By Jon Lane
Jason Grilli delivered the goods for the Rangers, escaping a first-and-third jam by getting Alex Rodriguez on an easy comebacker and pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings. After the game he delivered the money quote.
“Fear not the Yankees or any other team that we come across,” Grilli said. “We’re playing well against them and this sent a statement to any team that’s out there. I really believe this team has all the pieces to get to the playoffs.”
This was a dichotomy to the play-em-one-game-at-a-time approach from the rest of the team and manager Ron Washington. It’s not a bad thing. Such an intense focus on the present has helped the Yankees, a veteran in Ivan Rodriguez who’s played in two World Series and won a ring with the Marlins in 2003, and it’s kept Michael Young’s mind from dreaming about competing in his first playoff game.
Ian Kinsler’s concern was putting a bug in the Yankees’ head, making them think about possible payback time.
“We’re trying to play good baseball and looking to get out of here, take this to Minnesota and get on a run,” he said.
But don’t blame Grilli for his bravado. He told me about the time in 2006, after the Tigers lost their final five games – three against the lowly Kansas City Royals – to blow the AL Central title to the Twins, he was on the charter flight to New York. One more win and Detroit would have hosted Game 1 of the ALDS. Instead they were flying to New York and written off.
“I wanted to puke,” Grilli said.
After dropping Game 1 at Yankee Stadium, the Tigers rallied past Mike Mussina to steal Game 2 and exhaled so loudly you felt a stiff breeze. Players whistled and screamed, “Who Da Tiger!” and passed around Coronas to celebrate the ending of a six-game losing streak. Detroit would bounce the Yankees in four and sweep the A’s en route to the World Series, where they ran out of steam and lost to the Cardinals in five.
“We were like, ‘What the [heck],'” Grilli recalled. “Let’s go out and play.”
Designated for assignment by the Rockies in June, Grilli was acquired by the Rangers for cash considerations four days later. Until getting A-Rod to bounce out, he had not recorded an out in nearly a month, having spent time on the DL and giving up three runs his prior two appearances. He’s another veteran who adds playoff experience to a franchise looking for its first-ever postseason series win. Someone had to declare the Rangers legit. Leave it to a guy who has nothing to lose.