Tonight Matt Harrison:
a. Struck out more batters (eight) than he had in his other seven big league starts combined (seven).
b. Allowed three singles — two of which came in the first inning — and no walks.
c. Retired the final 18 batters he faced.
d. Threw one of the best games any Rangers pitcher has thrown this season.
e. Threw one of the best games of his pro career, at any level.
f. Earned his fifth win in eight starts, one victory less than Kevin Millwood has in 21 starts.
g. Became just the sixth Rangers starter this season to complete at least eight innings (and the first Rangers rookie to do so in more than two years).
h. Needed only 109 pitches — 72 percent of which were strikes and a greater percentage of which looked absolutely aggressive — to get his 24 outs.
i. Gave the bullpen a badly, badly, badly needed break.
j. Got an eighth-inning hug in the dugout from Ron Washington . . .
. . . while 20 feet away, a son of South Carolina, sitting in the Owner’s Box hours after being introduced to the press and then the crowd as the organization’s newest acquisition, got the chance to watch the North Carolina product show that it can in fact happen: on a night on which the offense is able to scratch out only a few runs, this team’s pitching is capable of making them stand up. Texas 3, Tampa Bay 0. Solid.
Speaking of Justin Smoak, an early big league scouting report:
HATES TO FACE: Ron Washington (when hitting right-handed)
LOVES TO FACE: Ron Washington (when hitting left-handed)
LOVES TO TATTOO: The façade of the upper deck in right field
After an impressive showing at 20-minute press conference, displaying the right combination of easygoing and confident, Smoak walked out of the dugout and onto the Rangers Ballpark field, approached first by Marlon Byrd, who greeted him with a smile and a hug and gave him his first big league ribbing, calling him “the next Chipper Jones.”
Smoak, who will board a plane for Clinton, Iowa tomorrow to get his career underway, stood behind the batting cage talking shop with acting hitting coach Mike Boulanger and fellow hitting guru Johnny Narron, and then jumped into the cage to take some cuts off the batting practice pitcher who doubles as the big league manager.
Stepping in first from the left side (which he didn’t begin to hit from until the summer after his freshman year in high school), Smoak took a few inconsistent cuts before he began to use all fields with some authority, sending one shot a majestic mile before it crashed off the façade of the upper deck in right.
His next time up, he hit from the right side — where he really does resemble Chipper Jones, I thought — and squared up a on a few balls but also fouled several straight up or back into the netting. Keep in mind, of course, that Smoak’s last at-bat against live pitching was two-and-a-half months ago, and it was with an aluminum bat.
The LumberKings clinched a playoff spot in the season’s first half, which means Smoak can be force-fed at-bats over the regular season’s final two weeks, after which he’ll get instant playoff experience.
Jon Daniels said at the pregame press conference that yesterday was the first time that Smoak’s representative backed off his insistence on a major league contract for his client, but there wasn’t a hint of disappointment today as Smoak, flanked by his family and girlfriend, fielded questions from reporters, took batting practice off of Washington while wearing the home whites (sporting a number 12 jersey that said “Smoak” rather than “Vazquez”), signed autographs for fans, visited on the field with Tom Hicks for the first time, and got the chance to hang out with a group of major league baseball players that likely included several future teammates.
It had to be an overwhelming experience for a 21-year-old about to embark on a journey he’s probably dreamed about for nearly 20 years.
Probably not all that unlike the feeling that Matt Harrison, very much like Smoak in size and stature and breed, had several hours later as he walked off the mound after eight brilliant innings, heading toward the dugout and experiencing an ovation of 30,000 in the stands and a couple dozen down the steps, one heck of a solid way to celebrate your 23rd birthday.
So I’m told now that Matt Harrison revealed on the
postgame show tonight that the Rangers media guide (not
to mention STATS, MLB.com, ESPN, Wikipedia, and everyone else) is wrong: his
birthday is September 16, not August 16.
So forget the last few words
of my last post.