I remember exactly where I was when I found out on the morning of Friday, September 23, 2011, in an email from reader Ryan Morton, that I’d been recognized by a local weekly with a very cool honor that I absolutely didn’t deserve. I was waiting on a jury.
There was nothing I could do, while pacing in the hallway outside the 95th in Dallas County, to influence what was going on in the jury room.
By the same token, the fact that yesterday my socks didn’t match didn’t matter.
Texas 7, Houston 3 found its level without a nod to my deliberate choice of footwear.
I wasn’t sweating a jury yesterday when I accidentally learned I’d received the same, equally unjustified recognition from the Dallas Observer. I was clicking a Twitter link from Grubes about his own honor: being named the best nicknamer of Texas Rangers in the land (a completely justified distinction). And I happened to find the other thing.
After I got Ryan’s email two years ago, the Rangers rattled off six straight wins to finish that season, including the final three against the Angels, and followed that with the greatest month of baseball in franchise history.
One had nothing to do with the other, of course, just as socks are silly and the fact that I was at the Ballpark for Monday and Tuesday night’s wins didn’t mean Texas was bound to lose last night with me on my couch at home.
But I’m taking no chances tonight. I’ll be back in my seat at the Temple. With clashing socks.
Watching the only remaining team in baseball with a chance to disrupt the roster of teams set to play in October.
Another six-game Rangers run, culminating with these first three against the Angels, would make Sunday’s Yu Darvish-Jason Vargas clash, in Game 162, one of those days when, no matter what happens, we’ll remember exactly where we were when it starts and when it ends, hopefully with Texas recording an out in the top of the ninth — or crossing the plate in the bottom of the frame — to send the team back out on the road for 162+.
Couple quick thoughts over lunch . . . .
There are five games left. That’s the equivalent of the final 90 seconds of an NBA game, or a play or two into action in the NFL after the two-minute warning.
One final round tonight with Houston, against whom the Rangers’ win percentage this year (.889) looks like an elite free-throw clip.
The only two times Texas has lost to the Astros this season, in 18 games, the winning pitchers for Houston were Bud Norris – who is now with Baltimore – and Travis Blackley – whom the Astros traded to the Rangers a month later.
In that second game, Yu Darvish (6-6-5-5-4-6) lost, and Blackley won in relief after three other Astros relievers couldn’t hold onto the lead that starter Dallas Keuchel (5-6-2-2-1-4) had entrusted them with.
Keuchel, who has a reasonably good history against the Rangers (.240/.305/.323 slash, 3.65 ERA in four starts, including a 2.70 in two Rangers Ballpark starts), gets the ball tonight, against Martin Perez, whose one career start against Houston (9-4-1-1-2-8) was his best against anyone.
The Perez gem was on August 11, and Keuchel was his mound opponent. It was the Rangers’ 12th win in 13 games, and Texas would win another 11 out of 17 to finish the month.
But after that came September, during which the Rangers are 7-15, even with wins over Houston the last two nights, and as a result Perez-Keuchel II has exponentially more riding on it tonight than anyone could have imagined a month ago.
Even last night, this could have felt a lot different, had Jason Giambi – who is having a worse season than Lance Berkman – not rescued the Indians from a loss that would have dropped Cleveland into a tie with the Rangers for the second Wild Card spot, hitting a walkoff blast that I envision Nelson Cruz having watched, perhaps in The Brookside II in Surprise, a million miles away from actual contribution to an official baseball game, which seems wrong in the context of Giambi hitting a huge difference-making home run in a game that counts.
But maybe Cruz is a week away from contributing himself.
And now that I think about it, if the Rangers manage to force a Game 163 against the Indians for that second Wild Card spot, I suppose Cruz will be eligible to play in it. (Right?)
Holding ground isn’t nearly as cool as gaining it, but it sure beats losing ground, which Texas can’t afford to do tonight, or tomorrow, or Friday or Saturday or Sunday.
One more against Houston, then four against the Angels. Five games. One time through the rotation for Texas and for Cleveland and for Tampa Bay. #CastleDoctrine doesn’t begin to tag what’s left this week, hopefully in front of full, raucous houses.
It’s Go Time.
Best thing about last night?
The 14-hit, 12-run barrage from a beleaguered offense, with seven different hitters driving in runs?
Alex Rios skillfully sailing his way to a six-inning cycle?
The complete-game shutout from Derek Holland, who threw 29 balls all night — to 33 Houston batters?
The fact that, under the urgent circumstances facing his team, Holland gave the bullpen the night off?
Or that Texas snapped its franchise-record seven-game home losing streak, logging its first Rangers Ballpark win in September, on a night when it basically had to win to keep the swim alive?
Texas 12, Houston 0. Slam dunk: Still just two points. One of 162.
But a real big one.
The most important stat wasn’t the 14 or the 12 or the seven, or the 2B-1B-HR-3B, or the 9-6-0-0-1-9 or the 29/33. It was the 1 that was added to the win column, giving that loss column the night off.
Your turn, Yu. Be great.
I opened the door for the dog this morning and walked outside with her before the sun came up. It was 59 degrees. That was awesome.
I stood next to the swimming pool, and its completely still waters, calm and calming and peaceful . . . and lifeless. It hit me that the end of pool season may have passed before I was ready. Not awesome.
It managed to prime the pit in my stomach that was already there, courtesy of baseball.
Yesterday’s gut punch, courtesy of baseball, was tough. Real tough.
I walked in from that gaping hole in the backyard ground, deep and dark and lethargic and uncool, and sat down to a stack of online reading that I’d started last night. First up, this article by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, which includes this starkly imaged sentence:
[Nelson] Cruz, who says he last saw his teammates Aug. 30, can be found at the Rangers instructional league camp these days. He’s the occupant of locker No. 120 in the minor league clubhouse, right across from the table tennis table.
And this gut punch, more staggering:
“My first thought was to appeal, and right up to the last day I told (the Rangers) my decision was to appeal,” Cruz says. “That was my plan. It’s hard to explain it, but at the end it wasn’t my decision. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. It came out of my hands.”
And this Nightengale note, maybe less staggering than striking:
The Rangers, trying to solve that power void [left by Cruz’s suspension], tried to pull off a blockbuster deal for Atlanta Braves outfielder Justin Upton before the July 31 trade deadline. The Rangers offered starter Matt Garza, All-Star closer Joe Nathan and outfielder David Murphy, but they were rejected, two high-ranking club officials told USA TODAY Sports. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to publicly talk about personnel decisions.
With the wound of Kansas City 4, Texas 0 still fresh, the timing of the Nightengale article and all that it implied basically ensured that this pit in my stomach isn’t quite ready to go away.
Then again, if you’re prone to imagining where things would be this morning had Upton arrived to replace Murphy (setting aside for the moment what would have happened in the absence of Garza’s innings and with everyone in the bullpen asked to pitch in a higher-leverage role), take a look at what Upton has done since then.
In August — when Texas was just fine, winning 20 of 27 — he hit a robust .298/.362/.631.
In September — a 5-15 month for the Rangers to date — he’s been a .236/.329/.375 hitter. Which is basically what the Texas offense has been as a whole this month (.246/.297/.377).
Upton would have cost Craig Gentry (.333/.366/.410 in September) some amount of playing time, and rhythm.
He would have also essentially cost C.J. Edwards, Mike Olt, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, two months of Murphy, and a pennant race void left by Nathan’s departure, if the story is accurate.
Of course, the Upton trade would have been more about 2014 and 2015 — trading Garza days after acquiring him and moving your closer is essentially a sell move — just as the Alex Rios trade was made in part because Texas knew it would have him next year, when free agents Cruz and Murphy could be elsewhere.
For now, Rios has been a reasonably bright light as the rest of the offense flags, hitting .275/.318/.463 in September, far from a blistering slash but one that stands out in a lineup that’s been so lifeless of late.
Last night, Rios tweeted this: “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.”
I’m not sure how to square that with the image of that stupid, inanimate pool in my backyard this morning, but I get what Rios is saying. He’s never played a big league playoff game in his 10 years, and he’s in a mood to try and gut that trend as long as the math allows.
Tonight’s game matters, tomorrow’s will too, and Texas can do its part to make sure they keep mattering all week. This is an exceptional organization that’s had more adversity to overcome this year than its fair share, and I’m not willing to give up on anything yet.
Seven left at home, the first three against Houston. Taking care of business against the Astros would not only keep hope alive; it would create some much-needed momentum heading into the final four against the Angels, who are playing well.
As far as these last few days are concerned, a continuation of the trend not only of treading water with a loss every other game after a brutal losing streak, but also of dropping them by the narrowest of margins, which naturally trains the lens on things like late-inning bullpen management, my pockets are empty. The best I can do is dredge up a series of tweets I posted after the especially tough 12-inning loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday:
Disagreeing with certain of a manager’s tactics and wishing they were different is not the same as wanting that manager fired.
Unless NYY pulls off a miracle, the only team with legit chance to be playoff team last four years is Texas. Given health issues this year . . .
. . . if it doesn’t quite happen for Texas, it doesn’t mean that a top-level head needs to roll. Baseball is hard.
All that said, getting better & stronger in every single aspect of an org’s attack is always a priority — even for a World Series winner.
And getting better & stronger doesn’t necessarily mean that has to come from different personnel. People (not just ballplayers) can improve.
This month of baseball has been extraordinarily difficult, but at this point in the season in 1972 and 1973 and 1975 and 1976 and 1977 and 1980 and 1982 and 1983 and 1984 and 1985 and 1986 and 1987 and 1988 and 1989 and 1990 and 1991 and 1992 and 1997 and 2000 and 2001 and 2002 and 2003 and 2005 and 2006 and 2007 and 2008, the math said the Texas Rangers baseball season was over.
I’ll be out at the Ballpark three times this week, at least. I plan on each of those games mattering. There’s still life in the math, and I’m not done.
Because it’s baseball, and my team still has a shot.
It looks like temps are going to get back up into the 90s for much of this baseball week.
Maybe there’s another swim left.
Every announcer said it, and every tweet tweeted it:
“That was the Matt Garza the Rangers thought they were getting when they traded for him.”
That was better.
Against a hot team (winners of 17 of its last 25), in front of its third-biggest home crowd of the season, chasing its first playoff berth in 28 years, and on his own club’s heels with just two games of separation (8.5 games closer than four weeks earlier), Garza — who’d managed to contribute only 15.1 innings in his last three starts (0-3, 8.22), getting tuned up at a .349/.400/.508 rate — was exceptional.
When Ron Washington sent Garza out to the mound for the ninth inning of what was then a 3-0 ballgame, among the things the righthander had done was retire the leadoff hitter in every single inning. Huge.
He’d thrown a remarkable 73 percent of his pitches for strikes, and started off 20 of 29 hitters with strike one.
His control (one walk) was nothing compared to his command.
And on a night when the bullpen, a source of frustration (if not a little confusion) the few days leading up to it, with an afternoon game on deck — and a not-fully-stretched-out Alexi Ogando getting the start — was in need of some amount of a break, Garza gave his teammates a massive helping of I-got-this, needing no relief until Eric Hosmer broke the shutout and ended Garza’s night with a solo homer to start the ninth.
And get this.
If you’re wondering whether Texas just rode Garza hard last night, desperate to save the bullpen and indifferent to any residual long-term effect on Garza’s arm since he’s likely to be in a different uniform this winter, he made the decision a pretty easy one: The 12.1 pitches per inning that the 29-year-old logged last night were fewer than in any other of his 23 starts all season.
And fewer than in any of his 18 starts in 2012.
Or his 31 starts in 2011.
Or his 32 starts in 2010.
Or his 32 starts in 2009.
In fact, Garza, who has started 190 big league games — 195 if you count playoffs — has made only two starts in which he was more economical with his pitches: a 9-1-1-1-1-10 gem on June 26, 2008 against Florida (on the road, meaning he got to face the pitcher a couple times) and a complete-game shutout against Toronto on July 29, 2008, in which he allowed five hits and one walk, fanning five — the same number of hits and walks and strikeouts on his ledger last night.
In those two 2008 games, Garza averaged 12.0 and 11.8 pitches per inning.
As for last night’s 97 pitches in eight-plus innings, if Hosmer’s opposite-field shot happened to find Craig Gentry’s glove instead of the Kansas City bullpen, then we’re looking at 97 in 8.1 frames, and the most economical effort (11.6 pitches per inning) of Matt Garza’s entire big league career. In what was, to date, the most important game of the 2013 Texas Rangers season.
That’s more than what the Rangers thought they were getting.
Texas has had only three starts of at least seven innings this season more economical than last night’s Garza gem: Derek Holland’s 92 pitches in nine innings (10.2 per) when he shut out the Yankees on two hits on June 27, Yu Darvish’s 81 pitches in seven frames (11.6 per) in his 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh on September 9, and Martin Perez’s 82 in seven (11.7 per) against the Cardinals on June 22.
The thing about Ryan Dempster’s Ranger rental from the Cubs last summer was that, even though he followed a clunky debut start with a reasonably good stretch (7-2, 3.56 in nine starts), all I will ever remember about his time in Texas is those final two starts, a brutal 5.2-inning effort against the Angels in a loss that would start the Rangers’ 1-6 slide to finish the regular season and spit up a healthy division lead, and an even worse showing in Oakland in Game 162, failing to hold a 5-1 lead after three, allowing four straight A’s to reach to start the fourth and end his day and any real chance the Rangers had to avoid the Wild Card game that would kill their season.
Those two starts are all I’ll remember about Dempster as a Ranger.
Matt Garza has one more start to make. It will be Thursday in the series opener against the Angels, in Arlington, in Game 159.
If it turns out that he shoves again that night, helping his team avoid falling short of this year’s Wild Card game, then I guarantee you that, like Dempster the year before, all I will remember about Garza’s time in Texas — his regular season time in Texas — will be his final two starts.
Hours from now, Texas will play its final road game of the season.
Four days from now, Garza will make his final start as a Ranger.
Unless there’s more of each that fits in the 162+ category, which is something back when Texas traded for Garza we all thought we’d get, but which, due to a September tailspin, is in serious doubt right now.
Last night Garza relieved a little bit of that doubt, nearly all by himself.
How long ago was September 29, 2009?
The Rangers sent Scott Feldman to the mound, in search of his 18th win.
He was relieved by Guillermo Moscoso and Pedro Strop and Willie Eyre.
Rookie Julio Borbon led off, taking a .318/.384/.432 slash into the game.
Hank Blalock was on the team.
Mike Napoli pinch-hit for Vladimir Guerrero.
On the other team.
The final score in the game that the Rangers played on September 29, 2009 was Los Angeles 5, Texas 2.
The Rangers were eliminated from playoff contention that day.
At all times in the nearly four years since the five games that remained in that 2009 season, Texas has been in control of its own destiny.
If Texas loses ground tonight to Cleveland (who hosts the Astros again, assuming the umpires aren’t worried that they might get wet), it will be the first time since the end of 2009 that the Rangers’ ultimate fate is dependent on more than just their own wins and losses.
Let’s go, Matt Garza.
This is why.
Yu Darvish vs. Matt Moore.
Darvish, whose team has been so offensively unsupportive lately, against Moore, who had thrown 5.1 scoreless innings and another 10 innings of one-run ball against Texas in his brief career and who boasted a 1.64 ERA in his eight starts since July 1st, and whose own Rays teammates haven’t been scoring lots of runs themselves of late.
You probably expected last night to go something like the way Darvish-Gerrit Cole (1-0 loss) and Darvish-Bartolo Colon (1-0 loss) went the last two times the Rangers ace took the mound.
And then a combined 183 pitches were thrown in the first four innings.
The game saw 35 batters, nearly two per half-inning, reach base against the right-handed and left-handed beasts and six relievers.
Even if you somehow expected the beleaguered Texas and Tampa Bay offenses to regularly put Darvish and Moore in pressure situations, the thought of the Rangers hitting three (and nearly four) home runs in the span of four batters probably didn’t figure into your thinking.
You probably didn’t expect the number nine hitter (Mitch Moreland), who was the one left-handed hitter in the lineup against Moore, to go off all night, laying off pitches outside the zone and barreling up on the ones he could do something with, or the fourth outfielder mired in a 1-for-18 stupor (Craig Gentry) to thrown down a triple, three singles, and three stolen bases, or the backup catcher (Geovany Soto) to go deep and, more importantly, to cut down two would-be basestealers with Darvish on the ropes in the second inning.
Or the demoted southpaw reliever (Robbie Ross), sporting a 6.08 ERA (not counting the 8 of 20 inherited runners he allowed to score) and .330/.380/.510 opponents’ slash over the last three months, to come in and shove like 2012 Robbie Ross with two innings of perfect baseball, starting with three straight swinging strikeouts in the sixth.
Darvish, grinding and battling and surviving without fastball command and without his best stuff and posting just the 26th highest Game Score of his 30 starts this season, got all of nine swinging strikes in five frames.
Ross got five swinging strikes in his first inning of work.
Getting that Robbie Ross back would mean not only another weapon to trust in the pen, but also a chance to ease the load, even if slightly, on the critically important Neal Cotts as Texas heads into these last 10 critically important games.
It was adrenalizing to see Texas take it to the other guys on the bases, reminiscent of August as well as of the 2010 American League Division Series that saw the Rangers win three times at Tropicana Field to advance in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
I don’t know if Texas will be able to hold on these next 10 days to advance to 162+ again, or if it might mean another trip to the Trop for Game 163, but there were all kinds of good signs last night giving us a glimpse of what this team can be, again, as it tries to extend its season and build some momentum in the process.
Even if those good signs last night didn’t include the one thing we all expected to see.
The Rangers started the season with a 15-7 record. (They were actually 16-7, but work with me here.)
Since August 21, Texas is 7-15. (The club is 6-15 since the day after that, but, you know, symmetry.)
Flip those two 22-game stretches. Imagine that the Rangers started 2013 with a 7-15 record – where the Astros were after 22 games – and were on a 15-7 tear going into tonight. How fired up would we be that Texas is 81-68 and in control of a Wild Card spot?
New day today. 81-68, Wild Card. Thirteen games to go.
Start with that, and forget when the good stretches were, and the bad ones.
Right now, this is a playoff team.
Start with that.
(That’s all I got this morning.)
American legal doctrine that designates a person’s abode as a place in which that person has certain protections and immunities permitting him or her, in certain circumstances, to use force (up to and including deadly force) to defend against an intruder — free from legal responsibility/prosecution for the consequences of the force used.
antonym: Whatever the word is for going an entire six-game homestand without having a lead in any one game at any one point . . . a stretch over which the club fails to hit a home run, the longest such streak at home since before Rangers Ballpark opened and in fact since before Nolan Ryan joined the Rangers as a player . . . losing two straight home series of at least three games each for the first time since 1973, a 105-loss season in which Texas was managed by Whitey Herzog, Del Wilber, and Billy Martin.
Cleveland beat the White Sox yesterday for the 12th straight time, pulling to within a half-game of Texas and Tampa Bay, who at the moment hold down the two American League Wild Card spots, with the Rangers owning home field for now given their 2-1 edge over the Rays in head-to-head competition going into the four-game series that starts tonight at Tropicana Field.
Reach back for happier times and you might recall that, in 2010, in the Rangers’ first playoff series in a baseball generation, Texas and Tampa Bay went the distance in their best-of-five ALDS — and the road team won every single game. In 2011, when the two clubs met again in the ALDS, the road team won three out of four.
Fast-forward to the present and you might feel that heading back out on the road might be the best thing for the Rangers, regardless of any history with the Rays.
Cleveland visits Kansas City for three starting tonight, and with both of those clubs chasing Texas and Tampa Bay there’s this interesting note, courtesy of ESPN’s Buster Olney:
In that Indians-Royals game, the starting pitchers are slated to be ex-Ray Scott Kazmir and ex-Ray James Shields.
In tonight’s Rangers-Rays game, the starters will be ex-Ray Matt Garza and current Ray Alex Cobb.
Fourteen games left. Texas visits Tampa Bay for four and Kansas City for three before returning home for three against Houston and a season-ending four against the Angels.
Tampa Bay hosts Baltimore for four once Texas leaves town, and then travels to New York for three and Toronto for three.
After Cleveland finishes in Kansas City, it’s home for four against Houston and two against the White Sox before heading to Minnesota for four to finish its regular season. That’s sort of scary.
I suppose you can’t ignore the Orioles and Yankees and their own chase for a Game 163, but I choose not to because if the Rangers let one of those teams back in, it will mean this tailspin will have continued and that’s something I’m not willing to get my head wrapped around. If instead it’s the Rays and Indians who let Baltimore or New York overtake them and the Rangers are faced as a result with a win-or-go-home game against one of those AL East clubs, fine. Absolutely fine.
Look, I’m as numb as anyone right now. I can’t understand what has happened to this team, which has immediately followed a historically great 22-6 run of baseball with a stunning 3-12 nosedive.
But there are two weeks of games left on the schedule, and Texas is a playoff team at the moment. “The Newsroom’s” season ended last night. The Rangers’ season didn’t.
Looking at my email and Twitter timeline, it’s evident that there are some of you who are done with the 2013 Rangers. Giving up.
Think back to that dominant 22-6 run that immediately preceded this deflating 3-12.
Nothing’s over. Gut this thing out. If 162+ happens, chances are it will be because this team again started playing baseball worth watching, when it matters most.
Jon Daniels: “We’re either going to get it done or not. But I’ll always bet on our guys.”
Maybe this works out, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you don’t choose to bet on our guys, maybe you do. But we’re staring at the final two out of 26 weeks, with no breaks in the action, and with nothing but urgent baseball, and some of you are walking away? Look at all but three of the 38 seasons from 1972 through 2009 for a quick little reminder of where this franchise used to always be at this point. Look at 2010 and 2011, and even 2012, and appreciate where this franchise is. There will be a day — probably a lot of years from now, but it will happen — when with two weeks left on the schedule the baseball season really will be over. That day is not today.
It’s time to storm someone else’s castle. For those of you who have turned in your ball card for the season, the rest of us will let you know how it turns out.
This is one of those thought bubbles that I tend to turn into 3000 words (that is, 2500 too many) (and have no fear, I have one of those teed up in my head for one of the next few mornings), but I’m going to keep this short and move on from it, mentally as much as anything.
For a handful of reasons, it’s getting more difficult to go outside your own organization and make major-impact additions. The free agent market looks to be thin this winter, again, and more and more teams are coming into big TV money, wanting to spend. That (along with pseudo-caps in Latin America) should increase competition in the international market, and make farm system depth and strength more important than ever.
That last part bodes well for Texas, but maybe not for a couple years in terms of impact prospects helping in Arlington.
But some of that strength can help immediately, as we saw with C.J. Edwards two months ago.
The part about all of this that invaded my head this morning — for the first time — and I’d like to think potentially the last — is that I suppose there’s a way of looking at things that suggests there’s a window in Arlington that, while it’s not closing, is extraordinarily wide open right now and could conceivably be less open in a few years.
Look at the trades Detroit has made the last few years (Curtis Granderson [nearing free agency] and Edwin Jackson for Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson and more; Jacob Turner and more for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante; loading up for free agents Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder and Torii Hunter), and you might conclude that Tigers ownership and baseball operations collectively decided to load up during the Miguel Cabrera era, to pack as much into that envisioned window as possible. Because he’s Miguel Cabrera in his prime and that’s the sensible thing to do.
Yu Darvish is the best pitcher-in-his-prime that the Rangers have ever reached a long-term commitment with. There’s no future Darvish on the farm — which is no denigration considering you can’t point to a franchise that can objectively boast having a future Darvish in development right now — and, in this altered baseball landscape, a diminishing confidence that you are the organization most likely to land the next one. That’s just the reality. Texas is still elite in that scouting respect, but its company — out of baseball-economic necessity — is increasing.
Darvish is here in 2014 and 2015 and 2016 and, unless he has multiple top-four finishes in the AL Cy Young between now and 2016 (that is, a first and another top-four, or a second and two other top-fours), 2017.
Do the Rangers need to exploit the Darvish window — and here’s the part that shook me a little this morning — not only to take advantage of his guaranteed time in Texas but also to maximize their chances of getting him to extend his commitment here?
There may be a dozen high-end, potential impact prospects on the Rangers farm. The likelihood of any of them making an impact by 2016 is slim.
That is, it’s unlikely any of them will make a real, outlook-altering impact in Texas by 2016.
But for Texas?
Let’s backburner that for another time.
Beat Oakland today. Forget the West. Just win games. Starting now.
Beat Oakland today.