It’s strange to begin with, these West Coast games, especially when the first pitch is thrown just as the kids are resisting their back-to-school bedtimes. Texas 4, Seattle 3 stayed weird for 10 innings.
You had two of the American League’s best pitchers, Derek Holland and Hisashi Iwakuma, firing statistically certified Quality Starts (the 9th out of 10 for Holland, 7th out of 10 for Iwakuma) even though neither was sharp as we’re accustomed to seeing.
You had a second-inning moment, with Mitch Moreland on second and one out, when David Murphy shot a single to right and Gary Pettis ordered Moreland, as he approached third seeking guidance on whether to sprint another 90 feet, to go-no-stop-no-go, with a pleasant enough result as Moreland beat the throw to the plate and tied things at 2-2, after which another run-scoring single gave Texas a 3-2 lead before their half of the frame was over.
After getting behind in the count and ultimately walking the leadoff hitter in each of the first two innings, Holland issued ball one to Franklin Gutierrez to start the third, after which Gutierrez deposited the next pitch over the center field fence to re-tie the game. (I think it somewhere around that time that I tweeted “If Texas wins this game, it’s gonna be one helluva great win.” Holland was battling, but just wasn’t on his game.)
Pitch counts chased both starters after six.
Then there were the top of the eighth and top of the tenth.
Eighth, game tied, 3-3: Ian Kinsler singles. Adrian Beltre is hit by a pitch. Rather than having A.J. Pierzynski bunt, which if successful would have led Eric Wedge to put Alex Rios on and pitch to Moreland with one out and the bases loaded, needing a sac fly to grab a lead, Pierzynski was allowed to swing away, and on the first pitch he popped out to first. Rios then grounded into a double play.
(Bottom of ninth: Tanner Scheppers could have retired three Mariners on one pitch, had Moreland let Humberto Quintero’s popped-up bunt fall at his feet. Instead, Scheppers got the job done in 12 pitches, getting the pop-out and two strikeouts, each including three swing-and-miss strikes.)
Tenth, game still tied, 3-3: After Elvis Andrus was called out on a weird batter’s interference call (running centimeters inside the chalk as pitcher Danny Farquhar fielded his dribbler down the first base line and dodgeballed Andrus in the back), here we went again . . . Kinsler single, Beltre single, Pierzynski up.
There’s one out, so there’s no bunting Kinsler to third.
So Kinsler takes some initiative, reads Farquhar’s time to the plate on ball one to Pierzynski, and on the second pitch of the at-bat, which happened to be a breaking ball down, Kinsler took off for third and was comfortably safe.
With runners now on the corners and just one out, Pierzynski again popped out, this time to third, and the sac fly was no longer in order.
But the decisive-run-scoring balk was.
Technically, C.B. Bucknor’s call was probably correct, as was his interference call that nullified Andrus’s single minutes earlier, but in each case it seemed reasonable for one team to feel like it had gotten jobbed in a major display of game-deciding #umpshow.
After Rios struck out to end the inning, Joe Nathan came on to preserve the Rangers’ 4-3 lead. Gutierrez harmlessly grounded out to Andrus. Kyle Seager singled to left center, which, given that it was Kyle Seager, felt basically harmless in what was a one-run game (his 16 extra-base hits against Texas this year are more than Vladimir Guerrero ever had in one season). Kendrys Morales struck out swinging, and it was down to Justin Smoak.
Nathan fell behind, 2-0, but then evened the count. Smoak then foul-tipped a fastball that changed direction no more than Farquhar’s shoulder did on The Balk, and Pierzynski couldn’t hang onto what would have been a game-ending strikeout.
And then, in one of the season’s strangest games, Smoak went on to work an eight-pitch walk, pushing the tying run to second and giving way himself to pinch-runner Endy Chavez, who represented the potential walkoff run.
Michael Saunders, who is playing less than Michael Morse for some reason, was up, two innings after entering the game and singling sharply off Neal Cotts. As he swung through strike one and watched ball one sail by, and then ball two, I couldn’t stop thinking about strike three to Smoak barely eluding Pierzynski’s grip, and how in this really weird baseball game, which had moved well past midnight locally, that millimetered difference was probably going to end up being the final difference between a “W” and an “L.”
That’s what was still burning a hole in my brain when Saunders rocketed a grounder past the mound, seemingly headed for center field sod if not for the exquisite defensive positioning that had Andrus almost behind second base, and as Andrus scooped the ball up, I half-expected a shoelace to come loose and prevent him from beating Chavez to the bag while Seager did Seager things and tore past third, ignoring the subtlety of third base coach Jeff Datz’s go-no-stop-no-go directive, prompting Andrus to raise to a knee and fire a strike to the plate, appearing to beat Seager to end the game if not for the baseball barely eluding Pierzynski’s grip, resulting in a tie game, and that’s where my nightmare ended when I realized that Andrus’s trot to the bag with ball in hand was unimpeded and true, and there was nothing C.B. Bucknor could do to make it not so, and with the game no longer capable of further weirdness and firmly in the one-helluva-great-win column — that’s now 19 straight when Texas scores at least four times — I paused the TV so I could walk up to the screen and give Jackie a hug.