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Texas 4, Baltimore 3 and alternate endings.

The Texas Rangers are great at baserunning and great at comebacks and great at baseball, and I want to tell you a story.

Jonathan Schoop is from the same hometown as Jurickson Profar, the budding baseball hotbed of Willemstad, Curacao.  They were Little League World Series teammates.  

Mark Trumbo is 30 and Ian Desmond is 30 and both were drafted out of high school in 2004 (Trumbo in Round 18 by Anaheim, Desmond in Round 3 by Montreal), a few weeks before Schoop and Profar’s team beat the Thousand Oaks, California club to win that year’s Little League World Series championship, and at the moment Trumbo and Desmond are the quintessential examples of how a pillow contract is supposed to work out for a player.

It was the ninth inning last night, and with two outs Chris Davis was on third base as the tying run and Trumbo was on first base as the lead run and Schoop, 2 for 4 on the night, stood in at the plate, facing Sam Dyson.

Schoop stepped in, not Profar, and Profar likes to win baseball games in the ninth but Schoop isn’t Profar.

Trumbo was on first, not Desmond, and I’m going to suggest the game might have ended differently if the roles were reversed.  

Texas was one out away from another come-from-behind victory and a one-game sweep (as well as a club-record 10 straight series wins).  Baltimore was 90 feet away from tying the game.

Schoop fouled off Dyson’s first pitch, his 13th of the night and 33rd in the space of about 30 hours.

Dyson likes to make batters hit ground balls, but Trumbo didn’t think that likelihood through the way I’d like to believe Desmond — the most productive player in baseball this year as far as FanGraphs’ Win Probability Added metric is concerned (and the league’s best baserunner) — would have.

Schoop pounded Dyson’s 34th pitch in two days, 96 and diving, low and away, into the ground just in front of the plate, pull side.  

Adrian Beltre, ranging directly toward second base just as an equally unspeedy Trumbo did so from the opposite corner, waited for the chopper to float down into his glove.

Davis dashed home, hoping to arrive as the tying run.

Beltre halted the bounding ball’s insane hang time, gathered it from his glove, and two steps toward second later short-armed a toss to Rougned Odor, stretched toward Beltre in an effort to meet ball before Trumbo met bag.

Trumbo hadn’t thought it through.

This is what was happening a split-second before the scorekeeper looked down to record the official game time.

Trumbo slide

Had Mark Trumbo done what I have faith Desmond (or Profar) would have done, the game would have lasted another few minutes (when Desmond would have driven Shin-Soo Choo home with a walkoff double to right center in the bottom of the ninth).

Desmond wouldn’t have slid. 

Desmond would have fired off first base at full speed when the ball was hit on the ground.

He would have closed in on second base at full speed.

And he would have run right through the bag at full speed.

He would have been safe at second — even if bearing in on the bag at the same time that Trumbo did, ignoring foot-speed — because he wouldn’t have taken the split second to break into a slide and his final stride to the bag would have been a split-second faster than a slide would have been.

Desmond would have been safe at second and torn by the outstretched second baseman and the bag, cutting his route toward third.

The second baseman would have dutifully tossed the ball at that point to the shortstop, who would have dutifully tagged Desmond out, and Desmond wouldn’t have even made all that valiant an effort to elude the inning-ending tag.  

Inning-ending, but game-extending.

Desmond would have beaten the toss to second because he didn’t slide, and in doing so would have removed the force play, allowing the tying run to score a second before he willfully ran into a tag for out number three.

Desmond would have done all that because he’s great and because he’s got court sense and because this is my story.

Trumbo didn’t.  

And the game, accordingly, ended right there.  

A game in which Derek Holland needed 27 pitches to get through the third inning, a frame in which the Orioles scored three times after scoring no runs before that inning — or after it.

Even though they out hit Texas, 15 to 9, and left runners on base in every inning.

A game in which the heroes included Shawn Tolleson and Tony Barnette and Bobby Wilson, because these are the 2016 Rangers and why not.

The pace is 105 wins.  The division lead is 9.5 games, all gained in the last 18 days.  

Jonah Keri (Sports Illustrated) writes that the Rangers “are playing out of their minds right now.”  

Maybe so.

But their latest win, the way I see it, might have needed a different ending if Mark Trumbo wasn’t out of his mind himself, in a different manner of speaking.

Trumbo is no Ian Desmond.

Right now, maybe nobody is.

And the way Texas is playing baseball right now . . . well, I don’t want to overstate things.

But these days, it’s almost automatic to expect that the Rangers are going to do the productive thing when needed.

At the plate.

In the field.

On the mound.

Including from the back and middle of the bullpen, on those rare nights when the starter falters.

And on the bases.

My story, at least.  Sticking to it.

Longest.

It’s the longest day of the year, and it would have been even longer if the schedule-makers’ off-day for Texas wasn’t filled by tonight’s raincheck game against Baltimore.

It’s being called a one-game series, meaning the Rangers need to take the Orioles down tonight to extend their franchise-record 10 straight home series wins (and then would have to sweep the Reds tomorrow and Wednesday to extend the record further).  

Derek Holland faces Baltimore power righthander Kevin Gausman, which isn’t quite the same as Holland facing Mike Wright, which was the pitching matchup when this game was first slated to be played on April 17, but Holland has a really strong track record against Baltimore, who will be without the suspended Manny Machado . . . . 

And yet, you can’t predict ball.

The Rangers own the second-largest division lead in baseball, at 8.5.

It trails only the cushion the Cubs have on the Cardinals, who just lost three straight one-run games at home to drop to 12.5 games out in the NL Central.

They dropped those three straight one-run games at home to Texas.

Two were late-inning comebacks.

The other was a 1-0 ballgame.

The Rangers are now on a 104-victory pace, which would blow away another franchise mark.

They’ve never had this big a division lead before the All-Star Break, and in fact they’ve only had a bigger lead at any point in the schedule in four other seasons:

1996, 1999, 2010, and 2011.

Playoff season.  Playoff season.  Playoff season.  Playoff season. 

But beware of dog days: After tonight against Baltimore and the next two against Cincinnati and three against Boston, the Rangers head out for 19 of 23 on the road, and 27 of 38, through August 9.  

The division could very well be a whole lot tighter at that point.  See 2015.

But all the uniformed guys can do is take care of the business at hand, and the Rangers have been doing that.  They’ve built an unprecedented cushion, at least as far as this club is concerned.  

And now Shin-Soo Choo is back and Yu Darvish should be soon and A.J. Griffin and Keone Kela, too.  So should Tanner Scheppers and Drew Stubbs and, in all likelihood, by time that insane road stretch comes to a close there will also be at least one name to add to this paragraph whose potential impact may lag only Darvish’s.  

Fun baseball is fun.

It’s the longest day of the year, but man, it would be just fine with me if first pitch was in about half an hour.

Profar STL

Happy Father’s Day.

My favorite baseball team battles.  Competes.  Is never out of a game.

Never.

Works its tails off, and plays with a passion for the game.

Plays hurt from time to time, but when necessary, the next man up steps in and contributes.

Really, it’s different contributors all the time.  No one player carrying the team on his back, and not just two or three.

It’s a team.

Chemistry matters.  Great teammates make a difference.

Those things go hand in hand with the battle, the collective resilience and toughness that feeds that never-out-of-the-game identity.

My favorite baseball wins a lot.  Wins far more than it loses.

Losses happen.  That’s OK.  Can always learn from those.  Adjust.  Get better.

Good baseball players can always get better.

Very good baseball players are driven to get better. 

Match players like that with great coaches — coaches who believe in their players and who teach and motivate and challenge and do what they do for the right reasons — and you’re on your way. 

My second favorite team has a chance to sweep St. Louis today.

Happy Father’s Day.

Photo: Elaine Payne

                                                                                             Photo: Elaine Payne

 

Analysis.

The Texas Rangers are good at baseball.

All Saints days.

TX STL

St. Louis.

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Saint Lewis.

Plan B.

I didn’t love that Sam Dyson had to pitch the ninth inning on Tuesday, and I didn’t love that Nick Martinez got off the bullpen bench in the third inning on Wednesday, starting to get loose as Oakland was busy sending eight hitters to the plate against Derek Holland.

Hours earlier, Jeff Banister had hinted in an MLB Network Radio interview that Martinez, recalled the day before to replace Tom Wilhelmsen on the big league staff, was the odds-on candidate to take Yu Darvish’s start (rather than Cesar Ramos) Saturday in St. Louis.

Now he was having to prepare to enter a game that already felt like it was slipping away, possibly used in a loss and potentially compromising the team’s chances in another game three days later.  

That’s not to say Nick Martinez is a core member of the pitching staff, but if the club had planned to start him Saturday, it looked like Plan B was going to have to be enacted, and when smart folks are making plans, Plan B is usually less preferable than Plan A.  

Holland got through the third, stranding two and holding the score at 3-0, but he didn’t survive the fourth, throwing 10 of his first 14 pitches in that frame for balls (walk, lineout, walk), and fanning Yonder Alonso on eight pitches before handing the ball to Banister, who handed it to Martinez.

The righthander’s first pitch, doubled by Billy Burns, put two final runs on Holland’s ledger.

It was Oakland 5, Texas 0 at that point.  Then things changed.

Martinez ended the fourth, Texas went quietly in the fifth, and Oakland reached once in the bottom of that frame but didn’t score.

The Rangers then put together their own eight-hitter inning — homer, double, double, groundout, sac fly, single, homer, lineout — and suddenly 5-0 was 5-5.

Martinez came back out and threw first-pitch strikes to the first three of four A’s who hit in their sixth (groundout-groundout-single-strikeout), 12 of 17 overall, and his 45-pitch night was done.

And then Robinson Chirinos homered for the second time in two innings, putting Texas ahead and lining things up for a Matt Bush seventh, a Jake Diekman eighth, and a Dyson ninth.  

Nine up, nine down.

Bush and Diekman and Dyson were used on a night when Texas was losing by five runs in the fourth inning, and this time it was a really awesome thing that they were needed.

They were needed because the Rangers got to Sonny Gray (nine quality starts against Texas out of 10) and got to John Axford (seven straight scoreless outings, and 12 of 13) and got to Sean Doolittle (eight straight scoreless outings, and 14 of 15).

And because Nick Martinez, a second baseman at Fordham University who mixed in 26.1 college innings on the mound, enough of which Rangers area scout Jay Heafner saw to pound his fist in Round 18 in 2011, pitched on a night when the plan had apparently been for him to not pitch, and kicked off a run of 5.1 scoreless bullpen innings (three hits, no walks, four strikeouts, 13 of the A’s final 14 hitters retired) that, without which, we’re not talking today about two Chirinos homers or two Rougned Odor homers or a really outstanding night at the plate for Shin-Soo Choo.

Maybe Martinez’s 45 pitches will actually turn out to be a between-starts side, and Texas goes ahead and gives him the ball in St. Louis on Saturday.  Maybe.  

If not, it’s Frisco righthander Connor Sadzeck’s day to pitch, and he’s on the 40-man roster.  Or maybe Ramos gets the assignment after all.  Stay tuned.

I didn’t like seeing Tuesday night’s game necessitate Dyson’s entry.  

But Texas won.

I didn’t like seeing last night’s game necessitate Martinez’s usage.  

But Texas won.

And the pace is now 100 of those, in the regular season.

The Rangers keep finding different ways to win, and different guys to rely on.

Even when Plan B is in play.

Grrr.

Texas 10, Oakland 6 catapulted the Rangers’ record to an AL-best 40-25 (a 99.69-win pace), bettered in baseball only by the Cubs.  

It was a win in Oakland Alameda Coliseum, which feels more like a mausoleum, in terms of both its embarrassing lack of life in the stands and the horror effect it somehow has on the Rangers when they visit.

Martin Perez recovered from a shaky first to go seven innings — not only matching a season-high workload but also doing so while registering his third-lowest pitch count (90) in 14 starts, which in combination is all kinds of awesome. He’s won five straight starts, and as one of the club’s three number three starters, more of that, please.

Elvis Andrus led a 13-hit attack, singling a runner to third ahead of Robinson Chirinos’s tone-setting homer in the second, singling in a runner himself an inning later, and going deep in the eighth.  

Ryan Rua, hitting cleanup for the first time, had three run-scoring trips plus a walk.  In his last 19 games, he’s a .370/.462/.685 hitter in 65 plate appearances, a stretch over which the club is 13-6.  

Andrus’s homer (he’s now hitting .294/.342/.417, which as WFAA’s Or Moyal points out, overlays nicely against Carlos Correa’s .252/.346/.416) extended the Texas lead to 8-4, an only slightly more comfortable cushion in that wretched ballpark, and Jeff Banister gave the bottom of the eighth to Matt Bush, who’d had two days off since a 13-pitch effort in Seattle on Saturday.  

Bush had a clean eighth, another 13-pitch frame, and the Rangers put up another pair of runs in the top of the ninth, pushing the score to 10-4 with three outs to go.

All of that, and I’m a little baseball-cranky this morning.

I’m not at all miffed at Alex Claudio, who is what he is, or at Banister, who didn’t have Keone Kela (hurt) or Shawn Tolleson (27 pitches the night before) or Tom Wilhelmsen (ineffective and back in AAA) or Andrew Faulkner (same) or Tanner Scheppers (hurt) or Luke Jackson (back in AAA because of team workload issues) or Phil Klein (DFA’d) or Cesar Ramos (back in the rotation with Yu Darvish sidelined) or Nick Martinez (back up but possibly being held for Saturday’s start or at least long relief duties) or A.J. Griffin (rehabbing).

The situation called not for Bush to go another inning.  It called for Claudio.

And a 10-4 lead in the ninth ended up putting another 16 pitches of wear on the closer’s arm.

Claudio: Hit batsman on an 0-1 pitch.  Single.  Strikeout.  Double.  Dyson.

Ugh.

Dyson took care of business, getting Billy Burns to ground out to second (a terrific play by both Rougned Odor and Dyson covering the bag) and Jed Lowrie to watch strike three, but while that effort shouldn’t shut Dyson down tonight, what if he’s used tonight?  Will he still be available tomorrow afternoon? 

It’s sorta dumb that Texas finally won a game in Oakland and I’m grumpy.  I know.  

And when circumstances lead to a trickshot artist like Claudio — undeniably a success story in that he’s a former 27th-round pick whose delivery the club overhauled and who got to the big leagues in four years and is building up a pension — being your best bet to take a six-run lead in the ninth to the house, well, that’s the situation you want to feel good about having a guy like him around to absorb, and handle.

I hated seeing Dyson stand up off the bullpen bench and start stretching, but I understood.  

Hated seeing him brought in with what was then a 10-6 margin, but I get it.

Hated seeing Burns work him for seven pitches and Lowrie for nine before he he got both out, but, hey, he did get them out.

Loved the win.  

But not as much as I wanted to.

Still, that’s a burr in the saddle that I can live with.  Texas has barely gotten anything yet out of Yu Darvish or Shin-Soo Choo or Kela or Scheppers or Chirinos or Delino DeShields.  Tolleson and Wilhelmsen haven’t contributed anywhere near expectations, nor have Prince Fielder or Mitch Moreland, though those two are showing good signs.  

I’m grumbling about the fact that my team’s closer pitched after a day of rest, and that’s something I’d much rather worry about than being 5.5 games out or 9.5 games out or 12.0 or 12.5, which is where the Rangers’ division mates sit this morning, 40 percent into the season, while Texas is a tick away from a 100-win pace.

So, yeah, never mind.

Put to the ground.

Minutes after Texas lit Astros reliever Ken Giles up in the bottom of the ninth inning on Monday, in the first of four between the teams this week in Arlington, the 5.76 ERA/.812 OPS-toting righty said to the press, with air of odd and severely misplaced indignation: “We’re going to go out there tomorrow and put them to the ground.”

Put them to the ground.

The syntax confused me.  

Was this like “lit” or “ratchet” or “turnt” or another one of those words or phrases I have to annoy my high school kid by asking her for an explanation?

Was it Papiamentu?

Was it Giles communicating on a level that the rest of us can’t process, you know, like a dog whistle?

The Rangers won the day after that, the “tomorrow” Giles was alluding to, 4-3.  Like Monday, Texas came from behind to do it.

Was Giles prophetic?  Did Houston dropping Game Two satisfy his prediction that his team was going “put the Rangers to the ground”?

The Astros won Game Three, using four relief pitchers that weren’t Giles.  

I still wasn’t sure if he was proven right.

Then, yesterday, it hit me.  

The Astros had taken a lead — like they did in all four games in the series — but Texas cut it to 2-1 in the third when Mitch Moreland followed an Elvis Andrus walk by doubling Andrus in.  Bryan Holaday then singled Moreland to third.  

Up stepped Jurickson Profar, who was getting a late start on his standard multi-hit game after he’d grounded out in the first frame.

Profar took ball one from Colin McHugh.  

Holaday, unsurprisingly, was not on the move.  The double play was in order, and the Astros were playing for two up the middle, prepared to concede the tying run.

Next McHugh pitch: Profar squared up and put a ball on the ground, right at Jose Altuve, who didn’t need to move a foot to the left or a foot to the right.  

But he did leave his feet.

The shot cannon-balled Altuve backwards.  The baseball met Altuve’s glove and then jumped out of it.  Altuve landed on his butt, the ball landed on the ground, Moreland crossed home plate, Holaday advanced to second, Profar safely reached first.

Ian Desmond then struck out swinging for the second time in three innings, which theoretically would have ended the inning had Altuve turned the tailor-made double play, but instead the inning lived and Nomar Mazara singled to left to give Texas a 3-2 lead that would stand up and result in another series win, the Rangers’ 10th straight at home, a franchise record.

And now I know, even if it wasn’t “tomorrow,” what the prescient, forward-thinking visionary Ken Giles meant by “We’re going to go out there and put them to the ground.” 

Altuve falls

A loss and other hurts.

It wasn’t just a loss, an otherwise acceptable outcome since it happens even to the best teams 40 percent of the time.

It’s never a comfortable sight when head trainer Kevin Harmon walks onto the field with the manager, and last night he did so twice, visiting Yu Darvish on the mound and then Adrian Beltre at second base.  

Each was lifted early from Houston 3, Texas 1, and though Darvish insisted after the game that the tightness in his right shoulder was really a minor neck thing and that he should be good to go Monday in Oakland, and though Beltre’s tight left hamstring was going to be rested for this afternoon’s game even if it were 100 percent healthy, the aftermath of the loss to Houston was all about tightness in my own chest and probably yours.  

Still holding my breath.

Wednesday was a day when Josh Hamilton had his season-ending meniscus surgery on his left knee, which revealed unanticipated (and more serious) ACL damage as well.

It was also a day when righthander Michael Matuella faced hitters in a different uniform for the first time as a pro, fanning three Reds and walking none in two scoreless extended spring training innings in Surprise as he works his way back from major college injuries.  He sat 93-96, mixing in a curve and a change.  According to Bill Mitchell (Baseball America), Matuella could be headed now to Low A Hickory.

Texas drafted Matuella one year ago today, using its third-round pick on an injured player who less than a year before that had been in the conversation to go as the first overall pick in the entire 2015 draft.  The club paid him $2 million, well above slot, to take a calculated risk that the kid will regain his power arsenal and pitchability and give the organization yet another high-end pitching prospect to develop.

Tonight the Rangers return to the draft board, picking 30th overall (compensation for the loss of free agent Yovani Gallardo to Baltimore).  They forfeited a pick that would have fallen at number 19, a slot that would have added an 11th player and $2.3788 million to the club’s draft ammunition, when they signed free agent shortstop Ian Desmond to a one-year deal with the intention of moving the 30-year-old from the dirt to the grass. 

Senior director of amateur scouting Kip Fagg probably wishes he had pick 19 back, because tonight is his domain (and his Christmas tree), but as an organization you can bet the consensus feeling is that the 19th pick for Ian Desmond was a spectacular tradeoff.

The Rangers can always allocate that $2.4 million toward their July 2 crop out of Latin America a little under a month from now.

Or to the trade deadline, a month after that.

Desmond (.309/.352/.485) drove in the Rangers’ lone run last night and erased another with a missile home from center field.  He’s been an extraordinary addition to this club, a Beltre/Red Sox-like example of a player making the most of a pillow contract.

Texas may end up tonight getting the player at number 30 overall that it wanted at 19.  When the club took righthander Luis Ortiz at number 30 overall the year before Matuella arrived, for instance, reports are that Ortiz was a top 5 player on its board.  

Yes, not having 19 plus 30 means one less high-end talent to add to the organization.

But it also means Desmond is here.  And if he’s gone next year — a likelihood given his situation and the weakness of the overall free agent class but certainly not a slam dunk — Texas will get another supplemental first-rounder back.  It won’t be 19th overall, but the dropoff by a dozen or so picks will have been more than worth it if Desmond continues to play at a level anywhere close to the one he’s playing at now, and helps this team get back to the playoffs.

And if that $2.4 million no longer usable on the Rangers’ draft class is earmarked for a big league pitching piece to assist in that push for 162+?

Yes, please.

Yesterday was not about another day of Desmond’s big production on the field, unfortunately, as Texas lost the game and had too many injury-related headlines.

But, hopefully, Darvish is fine and Beltre will only be down briefly and Hamilton will play baseball again and Matuella is back on a road without setbacks.

I won’t be on the edge of my seat for pick 19 tonight, but that’s cool.  Texas will still make an impact tonight and the next two days in the draft, and chances are good Desmond will make an impact over these next three days as well.  

I just hope there’s no more injury-related news in that same timeframe.  At least no bad news.

Cover up.

A whole lot has changed since we put this book cover together nearly four years ago.

2013 front cover bound edition

     2013 back cover bound edition

     

While some things are finally coming together.

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