, three homers in ALDS opener
ARLINGTON -- C.J. Wilson's celebrated "throw strikes" mantra was quickly silenced by the continuation of Tampa Bay's unexplainable joy ride on Friday, when the surging Rays tagged the Rangers lefty for eight runs in just five innings in the American League Division Series opener.
Six of the runs were earned, seven the result of three homers -- one from Johnny Damon and two from Kelly Shoppach. The latter entered the contest 2-for-7 with one home run in his career against Wilson, whose six runs allowed in the first three frames represented one more than he gave up in 37 1/3 innings over his final six starts of the regular season.
After one of his worst starts of the year, Wilson insisted he felt fine. He didn't outsmart himself, as he sometimes admittedly has times before. He slept well the night prior, and neither nerves nor expectations were an issue in the 9-0 loss. Location, however, was.
"It was pitch to pitch and batter to batter, where sometimes I'd think I totally had a guy under my thumb and other times I felt like I was chasing the strike zone all over the place, like it was moving," he said. "The problem isn't necessarily stuff, it's location, and I didn't have very good location."
Firm and straightforward about his struggles, Wilson wasn't a fan of questions begging for self-pity or any demoralizing feeling of the sort.
"Throughout the whole season, obviously, I had a lot of really good games, and I'm coming off a string of really good games," Wilson said. "September was my best month in every category. I'm pitching strong. You can only complain about bad luck if you give up five infield hits. But you give up two home runs to the same dude, that's like, 'I got smoked today.' I can live with that. They beat me fair and square."
The normally dependable Texas southpaw was perfect in the first inning, utilizing just nine pitches, but was nearly unrecognizable thereafter, struggling with command and tallying a total of eight three-ball counts. He walked one, hit a batter and struck out six while throwing 66 of his 103 pitches for strikes.
The trouble started when Wilson hit Ben Zobrist in the forearm to lead off the second, a costly mistake that was followed by Damon's two-run shot on a 3-1 pitch to right field. Shoppach then singled, and Wilson proceeded to pick up two outs before extending Tampa Bay's lead to three by allowing an RBI base hit to Matt Joyce.
"I'm just trying to get into a mechanical rhythm there," he said. "Everything's mechanics for me, and today a couple pitches I got where I wanted and others I'd try to throw down and away and they got in the middle. Like the pitch Damon hit, it was supposed to be down and away and it was up and in. Obviously, if you miss your spot by 2 1/2 feet, it's going to be a bad result most of the time.
"I was making adjustments and tried a couple different things. Some worked, and then I'd think they would stick and then they wouldn't, so that was frustrating."
Wilson struck out B.J. Upton to begin the third, perhaps signaling better things to come. But that hope faded instantly, as Evan Longoria tallied another 3-1 count before making him pay by singling to center. Zobrist also singled, and both batters scored minutes later on Shoppach's first-pitch homer over the center-field wall.
Meanwhile, right-hander Scott Feldman was warming in the bullpen, Rangers manager Ron Washington only slightly considering a switch he never opted for until necessary.
"He's our ace," the Texas skipper said. "If I take C.J. out in the second inning or the third inning there, I have to use my bullpen. This is the first game of the series. He is the ace, and I was hoping he would catch some rhythm and keep us around."
That never happened.
The Rays stayed off the board in the fourth but furthered the damage in the fifth, when Damon reached on Adrian Beltre's fielding error and again found home plate thanks to Shoppach's second long ball -- a two-run blast to left field on a 3-2 slider. One out later, the inning was done, but so was Wilson's night.
Slotting Wilson as his Game 1 starter was a no-brainer for Washington, who watched his ace compile a 16-7 record and 2.94 ERA through 34 outings this season, including an 8-2 mark at home. He gave up as many as six earned runs just once and was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and .147 opponents batting average in three starts against the Rays.
But on Friday, in the postseason opener, Wilson did what he had done just five other times in the past two seasons: offer up at least two home runs. Moreover, he had given up just two home runs to lefties in that span (332 at-bats) before upping that total courtesy Damon's efforts.
"You have to give Tampa Bay credit," Washington said. "They came out and they swung the bat. It was just one of those days. He just didn't get it done."
It was a far cry from the 6 1/3 scoreless innings Wilson threw against the Rays in Game 2 of last year's ALDS, and it forced the entrance of Feldman in the sixth with Texas down, 8-0.
"If you give up a bunch of runs like that, you know you've pretty much cost the team a chance of winning," Wilson said. "Today was rare, very rare. Obviously, if you put today up against my games this year, it was a very rare game."