“If you use your eyes and ears,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said on Sunday morning, “there’s reminders throughout your week that life’s short and you don’t call all the shots.”
He’d been asked to comment on the news that a boat accident had claimed Jose Fernandez’s life hours earlier.
The former Rangers hitting coach, who made a mark here in just one season and who had a huge impact on the man who now manages this club, continued: “It’s so horribly sad on so many different levels that there’ll be no more of that, there’ll be no more of him, there’ll be no more of that emotion on the mound, that skill set, that human being, that young man with such a gift, such a great smile.
“Be where your feet are,” Hurdle added. “Enjoy the moment. There’ll be a day where there won’t be another day.”
Two days before that, in a completely different context, I heard someone else tell a room of 100: “Be where your feet are.”
I’m sure the expression is more common than I realized, and I’d probably heard it before, but I didn’t remember ever hearing it when I did on Friday, and wrote it down so I would.
Then I heard it again Sunday, and it meant something entirely different.
Well, no, not an entirely different meaning. But a much different impact. Sports offers hope but it can tear your heart out, too, sometimes in ways you can’t fathom, or at least don’t want to.
I spent a couple days last week at Fall Instructional League in Surprise, something I’ve done every year since 2007, motivated that year to make the trip because of all the talent the Rangers had added in the few months leading up to it — including Mitch Moreland, Derek Holland, Blake Beavan, Tommy Hunter, Neil Ramirez, and Julio Borbon via the draft; Martin Perez, Tomas Telis, and Leury Garcia internationally; and Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Engel Beltre, and Max Ramirez in trades — and while I expected the talent level to be different in this 10th September trip to Arizona than it’s been most years, different due to big trades and late draft position and caps on international spending, I looked forward to it as much as ever.
There were drills and there were games and there were displays of talent to dream on, and there was the “Be where your feet are” message, a permission and persuasion to celebrate successes — a base hit or a chased slider, or two-tenths shaved off in the 60 or a new mark in the weight room — to celebrate all of those, along the way, in this game of failures.
Two days later, Marlins manager Don Mattingly spoke, through tears, of the joy that Fernandez played with, as much a signature of his game as the filthy stuff and 80-grade competitiveness. “When you watch kids in little league or something like that, that’s the joy that Jose played with. The passion he felt about playing — that’s what I think about.”
Brandon McCarthy said: “We were all jealous of his talent, but deep down I think we most envied the fun he had while doing something so difficult.”
Mattingly’s remarks and McCarthy’s tweet both expressed the type of thing people will say about Adrian Beltre in Cooperstown one of these days.
This year’s trip to Surprise ended with a table for 10 or so at The Brookside II to watch Texas vs. Oakland on Friday night.
It’s the same restaurant at which I’ve finished several trips to Instructs, including the one that ended on October 3, 2012.
The same restaurant.
With some of the same people.
What Ryan Dempster coughed up on that 2012 day in Oakland, Cole Hamels did not.
Beltre had three hits that day in 2012 (one off A’s starter A.J. Griffin), but none were bigger than the one he had Friday night, when he homered off Kendall Graveman in the seventh inning — the only frame in which Texas reached base at all, aside from a ninth-inning walk — to give his team a 3-0 lead that Hamels, Matt Bush, and Sam Dyson made stand up.
And that led to a baseball celebration reserved for moments when a team locks in the opportunity to move on . . . or when it wins the final game of the post-season, which will happen around here eventually.
The joy in the visitor’s clubhouse that night was something that 2012 club never got the chance to share. In spite of 93 wins that year, only two of those came in the final nine, and as a result on the last day of the season the Rangers fell out of first place for the first time since the season’s third day. And then Texas lost the Wild Card Game to Joe Saunders and the Orioles. There was never anything clinched, and no Ginger-Ale-and-champagne celebration in 2012.
There were three in 2010.
And three in 2011.
There’s been one in 2016. So far.
But in 2012, a great team — one featuring a roster Jon Daniels has since called, in his estimation, the Rangers’ best — never got to celebrate in that way, and that’s a shame.
A few weeks before Texas dropped seven of nine to land in that year’s Wild Card Game, Fernandez finished his Low A Greensboro/High A Jupiter season at 14-1, 1.75.
That winter, Jurickson Profar would grace the cover of Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook as the game’s number one prospect. Fernandez was number five.
But even though Fernandez hadn’t even reached AA when the 2012 season ended, in 2013 he was NL Rookie of the Year — and third in the Cy Young vote.
He wouldn’t have another healthy season until this year, when he might well have been — and could still be — on his way to another top three Cy Young finish.
You spend a couple days at Instructs and you see Alex Speas shoving 97-99 with a wipeout breaking ball, you see Brett Martin and Cole Ragans (with the exact same shoulder-hunch/torso-rock/full-extension mechanics as Hamels and nearly as wicked a two-plane curve) dealing and wonder how the new ballpark might favor left-handed pitchers, and you see David Garcia (b.2000) showing the tools that made him the most coveted catcher in this year’s J2 class, and you watch Leody Taveras (just named the Arizona League’s number one prospect by BA) and Jairo Beras and Josh Morgan sharing cuts in Cage 1, and you find yourself thinking about three or five years down the road, when the truth is that three or five days from now aren’t necessarily promised.
You see a Dad watching his kid play.
You see a Dad watching his kid coach.
And then you can’t stop thinking about a Grandmother watching her grandson pitch.
Some things that are never supposed to happen do.
Some things that everyone expects to happen don’t.
On one of the walls inside the Rangers’ Surprise complex, on the minor league side, is a display showing the dozens of players who began their Rangers careers without earning an assignment to a minor league club out of spring training, but in spite of being held back in extended spring training got to the big leagues. It’s meant to serve as motivation.
It’s also a reminder that there’s no sense bemoaning things when reality doesn’t yet match up with expectations, or feeling sorry for yourself, worrying about where the chips fell. A reminder to take on the challenge at hand without bitterness, to hit each mark with everything you’ve got, to celebrate each success along the path.
To be where your feet are.
The Rangers celebrated Friday night. Players and coaches and families — including Prince! (cold fusion) — celebrated, because there’s room in the game for joy, even moments that are just steps on a path.
Texas isn’t going to be satisfied with 2016 if that turns out to be the final celebration of its kind. But that’s no reason not to celebrate.
Even Beltre, whose moments of baseball joy are even evident on pop-ups between third and short and on rundowns when he’s the one in the helmet and on called strikes he doesn’t particularly care for, shows a different side when he gets the chance to put on goggles and shoot Moet & Chandon fireworks. I remember thinking the same thing about Michael Young.
I can only imagine what Jose Fernandez would have looked like celebrating a division title, or more. He never got that chance. And that sucks.
He played with joy. He brought us joy.
He was an expectant father, and that’s a joy he won’t get to experience. Hate that.
My plan was to come back home to write about Anderson Tejeda and Joe Palumbo and Taveras and Martin. Not about boats or “reminders that life’s short and you don’t call all the shots.”
I don’t know if any of the 80 or so players in Surprise had enough energy Friday night to find a TV somewhere and see Adrian and Prince and Cole and Yu and Banny celebrate, or if the minor league coaches and coordinators showed them a clip or two on Saturday morning, a clip or two showing players like Mazara and Gallo and Leclerc and Mendez who were at Instructs just two years ago, to help inspire those 80 in a way not even a wall display can.
I also don’t know whether any of them will jump one day from Class A to Rookie of the Year like Jose Fernandez did. It’s unlikely. But that’s not the goal.
The goal is to get better today. And then better than that tomorrow.
And to take joy in it.
It was a night of three’s.
All three Rangers pitchers were outstanding, particularly starter Martin Perez (7-4-2-2-0-2, 60 strikes out of 79 pitches, first-pitch strikes to 20 of 27 Angels), making a strong statement — at least at the moment — that the club could do worse than deploying Number 33 as its Number Three in the ALDS.
Three Rangers batted in the ninth, each singling. Elvis Andrus (three hits) and Ian Desmond (three hits), collaborated on the game’s final pitch — shortly after a 33-minute rain delay — to give Texas its third and decisive run.
Texas 3, Los Angeles 2, with Sam Dyson recording his third victory and Jose Alvarez suffering his third loss.
The game lasted three hours. Exactly.
And, with Seattle’s subsequent 3-2 loss to Toronto, the Rangers’ Magic Number dropped to 3, meaning there’s actually a chance to clinch at home before heading out for three final road games — as long as three teams (Texas, Seattle, Houston) all take nearly unmitigated chunks at that number today and tomorrow.
I don’t want to spend much time on the play on which Yunel Escobar was cut down trying for three but was awarded a return to second when a ball that wasn’t lodged was ruled “lodged” in New York, because the umpiring trio of Joe West, Kerwin Danley, and whoever was on replay duty on Manhattan’s 9th Avenue grabbed more than their share of the spotlight already.
But it did feel like a three-sided battle: the Angels vs. the Rangers vs. the umpires.
A battle of three. And a victory.
Shortly after Cliff Lee arrived in Texas in 2010, he had a five-game stretch as August came to an end in which he went 0-5, 8.28, getting tuned up at a slash rate of .333/.348/.538 by three good teams and two very bad ones.
Lee straightened things out over his final four regular season starts (3-1, 1.93, .189/.233/.295).
And then Lee was extraordinary in the post-season, particularly in the ALDS and ALCS, the franchise’s first ever playoff series wins (3-0, 0.75, .151/.161/.209, 34 strikeouts and one walk in 24 innings). Without him, the 2010 World Series would have gone on without Texas.
On Wednesday, Yu Darvish threw a bullpen on what would have been his day to start. He called it “the best bullpen of my life.”
And then last night (seven Oakland runs on seven hits [including two home runs] and four walks in five innings) happened.
It looked uncomfortably like three of Cole Hamels’s last four starts.
Chances are Hamels and Darvish will make two more starts each before the ALDS, when they’ll be tasked with starting at least half the team’s games and will need to be a whole lot better than they’ve been lately.
There’s time for Hamels and Darvish to straighten things out.
And there’s precedent to suggest we may look back one day and wonder how in the world those two number ones looked so vulnerable before the 162+ lights were turned on.
The finish was incredible and the crowd was insanely electric and JD’s fingerprints were all over this one, including the final kill shot, and it was emotional and dramatic and, finally, at the end, uplifting, and everyone piled together at center stage, bouncing up and down and celebrating with the rest of us.
And then “Heathers 101: High School Edition” was over, and we walked out of the auditorium out to the parking lot.
Zero exaggeration: We got in the car, and the radio came on with Eric Nadel in mid-sentence, calling Jonathan Lucroy’s walkoff shot.
That triggered the Pudge entry late last night, as Texas 7, Oakland 6 dropped the Rangers’ Magic Number to 7.
An hour after that: Houston 6, Seattle 0, and the Magic Number took another hit, sending me on the hunt for this photo:
It was Adi’s night and it was Trevor’s night and Erica’s night, too, and it was Jonathan’s night and Carlos & Carlos’s, and dozens of others on both stages. It was a night of #pizza7 and 7-Eleven, of fireworks and fireworks, and a night of #NeverEverQuit, and of “Lets make it beautiful.”
It was also a night of Chandler’s, at least for some of us, and the cool thing is we get to do it all over again tonight, and then tomorrow afternoon. There’s something super-special going on.
Quick work break. Wanted to hit on something to follow up on yesterday’s report, since – barring an unlikely tear by the Astros to move past at least four of the six teams ahead of them in the race for the two Wild Card spots followed by another necessary chain of events – Texas and Houston won’t share a field for another 227 days, at which point the following will serve only as motivation, rather than as evidence.
There is a faction of Astros fans, not to mention a player or two down there, advancing the position that luck has been a predominant factor in the Rangers’ domination of the 19-game series between the two teams in 2016.
A good Houston fan that I’ve known forever hangs on the fringes of that argument, but also points out the following:
Jose Altuve is a .341/.401/.551 (.952 OPS) hitter this season. He’s a legitimate MVP candidate.
Against Texas, in a reasonably significant 83 plate appearances, he was a .282/.386/.493 (.878) hitter.
A dropoff. Not a drastic one, necessarily, but Houston’s best player wasn’t at his best against Texas.
But how about the team’s second- and third-best players?
Carlos Correa (.271/.361/.453 [.814]) against the league: .159/.266/.188 (.454) in 79 trips against the Rangers.
George Springer (.254/.359/.455 [.814]) against the league: .165/.267/.342 (.608) in 90 times up against Texas.
And in an unrelated context that doesn’t advance the above narrative:
Carlos Gomez as an Astro: .210/.272/.322 (.594 OPS).
Carlos Gomez as an Astro against the Rangers: .111/.250/.259 (.509).
Carlos Gomez as a Ranger: .215/.329/.446 (.775 OPS).
Carlos Gomez as a Ranger against the Astros: .238/.360/.333 (.693).
So take heart, Houston fans: Carlos Gomez had has his own little dropoff as a Ranger when facing your team.
That had to feel really good for the Astros. Houston 8, Texas 4: Adrenalizing, cathartic, you-can-breathe-now stuff.
The Astros, whose fans didn’t have very good nights on Monday or on Tuesday, on the scoreboard or otherwise as their club dropped the first two of three as Texas came visiting the domed Inferiority Complex.
The Astros, who won their fourth and final matchup out of 19 against the Rangers in 2016, slightly less failed than their 2-17 mark in 2013 — unless you consider that the 2013 Astros lost 111 games, which in context (they are 72-55 this year when not playing Texas, compared to the Rangers’ 72-56 mark against other teams) makes this year’s spit-up against Texas a whole lot more failed.
The Astros, who said “no” to managerial candidate (and hometown product) Jeff Banister a month before the Rangers interviewed and hired him.
The Astros, whom Cole Hamels said “no” to nine months after that, days before he happily packed his bags for Texas.
The Astros, who then traded two of the key players they’d offered Philadelphia for Hamels (lefthander Josh Hader and outfielder Brett Phillips) to Milwaukee instead, getting Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers, one of whom has been a below-league-average starting pitcher and the other of whom the Astros gave up for nothing a month ago, after which the Rangers picked him up for next-to-nothing, getting .775 OPS production out of the 30-year-old, compared to the .594 he put up for the Astros.
Gomez has been vocal about the coaching and the culture in Texas and how both were new and refreshing changes from what he’d experienced in Houston.
In contrast, Colby Rasmus was vocal about the Rangers taking steps to get better at the trade deadline — acquiring Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran, both of whom Houston had reportedly checked in on — on the heels of sound-bite remarks by his general manager who made it pretty clear that he was more interested in years that didn’t end in ’16 and “wasn’t prepared” to move top prospects for pennant race help (even if controllable beyond this season).
(Never mind the $47.5 million spent this summer on Yulieski Gurriel for his age 32, 33, 34, 35, and 36 seasons. That doesn’t count because it doesn’t negatively impact those precious farm system rankings. Also: Peace out, Hooks. Thought you had those hated RockHounds. And go get ’em, JetHawks. Take the Blaze down and make the organization really super-turbo-proud.)
The Astros are really good right now, in spite of (1) their record against Texas and (2) what their own front office apparently thinks, at least when it’s publicly on-message.
The largest newspaper that covers the Astros started the season with a “Dallas sucks” hatepiece (the city, not the broken Astros ace), embarrassing clickbait that I’m not going to link here and that’s about as classy as fans throwing fruit and baseballs at Carlos Gomez.
Much more recently (this week, in fact, after Houston’s 14th loss of the season to Texas two nights ago), that same paper called the Rangers “the team from South Oklahoma,” which is smart, finely crafted, highbrow humor right there. Strong.
And Tuesday, a talk show host in Houston applauded Jason Castro’s bat to the back of Lucroy’s catching helmet, adding: “Lucroy looks like a scraggly dirtbag. He doesn’t fit the mold of the Astros.”
I’m just glad the Astros didn’t feel Jeff Banister was the best fit for their mold, and that Cole Hamels wasn’t digging that mold, either.
As Joe Sheehan points out, the Rangers went 10-1 against Houston this year in games decided by one run or in extra innings — and that that nine-win gap is virtually what separates the two teams.
Is that luck? Lance McCullers Jr. thinks so. (Other Astros may, too, but McCullers went to the air with it: “They get lucky a lot against us.”) I suppose Ken Giles agrees, since he proclaimed after Texas won the first seven match-ups of the season that Houston “ha[d] more talent” than the Rangers, whom he and his boys were fixin’ to “go out there and put . . . to the ground.”
In the remaining three games of that early June series and in each of the ensuing three-game series between the teams, Houston won once and Texas won twice, a collective 4-8 stretch that left the Astros 4-15 against Texas for the year. I wasn’t sure what “put to the ground” meant, but that clears things up.
In two of those final three series that the Astros dropped to Texas two games to one, including this week’s, they nonetheless outscored the Rangers, run-diff’ing the best team in the American League while the Rangers were busy win-diff’ing them.
I don’t have a good feel for what the team culture is like in Houston. I’m a big fan of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and George Springer and Alex Bregman and Chris Devenski, but it seems like the time-tested way to win with guys like that, in the stage of the career they’re at, is to have veteran leaders around who have been through the wars and can help set a tone.
Gomez raves about the Texas clubhouse. Beltran says the looseness of the room is in direct contrast to how quiet and tight it was in New York.
Mark DeRosa says of the eight teams he played for, “none treats their players better than the Texas Rangers.”
That’s been a few years, you say? DeRosa adds that Ian Desmond, a player he helped steer toward Texas seven months ago, says he’s never had as much fun playing the game as he’s having now, with this group of players and coaches.
And then there’s Lucroy, who this week told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times: “The veteran leadership here, on the players’ side, is just astounding. And the coaching staff is awesome. They let Adrian [Beltre] run the clubhouse, and it’s a tight ship. Guys watch what he does: He plays every single day hard. Guys take that example, and they follow it.”
Who’s that guy in Houston?
Does it matter to the Jeff Luhnow front office if that guy isn’t there?
Houston is missing some things, it would seem, though even its holes would have been masked had the club just been able to handle the Rangers at a level anywhere close to the way it’s handled the rest of the league.
Big win last night for the Astros, who go into 2017 with a one-game win streak against those cross-state rivals that hammered them all season long (again), and who hold steady in the sixth spot vying for two AL Wild Card berths — a position they’d be as far from as South Oklahoma if they managed to merely split this year’s head-to-head with the Rangers.
See ya again on May 1st, Houston. Go get the Mariners, even if you have to do it without Altuve and without Bregman.
And Go JetHawks.
So . . .
Wins come in all kinds of different forms, as therefore do losses, and if I were blogging the Astros season I don’t know that I’d have the will to write this one up.
Though, really, as new as the story line might have been Monday night, it was true to the formula, and I’m not sure I’d even have the strength to watch games against Texas if Houston were my team.
(Speaking of which, I know that when Nolan Ryan was with Rangers management, he insisted on attendance numbers reflecting actual bodies in seats rather than tickets sold. There’s just no way that’s the measure in Houston, which announced 22,147 on hand for last night’s game, which would be more than 52 percent capacity. As sparse as the crowd looked for this game against the Astros’ chief rival with the club hanging desperately onto playoff hopes, if this were “Price Is Right,” that first digit is the one I’d submit was false.)
There’s a lot I could comment about as far as Texas 4, Houston 3 (12) is concerned, but I could just as easily start and finish this report the way Heidi Watney opened the Texas-Houston highlights package overnight on MLB Network’s “Quick Pitch”:
“So . . . yeah.”
Probably today’s entry if I were writing with Astros-tint glasses on.
The game started with Carlos Gomez showered (don’t let that term exaggerate the numbers on hand) with boos, just as he was the last time he’d been in that ballpark, then wearing the home white-and-orange.
And, because of course, after watching Doug Fister’s first pitch for a strike, Gomez worked a walk.
Gomez’s final 25 Houston plate appearances were all at-bats. Not a single base on balls.
Included in that stretch were four hitless trips to the plate on August 5 against Texas: a groundout, foul popout, and strikeout facing Martin Perez, and a flyout to right off of Tony Barnette. Gomez only pinch-ran in the remainder of that three-game series.
Meanwhile, Gomez has started all but one game in his three weeks with Texas. His walk rate (14.5 percent of his plate appearances) is more than double what it was this year with Houston (6.5 percent). He has cut his strikeout-to-walk rate in half (4.76 vs. 2.40). In a little more than a fifth of the plate appearances, he has four home runs with the Rangers, compared to five with the Astros. He’s been more reliable defensively.
In his first moment in Minute Maid Park since being released, and in the first moment of this series, far more critical for one team than the other, Gomez walked, and that was just about perfect.
And the final moment of Texas 4, Houston 3 featured Jared Hoying, whom Jeff Banister, prioritizing defense, stuck with through two extra-inning at-bats (nearly rewarded with a two-run home run to pad the 12th-inning lead Rougned Odor’s blast had built), charging in on George Springer’s flare down the right field line, intercepting the ball’s path to the grass just as Odor was arriving as well, and leaping on the run not only to avoid a collision with Odor but to glove the ball in a pocket of air space that Odor’s glove couldn’t reach or spoil.
That catch, sealing Jake Diekman’s fourth save and the Rangers’ 14th win over the Astros this season in 17 opportunities, went the Rangers’ way, sort of epitomizing Texas vs. Houston in 2016.
Sam Dyson blew the save when Evan Gattis destroyed an inside 1-1 fastball, tying things at 3-3 with one out in the ninth, and while it was Dyson’s first run allowed in three weeks (seven straight scoreless efforts), in a way that was also emblematic of Texas-Houston there was some residual benefit.
One, it gave Keone Kela an opportunity to right himself after bad outings Tuesday and Saturday in Seattle and Anaheim. He faced eight Astros in the 10th and 11th, issuing one walk and permitting one hit (an infield single that might have been a 4-3 putout had he not stuck his pitching hand out and deflected the ball) while fanning the insanely hot Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa.
Two, it gave Diekman the chance to reverse a two-week trend of uncharacteristic ineffectiveness (four games, nine of 12 batters reaching safely — four on extra-base hits and four on walks, .625/.750/1.375 slash, 45 percent strike rate).
Diekman saw three batters, starting each with strike one.
Flyout to left.
Flyout to center.
Flyout to right, with Hoying grabbing it over Odor as if he were finishing off a posterizing Lob City dime.
Three, after Fister gave Houston only five frames, A.J. Hinch entrusted an inning to each of his winning bullpen pieces (Chris Devenski, Michael Feliz, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris) before handing the ball to Ken Giles in the 10th, a sound baseball move in what was a 3-3 game since the home team can’t record a save in extra innings.
Having already expended Devenski, Feliz, Gregerson, and Harris — and not going to Pat Neshek for what would have been his first back-to-back-nights assignment since June 2 — Hinch sent Giles back out for the 11th after his 11-pitch 10th.
Giles retired the Rangers in order, as he’d done in his first frame, but it put 26 pitches of mileage on his arm, and now Giles may not be available tonight (or, theoretically, not at his sharpest if used).
Potentially being without your best pitcher in the second game of this huge series, having used him for two innings in a loss . . . .
So . . . yeah.
Whether Giles is out tonight or not, the possibility that Diekman and Kela might have turned a corner with their extra-inning work last night is super-encouraging, as this club marches toward 162+.
(Hey: Post-season T-shirts!)
Buster Olney tweeted this morning: “When HOU/TEX haven’t played each other in ’16, HOU 72-55, TEX 72-56. But Texas [is] 14-3 vs. [the] Astros and has singlehandedly wrecked their season.”
Those final four words scream hyperbolic cliché, but they’re right on in this case and, basically, inescapably true.
Texas, alone, and in all kinds of ways, has wrecked Houston’s 2016 season.
I haven’t even made mention of what Martin Perez and Jonathan Lucroy did last night, and both were arguably as big a part of the story as anyone.
I could have said a lot more about Odor’s night, which featured three more hits (run-scoring double, run-scoring single, flyout, walk, and the decisive homer — his third extra-inning game-winner this year) and padded his .333/.348/.697 season line against Houston in 69 plate appearances.
I could have spent time examining the 0-for-18 (with six strikeouts) to which the Texas staff held Houston’s formidable 1 through 4 hitters — Springer, Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Correa — on a night when even a little bit of production from those four could have changed the result.
There’s much more I could have written about Texas 4, Houston 3 from the Rangers’ standpoint.
If I were writing it from an Astros perspective, I’m afraid I’ve had said a whole lot less.