Molina's homer sends Rangers to 10-3 victory over Yankees and commanding 3-1 ALCS lead

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 2:29 AM

NEW YORK -- The story line that was taking shape Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium was preposterous -- and ultimately, for the New York Yankees, too good to be true. The most maligned pitcher on their roster, pitching for the simple reason there was no other viable option, was on the verge of rescuing their season. Derek Jeter was knocking balls off the wall. The ghost of Jeffrey Maier even rose from his seat above the right-field wall to make a critical play.

And then, with one swing of the bat -- Bengie Molina, the Texas Rangers' burly catcher, off A.J. Burnett -- everything changed. Burnett and the Yankees did not win, and they did not square up the American League Championship Series. They lost, 10-3, in Game 4, their bullpen once again turning things ugly late, and they are in a world of trouble now.

Behind Molina's game-changing, three-run homer in the sixth inning and 3 2/3 brilliant innings of relief from left-hander Derek Holland, the Rangers moved to within one victory of the first World Series appearance in franchise history. They can clinch the AL pennant as soon as Wednesday afternoon, when they will send left-hander C.J. Wilson to the mound against Yankees ace CC Sabathia.

"We are not thinking about how we are going to close anyone out," Rangers Manager Ron Washington said. "We are going to go out there and play baseball, and whatever the game asks us to do, we'll do it."

The Yankees' only path for advancing appears virtually impossible: win three straight games, the last two of which would be at Texas, and the last of which would be started by Cliff Lee, the Rangers' October destroyer. Oh, and they likely would have to accomplish all that without Mark Teixeira, their slugging first baseman, who suffered a badly strained hamstring and is likely done for the remainder of the Yankees' postseason.

"You don't play the game on paper. You play it on the field," Jeter said. "And so far they've been a lot better than us. ... We can't worry about trying to win three games. We have to win one."

Should the Yankees lose, their fans will be replaying Tuesday night's fateful sixth inning -- which began as the final statement of Burnett's triumphant recovery from the abyss, and ended as an open invitation to second-guess Manager Joe Girardi -- in their nightmares. Despite the lopsided final score, the game was very much winnable at that point.

The Yankees led by a run, 3-2, when the inning began, and there were two outs and the tying run on second base when Girardi had Burnett intentionally walk David Murphy, a left-handed hitter. Now the go-ahead runs were on base, with Molina coming to the plate. Joba Chamberlain was ready in the Yankees' bullpen. Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena consulted their charts and stat sheets in the dugout.

And they left Burnett in the game.

On TV, TBS had barely finished showing a montage of Molina's three homers against the Yankees in the 2005 AL Division Series, as a member of the Los Angeles Angels, when Molina yanked Burnett's first pitch -- a 92-mph fastball -- into the seats in left, just inside the foul pole. The Rangers led, 5-3. On the mound, Burnett placed both hands atop his head, stunned.

Burnett called the pitch to Molina an "aggressive mistake" that was meant to be on the outer half of the plate, but tailed over the inner half. "It was the only one I left over the middle," he said.

Was the intentional walk of Murphy the right move? On one hand, Molina was both the less-dangerous hitter and the better matchup, and there was a base open, but on the other hand it broke a cardinal baseball rule that says you should never put the go-ahead run on base.

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