Here we go.
1. So it’s Yovani Gallardo kicking things off in Toronto, and not because he’s being looked to as the de facto leader of the staff like he was in April. In fact, it’s conceivable the righthander might not have made the playoff rotation at all had Texas drawn Kansas City (and its parade of core lefty bats) rather than the Jays, whose most dangerous hitters bat from the right side — and against whom Gallardo fired 13.2 brilliant innings this season over two starts (no runs on six singles, with an opponents’ slash line of .136/.224/.136).
In his two starts against Toronto, one in late June and one in late August, Gallardo held Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion to a combined 2 for 13 line.
Gallardo has a 2.08 ERA in four career post-season starts and a relief appearance. His first playoff work came in the very first playoff game he suited up for, Game One of the 2008 NLDS pitting Milwaukee against the Phillies in Philadelphia. Gallardo’s opposition? Cole Hamels.
Hamels laid a bunt down with a man in the third inning of that game and reached on second baseman Rickie Weeks’s error. Three runs would score in the inning, all with two outs and thus all unearned, and it’s the only scoring the Phillies would muster. But it was enough, as Hamels (and Brad Lidge) four-hit the Brewers, who scored once in the ninth to avert a shutout. Gallardo lasted only four innings, but he and four relievers held Philadelphia to just four hits themselves.
The short Gallardo outing is a familiar result, even when he’s been effective. The Rangers have determined that the spin rate on his breaking ball starts to diminish at around 90 pitches, and because he typically falls victim to deep counts, that 90-pitch mark often arrives before six innings are complete. Texas kept the leash on Gallardo short in 2015, and with a rested pen that will include either Martin Perez or Colby Lewis, the leash isn’t going to be any longer in the playoffs.
2. David Price gets the ball for the Jays, and he faces a Rangers team that he’s had more trouble with than any regular opponent over his career, in both the regular season (3-4, 5.15 ERA, .270/.330/.403 slash) and the playoffs (0-3, 4.66 ERA, .296/.305/.444 slash). Elvis Andrus (.429/.535/.429 in 43 regular season plate appearances against Price), Adrian Beltre (.306/.306/.583 in 36 plate appearances), and Mike Napoli (.263/.317/.474 in 41 plate appearances) have also faced Price in a combined five playoff games, hitting safely in all five games (a robust 8 for 21). Shin-Soo Choo is a .316 hitter against Price (though over only 21 plate appearances).
What does all that mean? Very little, unless you believe confidence can play a role in a turbo-competitive situation like the playoffs. (I do.)
By the way, Gallardo has opposed Price one time, on July 30, 2014. Final: Milwaukee 5, Tampa Bay 0. Gallardo scattered four singles and a walk over seven frames, fanning five.
Some even more tasty history?
As a Ray, Price faced the upstart Rangers in Games One and Five of the 2010 ALDS, both in his home park — which will be the case in this series in the event that the teams stretch this one to five games.
He struck 14 Rangers out in 12.2 innings, walking zero — but he lost to Texas both times.
3. On the subject of which Rangers starter might be available out of the pen tomorrow, Jeff Banister told MLB Network Radio on Monday that “we like what Martin Perez can do — there’s a good chance you’ll see three lefties in there” as part of the Texas rotation in this series.
Would Texas really leave Lewis out of the contracted rotation, in spite of his tremendous season and his strong post-season track record (4-1, 2.34 in eight starts, .178/.275/.344 slash)?
The fact is that Lewis has struggled in his last two starts and was beat up by the Jays a bit in late August, while Perez has been sharp in his last two outings and three of four. On the other hand, Lewis is unflappable and has routinely risen to the occasion in October for this team, while Perez has been prone this season to a loss of composure on occasion when things threaten to unravel.
It’s a fascinating decision. Game Four, by definition, is an elimination game (for one team or the other), and I can’t decide which of the two I think the Rangers might be leaning toward for that one.
If Gallardo doesn’t manage to get deep in the game tomorrow, we may have the answer to who gets the ball in Game Four before Game One ends.
4. Much was made yesterday of the fact that you could count on zero hands the number of ESPN’s 23 expert baseball analysts who are picking Texas to win the series with the Jays. Toronto 23, Texas 0.
There’s no doubt that the Jays are running a historically explosive lineup out there. They have a legitimate Cy Young candidate slated to pitch twice in the best-of-five, if needed. They’ve been the hottest team in baseball over the second half, and have home field. It would be silly to think the Rangers would be the favorite, even as strong as their last couple months have been.
But not one analyst out of 23 willing to go out on that limb? None of the other Division Series had similar unanimity.
MLB Network Radio’s Casey Stern believes the Jays will win the series, but he offered two underlying predictions: (1) If Texas is able to steal Game One against Price, he likes the Rangers to advance; and (2) regardless of which team prevails, he believes Toronto or Texas will represent the American League in the World Series.
For what it’s worth, the Jays won four of the teams’ six meetings this season. They beat Texas in a Nick Martinez start and a Chi Chi Gonzalez start, won a late-August game that Derek Holland was in line to win before Shawn Tolleson suffered just his second blown save, and hammered the Rangers the day after that, 12-4, in a game that pitted Price against Lewis.
The Rangers’ two wins against Toronto this year were the two games Gallardo started.
For what it’s worth, MLB Network Radio’s Mike Ferrin, Steve Phillips, and Todd Hollandsworth each believe Toronto (1) and Texas (2) have the best lineups of any playoff team in baseball. Fellow MLBNR host Jim Duquette has Toronto first and Texas third (with the Mets second).
Duquette has the Mets rotation number one and Texas number two. Ferrin doesn’t include the Rangers in his top six.
5. As far as the Rangers lineup is concerned, right now Choo (AL Player of the Month) and Beltre (AL Player of the Week) are the engines that make it go.
Choo — who finished the season’s first month hitting an incomprehensible .096 — finished the season at a healthy .276/.375/.463. He hit .343/.455/.560 in the second half of the season, including .387/.500/.613 over the final month. After moving permanently into the two hole in the order behind Delino DeShields on August 9, Texas posted a 33-20 record, second only to Toronto’s in the AL.
Jon Daniels on Choo: “He was maybe the best player in baseball during the second half.”
What a machine that guy has been.
As for Beltre, whose broken body is apparently irrelevant, he drove in 53 runs in the team’s final 48 games, which is just silly.
In the final 22 games of the season, he hit .427/.485/.719 and seemed to come through in just about every big spot. Over that time span, he led the American League in hitting, RBI (33), and OPS (an absurd 1.203).
He did it with a thumb that, when he dislocated it at the end of May, had bone break through the skin and had ligament “turned upside down,” according to Jon Heyman (CBS Sports).
And yet, when he returned to the active roster on June 23, without so much as a rehab assignment and clearly still in some degree of pain (every one of those swings that resulted in him walking slowly around the catcher and around the umpire and back to his perch in the batter’s box was probably a simple effort to give his thumb an extra five seconds to quit barking), guess how many days Beltre didn’t start over the Rangers’ final 92 games?
It’s the same number as ESPN analysts taking Texas to win this series.
Choo is a machine.
There’s not a word for what Beltre is.
(Unless you count #favorite.)
6. Mitch Moreland may sit against Price and he almost certainly won’t get the props from the national broadcast that he deserves. He’s been counted out repeatedly over his career, before quietly putting things together in 2015. I hope he does huge things in this series and quiets the critics.
What do these players have in common: Beltre, Albert Pujols, Jose Altuve, Adam Jones, Todd Frazier, Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, and Troy Tulowitzki?
Moreland out-OPS’d every one of them in 2015.
7. There may or may not be a minor league coach in the Rogers Centre stands these next two afternoons named Tom Signore. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re excused. There are probably lots of diehard Blue Jays fans unfamiliar with the 53-year-old.
But he’s the man who may have played the biggest role in turning Sam Dyson from a fourth-round pick who had shoulder surgery and elbow surgery as a pro before throwing his first minor league pitch into what he is now.
Signore was the pitching coach for the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2012, Dyson’s second stop in his first pro season on a mound. Dyson featured a sinking fastball when Toronto drafted him in 2010 out of the University of South Carolina, but it wasn’t until Signore started working with the righthander that he began to manipulate the ball differently in his hand and develop the devastating heavy fastball that may be the most dominant pitch on the staff that Texas takes into this series.
Dyson shockingly reached the big leagues in that first healthy pro season, moving from Class A Dunedin to New Hampshire to Toronto in early July, but after a poor showing in that off-season’s Arizona Fall League, he was waived by the Jays and claimed by the Marlins.
Miami had Dyson throw his sinker half the time, if that. Rangers evaluators — including Daniels himself — felt there was added upside there if Dyson were asked to throw the pitch at more like an 80 percent rate, and the club obtained him with minutes left before the expiration of the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, for the mere price of catcher Tomas Telis and left-handed relief specialist Cody Ege.
Telis and Ege? Where were the other 28 teams?
What was Miami thinking — when they had another five years of control over Dyson and didn’t need to move him impetuously? It’s not as if Telis and Ege was a “blow ’em away” offer that the Marlins just couldn’t let slip through their fingers, was it? Why not wait until the winter?
They probably won’t show Tom Signore in the crowd the next two days — well, maybe they will and I’ll have no idea — but, sir, I offer you the heartiest of standing slow claps.
8. I bet 97 with bastard sink is killer on the hands, and especially in cold weather. They’ll surely close the Rogers Centre roof on Friday, when it looks like rain is a strong possibility. But what about tomorrow, when it’s supposed to be clear and in the low 50’s?
9. I’m a little worried about Rougned Odor, not so much because he hit .172/.209/.359 over his final 17 games and had a handful of errors and other mistakes that didn’t register in the box score.
I’m a little worried because he’s shown a tendency to try and be really big in situations that don’t necessarily call for it, and while Texas has always believed heavily in adding players who have never won and bring that extra hunger to the team (veterans Beltre, Choo, Napoli, Joe Nathan), Odor has never tasted the playoffs and I fear he’s going to try and hit six-run home runs with the bases empty.
Vince Gennaro, a SABR guy who shows up on MLB Network on occasion, talked this week about players with big swings who often struggle in the post-season because the number five starters and middle relievers against whom they often do lots of their in-season damage tend to gather dust in the playoffs. He mentioned Josh Hamilton as an example, and it prompted me to look up Prince Fielder’s post-season numbers, which it turns out are not pretty (.194/.287/.333 in 164 plate appearances). I think Odor probably fits the profile, too, as much as I hope I’m wrong about that.
Slow the game down, man, just a little. Just be Rougie.
10. Jeff Banister was the bench coach for Pittsburgh when that club fell in five games to St. Louis in the 2013 NLDS and lost the Wild Card Game to the Giants last year. I like that he’s had the playoff experience — the planning, the unusual scheduling, the different ways to use the roster, the heightened intensity.
There’s little that I imagine could ever be too big for Banny, given what he’s gone through on and off the field and given the life he’s devoted to the game, but I do take added comfort in the fact that he was on the front lines with Clint Hurdle the last two Octobers.
Greg Amsinger (MLB Network) said a few days ago: “I think Banister’s season . . . is arguably the greatest rookie season in sports for a manager.”
Hyperbolic, perhaps, but that man seems 100 percent to have been born to do this job — how did he never get this shot before Texas gave it to him?? — and while he’s new at managing a big league club, he’s not new to big league playoff baseball. That’s good.
11. I have no hate for the Blue Jays. I kinda like that team, actually. I had no hate for the Rays or the Giants or the Tigers or the Cardinals, either, at least going into those playoff battles.
Someone like Kevin Pillar or Chris Colabello is going to make me bristle at his name forever because of something that happens over the next week. And that’s cool. The thing is, Texas is still playing ball, and 21 other teams aren’t. Some of them are firing managers and introducing new GM’s and planning winter directions. The Rangers are trying to decide who will start Game Four.
I don’t hate the Blue Jays, but there’s a chance I will in a few days, and on a certain sports-level you just can’t ask for anything more.
Let’s go, Yo.
Bring it, Jays.
- 1999: USA Today All-America honorable mention in baseball, McDonald’s All-America nominee in basketball (Smithville High School)
- 2000: Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America (University of Missouri)
- 2002: Leads Cape Cod League in on-base percentage (Brewster Whitecaps)
- 2003: Missouri reaches NCAA Regionals; drafted by Toronto in 10th round (seven rounds before Missouri teammate Ian Kinsler); Short-Season A Auburn Doubledays reach playoffs
- 2004: High A Dunedin Blue Jays reach playoffs
- 2005: High A Dunedin Blue Jays reach playoffs
- 2006: Joins Rangers via Rule 5 (Texas selects him a round before selecting Alexi Ogando); completes playing career, earning All-Star recognition with High A Bakersfield Blaze and earning first promotion to AA (Frisco RoughRiders); teaches himself Spanish; begins coaching career
- 2008: Manages Rangers’ Dominican Summer League team to first-place finish
- 2009: Manages Rangers’ Dominican Summer League team to first-place finish
- 2010: Manages Rangers’ Arizona League team to first-place finish
- 2011: Rangers Coordinator of Instruction, Arizona and Dominican Operations; AZL team first-place finish
- 2012-2014: Rangers Minor League Field Coordinator; organization’s farm system consistently ranked top 10 by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus; 2012 Topps Organization of the Year
- 2015: Rangers Major League Field Coordinator; AL West champions
Update next week?
Next Report: 11 Things.
Jerad Eickhoff went 3-3, 2.65 in eight starts, with really good peripherals, for a Phillies club looking to find a new identity. He looks like a guy who can pitch in the middle of a big league rotation right now, super affordably.
Alec Asher didn’t fare as well in his big league debut (0-6, 9.31 in seven starts), but his AAA numbers with Lehigh Valley were solid and he’s got a very good chance to be a lot more productive than Beau Jones ever was.
Jake Thompson was brilliant in seven AA starts (5-1, 1.80) and could be very, very good.
Nick Williams was even better with AA Reading (.320/.340/.536) than he’d been with AA Frisco (.299/.357/.479), and will be all over all the Top 100 Prospects lists this winter. He’s going to hit big league pitching forever.
Jorge Alfaro has a chance to better than any of them. There’s work to be done, and he’s got to stay out of the trainer’s room, but he could be great. One day soon I’ll take him off the header to these emails.
We wish all of you the very best.
Those are the final scores of the last 10 games Cole Hamels started.
They were all Rangers games.
The first number in each score belonged to Texas.
Seven batters in yesterday, in Game 162, the Angels had doubled, homered, and doubled, recording four outs.
The Angels went 0 for 23 (with two walks and a hit batsman).
Do the math. Four outs, plus an 0 for 23, equals . . . .
For all who wondered going into Sunday who in the world the Rangers’ closer would be for the day, given the debilitated state of the bullpen, your number one starter answered the question.
Cole Hamels would be the closer.
First-pitch strikes to 22 of 33 hitters, critical given the need to keep the pitch count down. Eight strikeouts, 10 groundouts — including the final four hitters the Angels would send to the plate this season.
In fact, their final six hitters came up after Hamels sat through what had to be a 45-minute (and glorious) bottom-of-seventh. Hamels struck Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun (Saturday’s ninth-inning home run hitters) out, and then coaxed groundouts off the bats of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, C.J. Cron, . . . and David Freese.
While it didn’t erase four-year-old things fully, seeing the Texas Rangers rush the field after retiring David Freese felt pretty good.
Texas didn’t have a Cole Hamels in 2011. They had one the year before that (Cliff Lee) and the year after (Yu Darvish), but while the 2011 rotation was really good, there wasn’t that guy whose back everyone was invited to jump on for games as big as yesterday’s was — given not only what was at stake as far as playoff position was concerned, but also the emotional devastation and depleted relief corps that the team was saddled with from the day before.
And more to come.
Thank you, Cole, for saying no to Houston.
Thank you, Houston, for saying no to Jeff Banister.
Thank you, ownership, for saying yes to JD.
Thank you, Philadelphia, and I sincerely hope Williams and Thompson and Alfaro and Eickhoff and Asher and whoever you take with the first overall pick in the draft in eight months help you play meaningful September games again soon.
Just a few months ago, it looked far more likely that Texas would be drafting number one in June than number 23.
Instead, on the day Asher celebrated his 24th birthday, Cole Hamels was entrusted with the ball in the biggest game the Rangers have had in a couple years.
The Rangers decided a couple weeks ago, when deciding how to use their final off-day to arrange the rotation, that — even though it meant he wouldn’t pitch in Houston on the season’s penultimate weekend — they wanted to be able to call Hamels’s number on the season’s final day.
We all knew after Friday and Saturday that he was going to need to go eight yesterday. Maybe nine.
He’d thrown 101 pitches through eight innings, and the lead was seven. All things considered, though, Banister didn’t even ask the usual question of his number one.
“I wasn’t checking with Cole. He was our guy.
“You could see the look in his eyes. . . . Big players step up in big spots.”
Hamels: “I want to be out there for the last out, no matter what. You just go out there and try to seal the deal.”
Go out there. Seal the deal.
That’s what closers do.
Going into Friday, Houston needed the following seven things to happen to win the AL West:
- Beat Arizona Friday
- Have Texas lose to Angels Friday
- Beat Arizona Saturday
- Have Texas lose to Angels Saturday
- Beat Arizona Sunday
- Have Texas lose to Angels Sunday
- Beat Texas in Arlington on Monday
To win the West, Texas needed any one of those things not to happen.
With apologies to any of you who thought I might talk about Los Angeles 11, Texas 10, that’s not happening. We’ve talked about defining moments. There’s one way — really, more than one, but I’m focused on just one way — to make sure yesterday’s ninth doesn’t define anything.
Down to the final three on that list.
- Cole Hamels vs. Garrett Richards at 2:05
- Lance McCullers vs. Robbie Ray at 2:05
- If necessary, Yovani Gallardo vs. Mike Fiers or Scott Kazmir tomorrow night
Then, for Texas, it’s on the road for Game One of the ALDS on Thursday . . . or turn around and play the Wild Card Game on Tuesday against the Yankees and Masahiro Tanaka — and hope to earn that Thursday Game One.
This team will play in the American League Division Series. The rotation won’t line up ideally and the pen won’t be as rested as hoped, but there’s just no way this team finishes 2015 with five straight losses, the first four and maybe all five at home.
Texas will be in Toronto or Kansas City Thursday, because I refuse to believe otherwise.
This is why, Cole. You turned down a deal to Houston, you wanted to be here.
Nine straight team wins when you get the ball, but that’s not enough.
Make the first of those three bullet points the only one that matters.
Win today, win tomorrow, or win Tuesday, and Texas is in the ALDS, best of five.
Game 162, number one on the mound.
This, Cole. This is why.
A year ago on this date, I wrote a million words wrapping up the miserable 2014 season.
Today is better.
With Shawn Tolleson now having pitched four straight nights for the first time in his career, and Sam Dyson doing so for the first time since joining the Rangers, and Keone Kela’s availability a massive Stanley Cup-level mystery — he hasn’t pitched since Tuesday despite having not allowed a run in the seven and a half weeks following his return from the minors — it wouldn’t be any surprise if the game plan for the Angels at noon is to lay off Colby Lewis’s slider, drive his pitch count, and make the bionic 36-year-old work.
Colby Lewis having to work his tail off doesn’t scare me a bit.
Today is better.
There were just seven weeks left in the season, and the Rangers, who two weeks earlier sat eight games out in the West, had won 12 of 17 since a 21-5 disaster at the hands of the Yankees.
There were seven weeks left, and someone asked Jon Daniels during the Q&A portion of our Newberg Report Night event how confident he was that Texas could hold on after actually climbing all the way back into a Wild Card position.
Always understated and chronically appropriate, JD paused. “I know everyone is all caught up in the Wild Card race,” he said without a change in expression. “Man, I think we’re gonna win the division.”
The room erupted.
I asked JD if it was OK if I led my report the next morning with that comment. No problem, he said.
The next morning he said he’d reconsidered, and if it was cool he preferred that I not put that out there. So I didn’t.
I didn’t ask this time.
There have been defining moments this season — and we all hope the true signature moments have yet to happen, of course — but it’s been one of those years in which you can’t really say one or two players put the team on their backs, or that one impossible comeback win or crazy win streak changed everything. It’s been a battle, a battle out of a corner, and one of the most exhilarating sports seasons I can remember.
With lots to go, obviously.
The prospect of Eric Nadel opening the Game 159 broadcast with the chillbump-raising words “Well, it has come to this” was, for so long this year, virtually impossible to imagine.
The Thursday lineup featured a Rule 5 pick that Houston didn’t want to reserve a minor league spot for on its off-season 40-man roster, a first baseman who was acquired for next to nothing in August, and a left fielder who was paid a lot of money to go away five months ago by the team in the other dugout.
In a game decided by two runs, Josh Hamilton — the man whose dropped flyball in Oakland was emblematic of the Rangers’ 2012 collapse — saved one run and drove in another, eliminating from the division race the team that was so desperate to get rid of him in April that they took care of almost all of his game check last night, paying him to make that impossible catch and drive in the game’s final run.
It wasn’t the same as freezing A-Rod to end the ALCS, or the Mavs finally taking down the Heat, but Josh Hamilton (20 days post-knee surgery) accounting for two runs in Texas 5, Los Angeles 3, helping send his team to the playoffs and making his primary payor’s playoff path a little steeper, was pure sports poetry.
New Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, who was in the same role with the Angels when they rush-delivered Hamilton to Texas earlier this year, on the role Los Angeles owner Arte Moreno’s played when the club gave him $125 million over five years in the first place, weeks after he’d dropped that lazy fly in Oakland: “That was his decision to make.”
So, apparently, was the decision to excommunicate Hamilton, and essentially pay him $110 million for two years of baseball.
Two years of Angels baseball, that is.
Mike Scioscia after the game on Hamilton’s grab of Shane Victorino’s second-inning smash at the fence with men on first and third: “I’m not surprised. He’s a good left fielder with a lot of range.”
Hamilton and Elvis Andrus nearly threw Albert Pujols at the plate, but the something-year old, running like he was chest deep in a swimming pool, narrowly beat the relay.
It still really wasn’t a signature moment for this club, in a game that had less urgency attached to it for Texas than it did for LA, but it was awesome. The Rangers are in the playoffs — thanks in large part to a beast effort out of Derek Holland and 2.2 scoreless innings from the bullpen — and with one more win over these final three, or one Houston loss, they bypass the Wild Card Game and earn a berth in the ALDS, traveling to either Toronto or Kansas City to get their post-season rolling.
According to one of those playoff odds generators, the Rangers had a 1 percent chance to win the AL West as of July 22.
And a 4 percent chance as of August 26.
It’s not 100 percent this morning, but it’s just about as close as you can get.
A 95-loss team whose manager had quit went into the winter needing a new skipper and lots more than that.
And then lost its ace in spring training.
Lost its number two starter after one inning.
Didn’t have its number three starter or its number four starter for the first half of the season.
Had its closer cough up his job, leaving the role to a pitcher the club had claimed off waivers a year and a half earlier.
Finished April with the worst record in its 44-year history.
Had a $120 million shortstop and $130 million right fielder who were being labeled as untradeable throughout the first half because nobody wanted to talk instead about actual production.
Still owned Jurickson Profar, somewhere.
Optioned its standout rookie second baseman after a month because he’d become a helpless sophomore.
Stuck that Rule 5 pick in the leadoff slot.
Had what amounted to a mediocre catcher tandem — and then lost both 31-year-olds to extended injury.
Got backwards steps from the center fielder and set-up man it was counting on to take the next step.
Started 12 left fielders.
Gave 15 starts to Wandy Rodriguez, and seven to Ross Detwiler.
That team is returning to the playoffs.
With head-to-head confrontations the past week with the Astros and Angels, I wasn’t big on focusing on any Magic Numbers, but the more I think about it, this club that isn’t defined by one player, or two, is one whose identity and whose success this incredible season should be credited mostly to two men.
For me, the two magic numbers as far as the 2015 Texas Rangers are concerned are the 28 on the manager’s back, and the 162+ that belongs on the GM’s.
Cole Hamels, man!
Goes six innings, and retires the first two Tigers hitters in the first.
Retires the first two in the second.
Retires the first two in the third.
Retires the first two in the fourth.
Retires the first two in the fifth.
Retires the first two in the sixth.
Never allows a baserunner before two outs.
First-pitch strikes to 19 of 27 Tigers hitters. Gets to two strikes (at least) on 18 of them. Reaches so much as two balls only eight times.
Holds Detroit’s three beasts, Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, to one total hit three times through the lineup.
Retires nine straight at one point. And 10 of his final 11. Strikes out the side in his final frame of work.
And gets three scoreless (two-hit, zero-walk) innings from his bullpen, while his teammates put up an explosive five-spot in the first and get into the Tigers bullpen in the second inning.
But seriously, again: He never allowed a baserunner before two outs.
Cole Hamels, man! What a domina—
Hey, a slam dunk is still just two points.
And so is a virtually uncontested layup that bounces off your elbow and then your shoe and then your opponent’s shoe and rattles the backboard and swirls around the rim centrifugally and dings the backboard again angrily before settling happily into the twine and getting momentarily stuck before dripping through.
That’s nine straight Hamels starts that have ended up in the win column.
And a win — especially under the circumstances — is a win.
Let’s go, Yo.
Win the damn series.
Back home for the duration, facing the second-worst team in the American League, your warrior-beast on the mound, and that happens.
Meanwhile, the Astros win by one run and the Angels win by one run and, hell, even the Twins won, though by a cushiony two-run margin.
It’s a bad movie script.
Tip of the cap to Houston and Los Angeles in particular. They’re not going to make it easy on Texas, clearly, and are playing pennant race baseball. Those two teams have shaken off some really bad baseball (the Astros in September, the Angels in August) to turn it on when it’s the only way.
It’s convenient to forget that the Rangers turned it on, for nearly all of August and nearly all of September, when it was the only way, if that. Really, it didn’t even seem that tenable. The fact that Texas has a lead of any measure to protect, with less than a week to go, is flippin’ incredible and awesome.
But this team has to flip the switch back on. Yes, Collin McHugh-Dallas Keuchel-Justin Verlander is a tall order, but a team with playoff aspirations can never use something like that as an excuse.
Really, excuses of any sort are out the door this time of year, though I’m unable to resist at least pointing out that Houston is getting the three Mariners starters who aren’t Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma (and probably not even James Paxton, who is a good bet to be scratched tomorrow with a torn fingernail) and will miss Patrick Corbin in Arizona, and that Oakland is starting Barry Zito in Sonny Gray’s place against the Angels tomorrow, with at least one national writer suggesting the A’s “may be tanking a bit; they’ve moved up to the fourth pick in the draft and could rise as high as number 2 if the Reds and Braves can find some wins this week.”
No excuses. Just need to win.
And to avoid at-bats like Rougned Odor’s with the bases loaded, a 1-1 score, and one out in the fourth (following Elvis Andrus’s popout) in which Odor appeared to be trying to erase the Magic Number of 5 in one swing, and then a second swing, and then a third, all at Verlander pitches in his eyes.
I love Rougned Odor.
No time to be pressing, or playing tight.
Six left — including four here against the Angels that are now, almost inescapably, going to be huge — and if this team plays its game, the season extends. No matter who is on the mound for the other guys.
Or for the Mariners. Or for the Diamondbacks.
Texas has proven this year that it’s dangerous when playing from behind. It’s done it the whole second half, it did it in the ninth inning Saturday, it did it in the ninth inning last night, even if those two final-inning charges fell just short.
No metaphors there, please.
Not infrequently I like to say things like “Bring on the chance at more sports heartbreak, at guts spilling onto the floor. Because without it, the winning — and I mean the winning — wouldn’t be nearly as awesome.”
Give me exactly where this team is right now. It’s a thousand times better than having writers talk about sunny draft implications if you keep losing baseball games that matter more immediately to the opponent.
I also like to say, “Better keep winning, Houston.”
Well, better start winning, Texas.
The Rangers have won eight straight Cole Hamels starts. They get two more of those this week, including tonight.
Only one of those eight Hamels starts followed a Rangers loss.
One more of those, tonight.
Hopefully not another one like it Sunday.
Assuming Sunday matters, which at this point feels close to inevitable.
But again, that’s a whole lot better than how much the final Sunday and a dozen before it mattered a year ago.
Justin Verlander may no longer be a true ace, but in the tightest spots he pitched like one last night.
Your turn, Cole.
Elvis and Mitch and Derek were there in 2007, and so was a 16-year-old named Martin.
So were Danny Clark and Josue Perez and Keith Comstock and Napoleon Pichardo, and I’m sure Mike Daly and Kip Fagg were in and out for more than the four days I spent in Surprise for Fall Instructs that October.
I went to Surprise that year because I wanted to check out all the new minor league talent the Rangers had added that summer through trades (Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Engel Beltre, Max Ramirez) and the draft (Moreland, Holland, Tommy Hunter, Neil Ramirez, Julio Borbon, Blake Beavan, Michael Main) and internationally (Perez, Tomas Telis, Leury Garcia).
I went in October because, at that time in Rangers history, baseball was predictably finished for the year.
I’ve been back to Instructs every fall since, but starting in 2010 I’ve made it a point to get out there in late September, to make sure I’d be back home in time for 162+.
If I didn’t write about watching the last three games of the 2012 season on a TV in Surprise with a bunch of Rangers instructors and scouts, it’s because it was too painful to talk about. As emotionally invested as I was in those brutal three games in Oakland, it obviously went way beyond that for the men who grind it out on the back fields and on the road for more hours and more days each year than most people probably think, because every mass infield on a 109-degree afternoon in Arizona and every 6:45 am turn in the cages and every clubhouse classroom session is done, ultimately, so that the big league team has its best chance, every year, to play ball when most other teams have gone home for the year.
Watching the Texas Rangers push for playoff baseball has to mean something extra to those guys that most of us can’t fully wrap our heads around.
Three mornings ago a team of Rangers prospects faced a team of Royals prospects on Field 1, and when Chris Garia cut a runner down at the plate from center field I won’t swear I wasn’t shaken from a daydream that those same two organizations could find themselves teeing it up on a little bigger stage in a couple weeks.
That night a bunch of us sat around that same TV as in 2012 — this time including a former nine-year big league infielder-outfielder, a former outfielder who got as close to a big league call as you can get, a onetime infielder on two NCAA champions, and an ex-college pitcher and college coach — calling pitches and calling pitching changes, sweating a fairly shaky Yovani Gallardo start but treated to Choo and Fielder and 4.1 lockdown frames out of the bullpen.
Every player who suited up in blue for Texas 6, Houston 2 on Friday probably had a turn or two at Instructs at the start of his own career, if not in Surprise then somewhere else, and many who fit in that category (Fielder, Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Mike Napoli, Max Venable) are here in part because of someone else the Rangers developed on the back fields when the scoreboards were off, the concession stands were shut down, and the press wasn’t around.
The next morning — like a dozen mornings before it and twice as many yet to come — more than 70 ballplayers and dozens of instructors focused on the little things and the bigger ones, putting in tons of hours in unnatural heat to get better at baseball.
And to help ensure that the Texas Rangers are a franchise that continues to plays games in late September that mean everything.
Pitchers’ target competitions. Fungoes to simulate short-hop throws on steal attempts. Four-corners catcher drills. Hockey pucks and footballs. Rehabbing pitchers, putting in their own grind. Options-decisions-consequences, and 18 inches: head to heart.
A thousand swings and a thousand throws.
That final week in 2012, the thought that Jurickson Profar would be in Surprise as the final week in 2015 unfolded wouldn’t have made any sense, but there he was, swinging the bat from both sides without limitation, even if he’s not throwing at 100 percent yet.
Profar’s still just 22. But that’s four and a half years older than Chad Smith, a left-left outfielder (fifth round in June) who along with fellow outfielder Eric Jenkins (second round in June) probably opened my eyes as much as anyone did this weekend.
Another 17-year-old, righthander Tyler Phillips (16th round in June), was on a short list of the guys I wanted to see, but he was shockingly summoned to Houston (along with righthander Cole Wiper) to throw early batting practice to Josh Hamilton, Joey Gallo, and a few others.
They’re presumably back in Surprise now, and every minute Phillips spends around Clark, and every rep Smith puts in with Perez, and every chance any player on the back fields in Arizona gets to be around Kenny Holmberg and Corey Ragsdale and Roy Silver, there’s a chance to make themselves better, and to make the Texas Rangers better.
They’re back in Surprise, and I’m back home, as are the Rangers, about to host Detroit for three and the Angels for four, while Houston takes its terrible road record to Seattle and Arizona for three each and the surging Angels host Oakland for three before coming to Texas to round out their own effort to extend the season.
The last two days in Houston have made this next week more critical for the Rangers than it might have been otherwise, and that’s OK. Texas won a healthy four of six on the road trip to Oakland and Houston, and with a 2.5-game lead in the division and a Magic Number of 5 to secure a playoff position — and with Cole Hamels and Colby Lewis set to start four of these remaining seven games — if the Rangers somehow don’t manage to reach 162+, if the position they’re now in isn’t enough to move on, then 2015 has been a blast and bring on 2016.
But it will be enough.
There will be late nights four of these next five, as Rangers games will give way to West Coast Astros and/or Angels games that will bear watching.
Meanwhile, there will be very, very early days in Surprise, this week and a couple more, for players who have never so much as met Adrian Beltre or Rougned Odor or Colby Lewis and maybe never will.
But you can bet there’s a plan in place for 100 players and coaches in Surprise to be around a TV next week when the Rangers are playing post-season baseball, as a reward and as an incentive, and knowing how the guys in charge down there are wired, even as they’re living and dying with every Rangers playoff pitch — on a level most of us can probably only try to imagine — there will be, here and there, an added moment of instruction that will stick with some kid destined to help this franchise continue, for years down the road, to win.
Some of you have asked why I haven’t started up with the Magic Number countdown.
I suppose it’s because of the way this season has gone. It’s been an incredible six-month battle, starting with the news that Yu Darvish would be lost for the season and leading to a second straight year in which the Rangers have lost — by far — the most games to the disabled list of all 30 teams, highlighted by four months missed by the number two starter and three-plus by the number three starter, perhaps not surprisingly feeding the worst April in club history, plus a miserable gut-kick first half on both offense and defense by the $130 million right fielder and the $120 million shortstop, a closer who quickly lost his job and his roster spot in May, leading to a stretch during which he and the sophomore second baseman were sharing a Round Rock Express uniform because they weren’t getting the job done at the higher level.
The fact that Texas sits today where it is, a week and a half from 162+, makes it tough for me — at least this year — to be thinking about countdowns. This year has been just an awesome sports climb, and my eye is still on Houston, where the Rangers and Astros will tee it up for three after a Thursday afternoon on which Texas will spend one final day in Oakland and the Astros will play golf.
The Astros will never admit it, and they shouldn’t, but I bet there are folks in that uniform worried about how soon those next tee times might be.
There’s no way Houston expected before the season to be in a pennant race once the calendar turned to fall. You don’t schedule a golf tournament on a September 24 off-day if you dreamed every pitch would still matter.
But there’s also no way, in April or mid-May or late July, that the Rangers could have expected Friday and Saturday and Sunday to have this much riding on it, either.
Last year, on this date, I was writing about a search for a new manager and a new Class A affiliate.
This is more fun.
Cole Hamels has a chance to bump the Rangers’ lead over Houston to 3.5 games this afternoon, as Texas looks to sweep the A’s, and now it occurs to me that I haven’t even mentioned last night’s tremendous win.
So, hey, a list:
10: Texas runs last night, on the strength of three big innings
9: Rangers with base hits in the 10-3 win
8: The resulting Magic Number, I’m told
7: The staggering number of games Houston has lost to Texas in the standings in September alone (plummeting from a four-game lead to a three-game deficit)
6: Colby Lewis’s workmanlike warrior-beast innings last night (he went 3-0, 1.64 in five starts against Oakland this year, holding the A’s to a .153/.215/.225 slash line), giving him 196.0 frames for the year (as Eric Nadel pointed out on the radio broadcast, when Lewis logs 200 innings, Texas goes to the World Series)
4: The inning
3: The lead in the West, which is really the only number I care about now
2: The Rangers’ run differential for the season, finally a positive number; compare the Astros’ +93, which I suppose they can celebrate if they want, but going 9-29 in one-run games (including a shocking 0-8 in September) will throw the significance of those run-diff totals off
1: It’s Cole Hamels Day
Yeah, I know, I left “5” out. I guess I could have thrown in the measly number of times Rangers hitters went down on strikes last night, or the number of times the club came up with runners in scoring position (getting base hits in four of them), or a reminder of how many years Texas controls Sam Dyson after this one.
The truth is I skipped “5” because, at least at this moment in baseball time, I’m just not very good at countdowns.