The last time the Rangers transitioned into a new ballpark, they left behind a building and a uniform color scheme and Nolan Ryan.
Ryan’s final Major League Uniform Player’s Contract was replaced with a personal services contract with the organization. Blue was replaced with red. Arlington Stadium was replaced, to the south, by The Ballpark in Arlington.
Nolan threw out the first pitch at the first game (an exhibition, to be exact, on April 1, 1994 against the Mets) in the new confines.
When the turnstiles open up for next building, on April 1, 2021, give or take a few days, I don’t know if the uniforms will have changed.
I also don’t know if the roof will be closed, but only because I don’t know if there’s rain in the forecast.
And I don’t know if Adrian Beltre will trot out to third base and if Colby Lewis will toe the rubber that day, in front of 44,000, facing southwest rather than northwest, but there’s only one reason I can think of not to have Beltre, ball in hand, double-tap his right foot on the bag and fire the ball to the mound with more uncalled-for velocity than Lewis has left in his own tank, and then have Lewis kick and deliver home to Michael Young, painting, after which Lewis meets Young, not halfway, but instead vectored to a point between the mound and dugout, on the way to which Lewis walks slowly, dominantly and almost unnaturally slowly, with baseball glove transfered to the grip of his right hand as his left index finger dutifully sweeps his brow.
And that’s if Colby Lewis’s bionic baseball body is still fully suited up as he lines the first base chalk with his teammates.
Unlikely, but maybe no more so than what he’s doing right now (3-0, 2.75, eight quality starts out of nine, .242/.284/.411) with a repaired elbow and repaired shoulder and re-repaired elbow and uniquely repaired hip.
I don’t have it in me to bet against Adrian, either.
They’re both freaks, and artists.
The new building will be Rougie’s and Nomar’s, and maybe Joey’s and maybe Dillon’s and maybe, we can hope, Yu’s.
It will be Ray and Bob and Neil’s and it will be Banny’s and it will be yours and mine and, in some capacity, it will be Michael’s and Adrian’s and Colby’s.
I don’t know if Colby Lewis’s jersey will look different that day.
Perhaps more to the point, I don’t know whether it will be accompanied by some weathered boots and a pair of Levi’s, or a pair of the home whites worn down to the cleats that, for now, cover one of the last remaining parts of the right-handed warrior’s body that hasn’t been broken and newly constructed, brought back to almost unthinkably steady and unassumingly dominant life.
Maybe you’re not old enough to remember those 1970s Hot Wheels race tracks that had crossing lanes. You’d spend a lifetime (a childhood, really, but what was the difference?) trying to reenact the commercial and have those cars cross intersecting paths at a million blinding miles per second while still grabbing the plastic road and skillfully avoiding collision, when truthfully the triumph was in just staying on the track while, on occasion, trading lanes.
Sitting back and watching the race without having to chase upended cars or losing interest, whichever came first, might not have made a great TV spot, but it was success.
Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots: Knock the head off the opponent, game over. Drop the mic, street cred for days.
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. Useful.
Lite-Brite refills, allow 6-8 weeks for delivery. Patience.
Etch-A-Sketch: Part of that weird period of English construction (Choc-O-Lunch cookies??), but solid. Precision. Station to station.
Chutes and Ladders: Don’t roll a 5 or that center-cut fastball is gonna basically drop you off the board.
View Master felt like the future. More, please.
Keep overusing that Brick Red and that Midnight Blue, tempting as it is, and your 64-man roster is going to be compromised. Cadet blue just isn’t the same.
For fun, it’s a wonderful toy.
It’s fun for a girl and a boy.
Worst walk-up music ever.
And like, the Hot Wheels track, never quite lived up to its marketed billing.
Mouse Trap, on the other hand: Underrated.
Longball Baseball, Go for Broke, Super Slam/Super Toe, Go to the Head of the Class, and Yahtzee, too.
The bottom of the roster counts.
Texas and Toronto were both swept in their series immediately after throwing down with each other. An 0-6 record, outscored 50-14.
So much for the galvanizing effect.
One of those teams, for what it’s worth in mid-May, is relatively healthy but four games under .500, and a half-game out of last place in its division.
The other, still somewhat decimated, is three games over .500, and a game out of first.
The current focal point in Texas, the bullpen, . . . .
It will be better.
This team hasn’t yet found that click-rhythm, that run of consistency in all phases that leads to eight-game winning streaks and 14 of 17.
The Rangers have spent 23 days in first place, and 23 days not.
Today they’re not.
But Shin-Soo Choo is apparently a day away, Yu Darvish a start away, and Sam Dyson may have a few saves in the meantime.
Texas might enter the weekend back in first place. Might not.
There have been ladders and there have been chutes. They’ve wobbled. Haven’t fallen down. Rocked ’em, socked ’em, have turned the bullpen Etch-A-Sketch upside down and shaken.
Some refills have arrived, some are on the way, and there’s more in that View Master if you want to take a peek.
Bottom line? Texas is still very much on track, trading lanes occasionally, moving forward. Can’t complain.
Just waiting for that blinding tear.
I’ve been on record for years, and as late as yesterday’s seventh inning, that as much as we as Rangers fans can’t stand Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, I’d take them on my team in a second. I like good baseball players who bring an edge to the game.
Well, after yesterday, this is as close to a sports-lock as it gets: It’s not ever happening.
And though you’d be hard pressed to find one admitting it in the last 15 hours, I bet, deep down, there are diehard Blue Jays fans that would love to have Rougned Odor on their team.
We get territorial. That’s part of why sports grabs us in the first place, eh?
Would I trade circumstances right now with Toronto — for my team to have been the one whose bat flip moment led to an ALCS date with the Royals, and the one whose dirty play on Sunday led to my guy(s) getting embarrassed on the judges’ cards and on the scoreboard, boarding a Sunday evening flight to Tampa a season-high 5.5 games back in the division?
My team had ALCS tickets printing and let the other team take that away.
Yesterday was energizing for so many reasons, but let’s face it: Texas came back to win a series against the Jays, but not that kind of series.
OK. Enough of the rational stuff.
When Matt Bush came on to relieve a struggling Tom Wilhelmsen in the top of the seventh, inheriting a two-run deficit and a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in what was his second big league appearance, he struck Darwin Barney out looking, gave up a run-scoring sac fly to Kevin Pillar, and got Donaldson to sky out to center himself.
With the score Toronto 6, Texas 3 at that point, I wasn’t really joking when I tweeted: “Whaddaya say we get Matt Bush his first win?”
I didn’t say it with a lot of conviction, but, hey, you know: Twitter.
Then, in the Texas half of the seventh: Double. Single. Run-scoring double play groundout. Now it’s 6-4, but the bases are clean. A little demoralizing.
But with those two outs: Walk. Infield single. Ian Desmond bomb.
Texas 7, Toronto 6.
Bush in line for a flippin’ win.
And, given the state of the Texas pen (with Shawn Tolleson unavailable), the 30-year-old rookie was sent back out for the eighth to preserve the lead he’d just been given.
The top of the eighth lasted 10 pitches.
And, seemingly, an hour and a half.
The most descriptive account of what would then go down was delivered by WFAA Sports writer Levi Weaver. I’m going to try and be more succinct.
Bush’s first pitch of the eighth traveled 97 miles per hour on a direct line from the righty’s hand to the velcro cyclone around Bautista’s elbow.
Texas, minutes after regaining an emotional lead in front of 40,000-plus, put the tying run on base to lead off the eighth.
And 40,000-plus cheered.
Because sports fans, by and large, have a hockey mentality, and long memories, many with an irrepressible urge to maintain both.
That’s not a criticism. It’s in me, no doubt.
Bush then threw three balls outside the zone to Edwin Encarnacion, followed by strike one looking, strike two swinging, and a flyout to left.
Jake Diekman was brought in to face Justin Smoak.
Bush exited to wild cheers.
Ball one. Ball two. And then a bounder to Adrian Beltre’s left.
Beltre snared it on the run and darted the ball to Odor in an effort to start an inning-ending, lead-preserving twin-killing.
And by “darted,” I don’t mean “fired.” I mean “threw like a dart towards a dartboard.”
By time Beltre’s throw reached Odor, somewhat low and inside the bag, Bautista was bearing in on him, with no less premeditation about what he was doing than anything that was in Bush’s head when the inning’s first pitch was delivered a few minutes earlier.
Then, as artistically rendered by local baseball coach and T-Shirt designer Paul Ylda, this happened: https://teespring.com/thepunch051516
As Weaver wrote: “What happened next, you’ve already seen a hundred times by now, so let me do my best to put words to it: Rougned Odor got elected into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.”
(Here’s an angle of all of it you may not have seen. Stick with the video to the end to see what Russell Martin did the next half-inning.)
I’ve never seen Twitter, at least in the algorithms that populate my timeline, more frenzied. Not in October. Not in 2011. Not ever, I’m pretty sure.
This is where I’m not going to revert to lengthy memory or a hockey mindset to comment.
I get emotional in this space all the time, which is why you should go to your favorite beat writers for information. I’m not a journalist.
My emotions on this are no more informed than yours, no more acute. Probably no less, but likely no more. You know how you feel, I know how I feel, and there’s a real good chance nobody’s going to change that.
I’m right there with NBC Sports columnist Craig Calcaterra, who wrote this morning: “There was last night and certainly still will be today . . . an effort by columnists, pundits, radio hosts and fans to portray who among [Odor and Bautista and Bush] was worse. Resist that urge and ignore people with hot takes about who was so very wrong and who was so very right. . . . . Calcaterra’s First Rule of Sports Opinion is that one’s opinion on any sports controversy can invariably be determined by one’s rooting interest in the participants of the controversy. It’s no different here. If you’re a Rangers or a Blue Jays fan, save it. You’re blinded by the laundry.”
You’d hate Odor if he were the opponent.
He’s not. And that’s awesome.
(Yahoo’s Jeff Passan last night: “One scout when Rougned Odor debuted: ‘The thing I love about him the most is you do not want to [expletive] with him.’ That’s a good scout.”)
Saturday was Rougned Odor Bobblehead Day at Globe Life Park. Sunday, on the other hand, . . . nah, I’m not gonna say it.
The flip side (sorry) is that Jays fans would despise Bautista (whose reputation, at least before yesterday, was far more cemented than Odor’s) if he were on any of the other four big league clubs he’s played for (including Jeff Banister’s 2004-08 Pirates) or any of the 25 who have yet to put a uniform on him. He’s consistent. Though he said repeatedly in October and over the winter that he expected retribution for his Game Five hammer throw and that he’d wear it, nobody really thought he’d really take the ball off his elbow armor and consider it done. Odor was clearly ready for the dirty slide, because of who was sliding.
It would be gratuitous at this point for me to toss in this Calcaterra line: “Bautista dropping the ‘play the game the right way’ bomb after the game last night is one of the more hilarious things I’ve heard in a long time.”
Maybe even more gratuitous, cheap almost, to point out that Donaldson had zero hits in the three-game series.
Your opinions right now on Banister and John Gibbons, whatever they were, are probably firmed up this morning. They are for me.
You will never again be ambivalent about Marcus Stroman, who’s a really great pitcher and sort of outspoken.
Maybe Stroman wishes he hadn’t sent that tweet before getting on his plane. Maybe he doesn’t. There will be no such mixed feelings in show prep meetings today.
Like Calcaterra said, national media voices will inevitably raise today, taking sides. In some contexts, this is bona fide ratings- and click-driving theater. Hey, it’s gonna suck me in until Sean Manaea delivers a pitch a little after 9:00 local time tonight, playing in Oakland before a soft multiple of the number of uniforms that were on the field in Arlington in yesterday’s eighth.
But those takes aren’t going to sway you, and they don’t really matter. That goes for this column, too.
Order was temporarily restored. Jesse Chavez made Prince Fielder laugh with a post-warning ejection pitch to the backside, Texas eventually put two men on, but pushed none across in its half of the eighth.
With Tolleson shut down for the day, Sam Dyson trotted from the bullpen to the diamond for the third time in less than hour, this time handed the ball.
With the cut across his right cheek swabbed down, Dyson started Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Saunders and the fully unbuttoned Martin off with strikes, inducing groundouts to third, second, and short in a matter of eight pitches, and the most quiet and eerily anticlimactic save of a one-run game between teams that clearly hate one another seemed to take about 20 seconds.
Texas 7, Toronto 6 put the Rangers back in first place in the division for the first time in almost two weeks, which drew almost as much notice as the fact that Keone Kela was there yesterday and evidently kept himself in check.
The first place result, of course, is exponentially less meaningful than what the consequence of Toronto 6, Texas 3 was on October 14, a game that also featured Bautista and Odor and Dyson in roles that one fan base will never forget, and that the other one won’t, either.
But signature moments don’t always have a stage set.
Ian Desmond wasn’t there in October, but you think Beltre is glad that beast is now on his team?
Bryan Holaday wasn’t there, but you think he’s relieved that Dyson isn’t on someone else’s team?
Nomar Mazara wasn’t there, but you think he’s happy that he plays for Banister?
[insert name of anyone else who wasn’t a Ranger in October] wasn’t there, but you think he’s fired up to share a uniform with Odor?
Matt Bush wasn’t there — he was getting his release from a halfway house in October and throwing in a Golden Corral parking lot in Jacksonville for Rangers officials Josh Boyd, Jake Krug, Brett Campbell, Josiah Igono, and Roy Silver — but do you think he earned something Sunday as far as his new teammates, his first as a big leaguer, are concerned?
Toronto can keep Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson.
I’ll keep my team, and a lot of the rest to myself.
When I sat down to write on Wednesday morning, and suggested that the Rangers designate righthander Anthony Ranaudo for assignment, recall lefthander Andrew Faulkner, option outfielder Delino DeShields to AAA (without waiting for Shin-Soo Choo’s activation), and purchase the contract of non-roster outfielder Jared Hoying, there were two things I absolutely didn’t anticipate:
1. That the White Sox, who worked five walks off Ranaudo in the space of seven hitters 10 hours earlier, would help Texas remove the 26-year-old from the roster by trading for him days later.
2. That the Rangers felt Matt Bush was ready to join the big club.
Texas did exchange Ranaudo for Faulkner later in the day on Wednesday, and optioned DeShields this afternoon, but filled the 40-man roster spot vacated by Ranaudo and the 25-man roster spot vacated by DeShields by making Bush a Major Leaguer for the first time, 11 years and 11 months and six days, one DUI prison term, and one position change since he was the top pick in the amateur draft, a high school shortstop whose name was called first in the 2004 draft by his hometown San Diego Padres.
I’m happy Faulkner is back in the big leagues. I’m happy DeShields is in Round Rock, because I think this could be what he needs to rehabilitate his game. I’m even happy for Ranaudo, because he’s going to get a chance with Chicago, all other things being equal, before he was ever going to get another chance here.
But I’m happier for Matt Bush, and if you’re a believer in second chances . . . .
The man has done everything the Rangers insisted that he do, and not just when the uniform was on, since he signed a minor league deal with Texas on December 18 — three years to the day after he was sentenced to prison for driving under the influence and causing serious bodily injury in an auto accident in Florida.
In 17 innings out of the Frisco bullpen, he scattered nine hits and four walks, fanning 18. And he’s been exemplary off the field, by all accounts.
The Rangers also signed veteran righthander Kyle Lohse today to a minor league deal, reportedly carrying a June 1st opt-out. We can talk about that another time.
They’re expecting huge crowds tonight and this weekend in Arlington, as the Rangers host Toronto for the first time since October. Hockey is over and basketball is over and it’s the Blue Jays.
The last professional baseball Matt Bush played before this season was in a minor league game against those same Blue Jays, on March 16, 2012. It was six days before the auto accident.
Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were on that Toronto club and in that day’s lineup, but by time Bush came on to pitch the seventh, he was asked to face Ben Francisco (who had replaced Bautista) and Mike McDade (who had replaced Adam Lind) and David Cooper (who had replaced Encarnacion). Bush retired all three. None are still around in affiliated ball.
It’s going to be more crowded in Arlington tonight and tomorrow and Sunday than it’s ever been in a baseball game Matt Bush played in. At times it will be louder than anything he’s ever experienced as a player. Maybe even as he takes that walk from the home dugout to the home bullpen, dutifully wearing the pink backpack, even though only 11 of his two dozen teammates are older than he is.
DeShields is now in Round Rock, replaced in center field by a former shortstop.
But he’s also replaced on the active roster by a former shortstop, and I didn’t see that coming this quickly.
He had a shockingly strong rookie campaign, but his sophomore season got off to a start that went from rocky to worse. He wasn’t hitting, he was sloppy and unreliable defensively, and then he was sitting.
And on May 11, he was optioned for the first time, shipped to AAA.
That was Rougned Odor, one year ago today.
Batting an anemic .144/.252/.233, Odor went down to Round Rock, took the demotion as a challenge rather than as a sentence, hit .352/.426/.639 over 30 games, and returned to Texas on June 15.
Odor hit .292/.334/.527 the rest of way for the Rangers, and then put up an .881 OPS in the ALDS. All told since his five-week trip to the Pacific Coast League that kicked off a year ago today, he’s a .297/.335/.534 big league hitter.
When Odor was optioned last May 11, Texas purchased the contract of journeyman Tommy Field to help hold second base down. The move was clearly designed to get Odor going, not to get Field to the big leagues.
But when Odor returned in mid-June, the move was made, at least in part, based on something other than his own timetable. Delino DeShields had strained a hamstring, forcing a DL move.
It’s May 11 again, and today’s report is not about Rougned Odor. It’s about the other guy.
It’s May 11, and I’d like to see DeShields optioned for the first time, shipped to AAA.
For the good of the team and, hopefully, of the player.
The way you keep Nomar Mazara’s bat in the lineup when Shin-Soo Choo returns from his rehab assignment is to put them on the outfield corners, and make Ian Desmond the everyday center fielder.
You won’t lose anything defensively in center. Desmond — whose experience in the outfield isn’t that much less than DeShields’s — is the better defender of the two right now, in just about every category.
The arrival of Drew Stubbs, a capable center fielder for the bench, means you don’t need to wait for Choo to farm DeShields out.
And I promise: This is the report I planned to write this morning well before Ryan Rua obliterated righthander Matt Albers’s two-out, 1-2 fastball over the center field fence to give Texas its most dramatic comeback moment of the season, and its largest since August 1, 2012, when Rua was in his first full pro season, playing third base for Short-Season A Spokane, and DeShields was in his second, playing second base for Low A Lexington and High A Lancaster.
Coming into last night’s eighth, which Texas entered down, 11-6, Albers had allowed one earned run in 15.2 2016 innings. He’d held righthanders to a .189/.250/.216 average in 40 plate appearances.
Rua, largely called upon against left-handed starters this year, had hit .160/.192/.200 off righties in 26 trips.
But he got the chance in the eighth, almost out of necessity, and he took advantage of it.
I’m more than OK letting Rua face anyone for a few days, while Choo rounds back into game shape.
But this report isn’t about Ryan Rua, either.
I would option DeShields this morning. I’ve been leaning that way for a couple weeks.
He’s taking third strikes and bad routes. He’s swinging for the fences when that’s not his game. He’s tentative in the field and, suddenly and stunningly, tentative on the bases.
Call Andrew Faulkner up, and designate Anthony Ranaudo for assignment — I have doubts as to whether he’d be claimed on waivers, and regardless, given his five-walk fourth (immediately after Bryan Holaday’s three-run homer tied the game), the manager and pitching coach aren’t going to trust Ranaudo to get any pivotal outs anytime soon.
(Opposite case with Alex Claudio, who was sensational in what looked like mop-up duty and ended up absolutely earning the improbable win and the trust of the manager. If he gets optioned today to get a second fresh arm up here — hopefully not necessary given that Cole Hamels is starting and the team is off tomorrow — he’ll be back.)
Moving Ranaudo off the 40-man roster allows you to purchase either Jared Hoying or James Jones, neither of whom in on the 40-man.
While Stubbs’s presence doesn’t make it as important to get another center fielder up here if DeShields is sent out, you do want another outfielder available aside from Stubbs, and while putting Hoying on the roster, especially if it’s just for a few days (until Choo returns), means he could end up taking up a spot on the 40 all season, the 26-year-old (27 next week) can leave as a six-year free agent this winter if not on the roster. He’s had a very good start to his fourth AAA season (.279/.391/.532, 15 extra-base hits and 19 walks in 30 games, plus seven stolen bases), plays all three outfield spots, and I’m not sure what DeShields does — right now, at least — that Hoying (who’s played all three outfield spots this year, and primarily center) can’t.
Hoying will be gone this winter anyway if he’s not rostered in advance. He’s earned an opportunity to compete for big league work, whether it’s here or somewhere else. If he comes up here and, as 60-day DL players like Robinson Chirinos and Tanner Scheppers and Keone Kela and Josh Hamilton need reentry onto the roster, eventually gets designated for assignment and lost on waivers or traded, then his departure would be accelerated by a few months. OK.
Or maybe he does enough good things here in the meantime, and he stays.
But this report isn’t about Jared Hoying.
It’s about a player whose actions look tentative, whose confidence looks shot, whose body language suggests that he’s not so sure he’s the player he was a year ago, and whose production suggests just that.
Challenging DeShields with a AAA assignment could pay dividends down the road.
Hope so, at least.
That’s what this report is about.
Desmond in center, Mazara in right, Rua in left. Stubbs and Hoying on the bench. One of them starting against certain lefties, with Rua moving to first base.
Mazara to left, and Hoying back to AAA, when Choo returns to reclaim right field.
Delino DeShields in Round Rock, leading off and playing center field every day. Asked to get bunts down. Running again. Taking charge defensively. Refinding the edge he played with last summer, when he was so important to this team’s success.
The league has adjusted to DeShields. It’s his turn to respond, and that process should start in the Pacific Coast League.
DeShields can return when the time is right. In the meantime, if a stint 200 miles south motivates the second-year player and gets him going again, much as a reassignment to AAA a year ago today did for another second-year player, then the big club will be better off for it in the long run — and, the way things have been going, may not suffer for it in the meantime.
On Friday . . . .
Richardson High School righthander Jose Padilla: Complete-game win (one earned run) in the Eagles’ playoff opener, a 13-4 win over Irving Nimitz.
Low A Hickory righthander Erik Swanson: Goes 5-1-0-0-1-7, improving his record to 3-0, 1.03 with 14 hits — all singles — and six walks allowed in 26.1 innings (.151/.202/.151), with 26 strikeouts. He’s making himself a legitimate prospect.
High A High Desert righthander Cole Wiper: Pitches into the fifth inning, holding Rancho Cucamonga to two runs in a 7-2 Mavericks win. Not his cleanest effort of the season, but he’s pitching in a tough environment and working toward rehabilitating his prospect status.
AA Frisco righthander Connor Sadzeck: Improves to 4-0, 2.60 (.179/.263/.299) with a dominant 7-2-1-1-3-9 effort in San Antonio, punching out a career-high nine and helping to push the RoughRiders’ record to 21-6. He’ll pitch in the Major Leagues this summer. For someone.
AAA Round Rock righthander Yu Darvish: Ramps up to three innings, throws 50 pitches, sitting 94-96, touching 97. Looks great. He’s going to return to the big league rotation, soon.
Texas Rangers lefthander Cole Hamels: Seven strong. Allows a hit to the first batter he faces (an Ian Kinsler single to right), and that’s it (7-1-0-0-2-9). Season-high nine strikeouts. Career-best 11-game win streak in the regular season, which is the second longest active streak in the big leagues. Team undefeated the five times Hamels has pitched after a Rangers loss (4-0, 3.15, with one no-decision).
Seventh time in franchise history a Rangers pitcher allows one hit in seven-plus with at least nine punchouts.
The previous two were turned in by Darvish.
Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, together for the first time.
Won’t be long.
Wednesday I was cleared to drive, for the first time in almost two months. It was weird and it was awesome.
The second time I got behind the wheel was yesterday afternoon. On my way to physical therapy, I flipped around XM Radio — which had been one of the casualties of having to rely on others to drive me around all this time — and the song that came on Channel 26, as I pulled into a parking spot, was “Destroyer” by the Kinks.
I smiled at the randomness of that 1981 song, which I’d wager I hadn’t heard in 10 years (and which I always thought was called “Paranoia”), finding me a few hours before I’d be heading to an event hosted by the good folks at Paranoid Fan.
The gathering last night at the Blind Butcher was super cool and helped take the sting out of the most lopsided Rangers loss of the season. By time the Blues scored 10 minutes into Game 4 to take a 1-0 lead on the Stars, Derek Holland was already done for the night in Toronto, handing an 11-1 deficit off to Cesar Ramos with the third inning still going.
Stay in control.
It’s been such a great hockey season. But when St. Louis stole Game 2 in overtime to tilt home ice advantage in its favor, and then in Game 3 took it to Dallas with more decisive force than the Jays’ assault on Holland, the sense that the series and the season were slipping away was sorta tough to dismiss. Blues 6, Stars 1 felt uncomfortably conclusive.
And then, last night, 45 minutes after Cody Eakin and Patrick Sharp each missed point-blank opportunities to give Dallas a lead in the third, the same two connected three minutes into overtime. Dallas 3, St. Louis 2, home ice back in hand.
Ye (we) of little faith.
The hockey team washed Game 3 off, even if most of us couldn’t.
Texas draws the insanely dominant Jordan Zimmermann in Detroit tonight.
But the Tigers draw Cole Hamels.
Zimmermann and Hamels were in the NL East together for seven seasons. Zimmermann faced Hamels’s Phillies 14 times but matched up with him just once.
That was four years ago today. Hamels went eight strong and got the 9-3 win. Zimmermann went a decent six and took the loss.
That Phillies-Nationals game, you might argue, has as much bearing on tonight’s Rangers-Tigers opener as Toronto 12, Texas 2. Game 4 in St. Louis wasn’t exactly the foregone conclusion that Game 3 promised.
Getting around the great Jonah Keri last night made the baseball game easier to endure. No matter how much you think of that guy, and I think a whole lot of him myself, there’s another level that he’s headed toward. Fired up.
Same with Jake Kemp. Sky’s the limit.
And the folks who launched Paranoid Fan. They’re doing things that haven’t been done and that should be, and they have the right people executing the vision.
Don’t mean to leave you out of this, Sean Bass, but you can be strong to quite strong already and that’s hardly a knock. #Elvisball
The baseball team has another gear, too. It’s in the thick of the race, there are impact players close to returning, and there will be impact help arriving in July, too, as there always is around here.
The offense can be better. The rotation can be better. The bullpen can be better.
And yet, with all the warts, Texas is in a virtual tie for a playoff spot this morning.
This isn’t the Astros, sporting the second-worst record in the league, or the Angels, who just lost their ace (and possibly another promising young starting pitcher as well) for the season and have baseball’s worst farm system to turn to for help, either that kind or the other.
Things are good here, and there’s all kinds of reason to believe there’s another gear.
So much to live for.
So much to aim for.
So much to try for.
You’re blowing it all with paranoia.
The song is older than Eakin and it’s older than Sharp. It’s older than Hamels and it’s older than Zimmermann. I’m pretty sure it’s older than Jake.
It’s helpful this morning.
Paranoid Fan > paranoid fans.
Game 3 in St. Louis didn’t spill over into Game 4. Lots of us worried it would. The local team didn’t.
There’s no reason Toronto 12, Texas 2 — or the two walkoffs that preceded it — should affect Texas-Detroit tonight, or this weekend. You know: slam dunk, two points, move on.
If there’s one thing this hockey week has taught us as far as this baseball week is concerned, it’s that washing the bad stuff off should be a whole lot more difficult for the players and coaches than it is for you and me. We’d be well advised to follow their lead.
Stop, hold on, stay in control.
Yes, Texas could have pushed another couple runs across, and that would have been better.
See just about every other competitive game the Rangers have ever lost.
The pitching staff, relying on the back half of the rotation and, necessarily, on the back half of the bullpen, could have issued fewer than a relatively acceptable three walks and would like to have one of its 135 pitches back in particular.
It’s no fun to see a newly hated rival like the Blue Jays bounce around on the field after the final ball put into play.
But it’s pretty cool to be a fan of a team whose rivalries go beyond geography.
That usually means you’re pretty good.
The defense was good and the baserunning didn’t crack and four of the lineup’s nine reached base twice, including the reunited catcher whose arrival (and the AAA ticket that resulted for another player) seemed to bother some fans.
There was more evidence of what might just be an unexpected leadoff answer. An aging starting pitcher who needed to go deep, and rescue the pen, did. The one reliever who had pitched himself out of a key role over the first month looked really good. The cleanup hitter whose slug is lowest among the club’s regulars is starting to square up the opposite way a little bit, and that’s good.
It was a close game, well played on both sides, and, yes, you can point to a few moments, that if they’d just gone a different way . . . .
The other team, had they lost, would have been able to say the same thing.
The best teams in baseball history lost a third of their games.
That, for me, was as untroubling a walkoff loss as I can remember.
Derek Holland against J.A. Happ tonight, presumably a bullpen back at full strength, and a chance to split a road series with a good baseball team.
Come hang out and watch it with Jonah Keri and Sean Bass and Jake Kemp and me tonight. There will be free things to drink and free things to read and a ballgame on TV between two good clubs with a chippy recent history who have played three really tight games this week.
If Toronto 4, Texas 3 still has you worked up this morning, knock yourself out, I guess.
But don’t be afraid to hang in there. It’s cool.
The Rangers have that really shiny stat, the one about the starting pitchers logging at least five innings in every one of the club’s 27 games, the longest season-opening streak in franchise history.
That’s really impressive and very good.
Texas has 20 Quality Starts in those 27 games. Last year, the club’s 20th Quality Start came in Game 44.
The Rangers rotation sports an ERA of 3.06. Only the White Sox have a stingier mark in the American League.
All this, without Yu Darvish.
No rotation in baseball has generated more double play groundouts. They’ve held baserunners well — they’ve allowed only four stolen bases, with five other attempts thwarted. They’ve been healthy, needing only one start from someone other than the regular five.
Here’s the problem.
In those 27 starts, each of which has lasted at least five frames, only three times has a Rangers starter completed the seventh inning.
Cole Hamels went seven on Opening Day.
A.J. Griffin went eight a week ago.
Colby Lewis went seven two days after that.
Seven times those standard 5.0+-inning efforts failed to complete six.
In 27 games, Texas starters have logged 162 innings.
That’s a clean six frames per start.
There’s residual damage, unsurprisingly.
The Rangers bullpen, believed to be a strength coming into the season — and objectively speaking, there was and is no reason to think of it otherwise — has the American League’s worst relief ERA (4.95) and worst opponents’ batting average (.278) and worst WHIP (1.44 baserunners per inning) and worst OPS (.846).
Texas is right in the middle of the AL pack as far as straight reliever workload is concerned, but a rotation ballyhooed thus far for not yet putting up a clunker hasn’t really saved the pen like you might think.
Pick a Rangers reliever, any one of them, and you can point to a drop in velocity or a dip in command in the last handful of games, if not both. Losing Keone Kela to injury hurts, without a doubt, but really, outside of Tony Barnette and Phil Klein (last night’s 10th notwithstanding), the men in the Texas bullpen haven’t been as sharp lately as we’re accustomed to seeing.
Sometimes it’s been difficulty throwing strikes. Other times an inability to put hitters away, resulting in long at-bats and high pitch counts.
Last night, six Rangers relievers went a combined 4.1 innings. Before Klein’s final pitch, the pen line was 4.1-4-1-1-3-7. Too many baserunners but ultimately effective in run prevention (though, of course, the one run, off Shawn Tolleson, extended the game) — still, in getting those 13 outs the pen needed 99 pitches, only 57 of which were strikes.
That’s far too many pitches (nearly 23 per frame), and not enough strikes (an uncharacteristic 58 percent).
They’re better than this. But they’re getting worked hard, and when they’re needed for a third of the game nearly every night, it adds up.
There are reinforcements who should be called on for help at some point, but none is banging the door down at the moment.
Luke Jackson is missing bats (14 strikeouts in 8.1 AAA innings) but he’s issued seven walks and still hasn’t been asked to work back-to-back nights, likely because his spring training was abbreviated due to a lower back issue.
Andrew Faulkner is getting straightened out (3.1-1-0-0-0-4 in his last four outings) but has had at least two days down between Round Rock assignments.
Matt Bush hasn’t worked consecutive days since his first two Frisco appearances, and while he’s been outstanding overall (.163/.245/.326, with 14 strikeouts and four walks in 13 innings), his readiness for the big leagues is being evaluated not only between the lines.
Plus he’s not on the 40-man roster, an issue that’s going to get stickier once Darvish comes off the 60-day DL.
Same goes for non-roster candidates like Michael Roth, Francisco Mendoza, Jefri Hernandez, and Carlos Fisher, each of whom has had an interesting start to the season out of the Round Rock bullpen.
Jose Leclerc, shifted to the Frisco bullpen a week and a half ago, has been more effective in that role, but he’s getting three days of rest between outings as the transition takes hold. He’s on the 40-man roster but not ready to help. The big league bullpen, under the circumstances, can’t afford middle men who can’t yet work more than once every three days (let alone two).
Connor Sadzeck, also on the roster, made a Sunday relief appearance for the RoughRiders after four starts — but that was only because he took the ball after Darvish’s two innings were done. Some think Sadzeck’s future is in relief, but he’s being groomed as a starter for now.
Tanner Scheppers will eventually be an option, presumably, but he’ll need a rehab assignment before returning to Arlington, and there’s been no signal that that’s imminent.
The Rangers rotation is on a healthy streak of not getting chased early, and that’s cool and that’s good. But every once in a while, a 7.1 or 8.0 would be really helpful, because the bullpen is on a workload streak of its own, and while consistently chewing innings up is what you want from your starters, it’s the last thing you want from your relievers, especially as a unit.
The Rangers rolled into Rogers Centre and took Game One of the series in what was, to date, the game of the year.
True on October 8.
True again, 207 days later.
Texas 2, Toronto 1, two days into May, had moments of mid-October intensity, palpably ratcheted up because of what happened the last time the teams took the field together.
At that time, Nomar Mazara hadn’t played a baseball game in nearly a month, and was a month and a half away from getting a text letting him know he would be going to his first big league camp the next spring.
Brett Nicholas, who finished his Round Rock season with Mazara a few weeks before the Rangers-Jays ALDS, was days away from reporting to Estrellas de Oriente for what would be his first taste of the Dominican Winter League, as he was doing everything in his power to make his case for a big league chance.
No telling what A.J. Griffin, who hadn’t thrown a professional pitch in four months (and even then, hadn’t thrown many since 2013), was doing.
None of them were in Toronto for Game One, or Two, or Five.
Nobody was bigger last night than those three. If this were the Stanley Cup playoffs, no question who the Three Stars would have been as the Rangers took the opener of this four-game set.
There was Griffin on the mound, scattering five baserunners in six innings while punching out a career-high-matching nine (over 52 starts). Were it not for a brutal baserunning decision by a player whose greatest weapon is supposed to be his baserunning — all things considered, I’d be all for an assignment to Round Rock for Mr. DeShields, in hopes that he’d respond to it the way that Rougned Odor did when he was optioned last May 11, with Ian Desmond sliding over to center field and either Jared Hoying or James Jones coming up to give the team a fourth outfielder capable of playing center — Griffin might have earned another victory.
Those are just numbers, though, and instead the win went to Tony Barnette, his first in the big leagues, while Griffin’s win-loss held at 3-0 and his ERA ticked down to 2.32.
Barnette, in mid-October, was getting ready for the Yakult Swallows’ Japan Central League playoff series against the hated Yomiuri Giants.
There was Nicholas at the plate and behind it, giving Texas a one-run lead with a second-inning home run, helping preserve a one-run lead with a sensational play on the back end of a crazy-great 9-2 double play in the eighth, and catching Griffin, Barnette, Sam Dyson, and Shawn Tolleson as they combined to hold Toronto’s formidable offense in check.
And there was Mazara at the plate and in the field, owning the eighth inning as he took Gavin Floyd deep to lead off the frame and gunned Michael Saunders down at home to end it.
Mazara’s, that is.
I mentioned on Twitter last night that there are times I hate sports for making me love it so much — and that, at least as Texas took its 2-1 lead to the ninth — that wasn’t one of them.
That was sports at its near-best.
The American League’s Rookie of the Month for April — slightly unforeseeable as he was busy singling twice and homering in a 9-3 Express win over the Iowa Cubs on April 9 — may have just played his best baseball game yet. In May.
Three days after the Rangers signed Mazara for a controversial $4.95 million as a 16-year-old Dominican, he was in Arlington taking batting practice with Josh Hamilton. I was there, and I wrote this about it.
Two weeks after that, I wrote this feature on Mazara for MLB.com.
I’m prone, you might agree, to getting overly excited about prospects.
I wasn’t excited enough about Nomar Mazara.
Which is not the same as being unexcitable, a really cool aspect of the Rangers’ right fielder and number two hitter’s game.
Not yet part of mine, not when the game is at its tense, intense, electrifying best, which doesn’t always line up with the relative significance of its position on the calendar.