Late last night, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Gil LeBreton tweeted: “Not sure The Ballpark in Arlington (its rightful name) has ever seen a day like Sunday. Nearly 95,000 people saw two playoff type games.”
Those 95,000 paid brought the season total to a final, franchise-record-obliterating 3.46 million fans — over 500,000 more than last year’s record-setting number — but the other math is what stuns me.
Texas averaged 42,720 fans per game this season.
That includes Monday nights in May against the Royals. The Twins during the week school started back up. Games against Cleveland.
In a building capped at a little more than 48,000, nearly 43,000 Rangers fans came out to the Ballpark on average. It was good for what will be baseball’s third-best attendance mark in 2012 (behind Philadelphia and the Yankees), and that’s awesome.
Yesterday’s 95,000 were put through an emotional wringer, as they saw Texas drop its sixth out of nine with a ninth-inning meltdown by the best closer in club history in Game One, and then, after an uncomfortable wait of almost three hours, watched the Angels plate four off of Derek Holland (strikeout-single-double-single-homer-double) before he’d recorded the second out of the game.
I probably won’t forget those two sequences, the first of which I heard just after landing in Arizona, boxed in alone inside a compact car in another state with nobody to hear me yelling things I wouldn’t want anyone to hear, the second in a far stranger setting: a Surprise sports bar packed with a hundred football fans watching the five late games on two dozen TV’s, one of which, next to the pool tables without a table or chair nearby, I asked to be flipped to a baseball game. ”No problem, no sound.”
Four very quick Los Angeles runs, viewed alone while leaning against a pool table in another state, where nobody could hear me yelling things that at that point I didn’t care if anyone could hear.
And then Derek Holland recorded 19 outs without another run coming across, during which time Texas put up 1-2-3-0-2-0 to do what 90 minutes earlier had seemed impossible.
But when Howie Kendrick, maybe the least fearsome hitter in the Angels’ lineup, hammered a seventh-inning Holland pitch with two outs, two on, and an 0-1 count, turning 8-4 into 8-7 with Los Angeles still having seven outs to play with, Ron Washington visited Holland for the second time in the game, this time taking the ball to hand it off to a beleaguered Rangers bullpen, decimated not only by injury but also a dose of high-leverage work several hours earlier.
Up to the task, Robbie Ross and Koji Uehara (good grief) and Joe Nathan fired 2.1 innings of near-perfect relief, throwing strike one a beautiful seven times out of eight, holding the Angels hitless and walking one. When the crazy-hot Torii Hunter worked a six-pitch free pass off Nathan after Albert Pujols had popped out to start the ninth, given what had happened that afternoon, I can only imagine what that packed house was feeling compared to the discomfort I was fighting through in virtual isolation in a sports bar that had almost every TV locked in on Eagles-Giants.
Nathan wouldn’t throw another ball.
Mark Trumbo lineout to right, on 0-2.
Kendrys Morales foulout to catcher, on 0-1.
A very precarious foulout to catcher, and the way the day and week had gone, a collision between Mike Napoli and Mike Olt seemed as likely a result as Napoli squeezing the 27th out.
In retrospect, of course, I should have expected Napoli to haul in the game-ending out even if it had been hit to the fence in right center field. What a beast.
Napoli homered twice and nearly three times in the space of four innings, driving in six runs on a night when the team needed every one of its eight, finishing the season as a .442/.567/.904 hitter (six home runs, 11 of 23 hits for extra bases, more walks  than strikeouts  in 67 plate appearances) against the team that had given up on him.
“Sometimes there’s going to be that hitter you don’t match up well against,” Mike Scioscia said after the game, before an unhappy flight.
I really wish he’d said “that hitter you don’t match up well with,” because that would have been double-meaning-fully awesome.
Napoli effectively clinched a playoff berth for three American League teams with his heroics, a fact that seems sorta silly on its surface, but then again not really.
The number nine hitter for the Angels, Chris Iannetta, drew a walk in Game One of Sunday’s twinbill (after falling behind in the count, 0-2) that may have been the key moment of that game.
He’s an Angel because that club needed to find a catcher this winter, having dumped Napoli the winter before.
Last night Napoli, the Rangers’ number eight hitter, ended Game Two with a catch halfway up the third base line, virtually ending the Angels’ season.
And he extended his own club’s season, which was surely going to happen at some point, but the fact that it happened at home, in front of the last 48,000 of those 3.46 million, was pretty cool.
“We had a light toast,” said Ron Washington afterwards, “and I congratulated them on what they accomplished to this point.”
Hand the ball to the referee. Act like you’ve been there.
One win in Oakland these next three days, and Texas wins the West, avoiding the Wild Card play-in game.
I don’t want to think any more about what the Rangers, sending Martin Perez to the hill tonight with bullpen issues brought on by injuries and a day-night doubleheader, would need to do today, tomorrow, and Wednesday had they lost the game that they were losing 4-0 in the top of the first.
I don’t have to, because they didn’t. And the Angels now have to root for Mike Napoli and the Texas Rangers for three days.
LeBreton offered up a second tweet late last night: “Rangers are a talented but tired team. But when challenged in second game Sunday, they found their hunger again.”
Which reminds me, I think I can eat again now.