After watching the first-ever one-game Wild Card Game end in controversial fashion in Atlanta, the baseball world set its sights on Arlington as the Texas Rangers played host to the Baltimore Orioles for a chance to face the New York Yankees in the ALDS.
Entering the evening, it was expected that the Rangers offense could be enough, though the Baltimore pitching staff ended up proving to be the difference-maker. It held Texas in check inning after inning, as the O's offense would score enough runs to seal the deal, 5-1.
In the end, the final score is all that matters, and the Baltimore Orioles will be moving on. When you dissect the events of Friday night's game, contributing factors for the O's win become more clear.
We will explore those here as well as provide team grades for both teams.
Both pitchers came out with plenty on the line Friday night, and Joe Saunders held his own early on against Yu Darvish. He induced double plays in the first and third inning, and he struck out two batters in the second.
Darvish was just as good early on, allowing only one hit the first time through the order against the Orioles, though he would allow an early baserunner after plunking Mark Reynolds.
Analysts early on noted that Saunders would likely have a short leash. To his credit, he stifled a fourth-inning threat, stranding Rangers on first and third base. He got the first two outs in the sixth inning before being pulled.
While Darvish would give up the lead in the top half of the sixth inning, he remained solid until being pulled in the seventh inning, leaving the game with seven strikeouts and just five hits allowed.
With strong pitching early on, both teams struggled to get going on offense. Josh Hamilton had the most notable struggles early on after grounding into a first-inning double play (though it did drive in the Rangers' only run) and striking out to end the third inning with a runner on.
The Rangers' biggest early threat came in the fourth inning when a Nelson Cruz single followed by Michael Young's second hit of the game gave Texas runners on the corners with one out. A Mike Napoli strikeout and Geovany Soto groundout would put that threat to bed.
With an opportunity to do some damage after a J.J. Hardy hit followed by a Chris Davis single, the Orioles could only muster one run, but they did take a 2-1 lead to the halfway point of the game.
Clutch hitting from the Orioles in the seventh inning from Derek Holland would extend the lead to 3-1, which would prove to be enough to seal the deal for Baltimore.
For all the strength that the pitchers showed in the early innings, both sides had fielders to thank for keeping the runs to a minimum.
Baltimore was able to induce two double plays in the first two innings that no doubt kept the damage down, while Ian Kinsler's great diving catch kept Jim Thome in check.
With Darvish punching out batter after batter, the defense didn't have too much work to do. It managed to avoid errors when it mattered most—something that's always a key in a do-or-die situation.
To the Orioles' credit, mistakes were quickly erased, with hiccups like wild throws toward first base not costing runs that could have swung the game back in the Rangers' favor.
Submariner Darren O'Day saw the game's first action out of the bullpen, coming in at an important juncture with clutch-hitting Nelson Cruz heading to the plate.
O'Day would take care of business and quickly end the inning, and he kept on trucking. He retired the side in the seventh and got two outs in the eighth before giving way to Brian Matusz, who would strike out Josh Hamilton to end the inning.
The run-scoring single allowed by Derek Holland would extend the Baltimore lead to 3-1, though he would stop the bleeding there, stranding Nate McLouth at second base.
Koji Uehara did his job in the eighth, striking out the side to get the Rangers' faithful back into the action.
In the ninth, Rangers closer Joe Nathan would allow two runs before closing out the side, while Jim Johnson would close the door on the Rangers after they loaded the bases, sealing the victory for the O's.
In the end, the Baltimore Orioles pitching ended up making the biggest difference. Joe Saunders surprised many with his 5.2-inning, six-hit effort, and the bullpen more than held up its end of the bargain, allowing only two hits in 3.1 innings.
For the Texas Rangers, the loss culminates what has been a disappointing stretch that saw the team go from virtual locks to win the AL West, to one-and-done in the playoffs.
Baltimore will no doubt have its hands full with the New York Yankees in the ALDS. Having split the season series against the Bronx Bombers, there's no doubting that it will be a hard-fought series that could very well yield the AL representative for the World Series.