The Phillies traded Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers yesterday, in connection with which the club promoted catcher Jorge Alfaro, not to AAA for the first time in his career, but straight to the bigs.
Maybe he’ll get the chance to catch Adam Morgan in New York tonight.
Maybe he’ll catch Jake Thompson, whom he’d caught in Frisco with the Rangers, back in Philadelphia on Monday.
Or Jerad Eickhoff, whom he’d caught in Spokane and in Hickory and in Myrtle Beach and in Frisco with the Rangers, on Tuesday.
Thompson has had a tremendous season, going 11-5, 2.50 in 21 AAA Lehigh Valley starts to earn his big league debut this month.
Eickhoff has had an outstanding start to his Major League career, posting a 3.57 ERA in 34 starts the last year and a week, striking out nearly eight batters per nine innings while walking just two per nine and averaging over six innings a start.
Nick Williams hasn’t set AAA on fire this summer (.265/.293/.434), but check his history for what happens whenever he repeats a level.
Alec Asher’s disjointed minor league season is back on track, as is his effort to return to the Phillies’ rotation.
Lewis Brinson missed a week and a half with AAA Colorado Springs with a hamstring strain, but since his return he’s homered three times in three games, including twice last night. He’s hitting .414/.410/.707 for the Sky Sox.
Luis Ortiz has yet to allow an earned run in four starts for AA Biloxi, spanning 17.1 Shucker innings.
Erik Swanson threw another scoreless frame last night for Low A Charleston in the Yankees’ system, and has now fanned 15 and walked four in 15 innings for the RiverDogs.
Nick Green made two effective starts for Short-Season A Staten Island (1.69 ERA) before making two more for Charleston (0.75 ERA), and he’ll get the ball again tomorrow.
Swanson and Green’s teammate Dillon Tate has more upside than either of them.
The player to be named later that Texas owes Milwaukee will have legitimate upside, too.
In other news:
Back on July 4, after Texas had lost its third straight and fifth out of six (four to teams with losing records), seeing what had been a 10-game division lead tighten to 7.5 games in less than a week, I tweeted: “If, after play August 9, Texas is still up at least five games in the West, I’ll feel good.”
The date wasn’t picked at random. August 9, though five weeks away at that point, would be the final day of what seemed like a big eight-game homestand against East-leading Baltimore, the hard-charging Astros, and Colorado.
Though the Rangers’ division lead shriveled further, all the way down to 2.5 games late in July, the club found a groove on that pivotal homestand and built the cushion, as of that August 9 benchmark date, back up to 7.0 games.
So, yes, I felt good.
Now it’s August 24. The regular season has less than six weeks left. Time is on the Rangers’ side, and they still maintain a lead of 5.5 games in the West, though now it’s the Mariners — who play Texas seven times in the next 15 days (and not again after that) — who are tightening things up.
One more in Cincinnati today, followed by a huge Indians-Mariners-Astros homestand, and then four in Seattle through September 8.
The Rangers have allowed two more runs than they have scored in 2016, an extraordinary statistic given that they lead the American League with 73 wins.
Seattle, by way of comparison, is at +49, and Houston is at +42.
MLB’s five other division leaders: +214, +137, +100, +98, +72.
The four teams currently holding down Wild Card spots: +121, +87, +45, +26.
The 73-53 Texas Rangers: -2.
Of course, the present roster is not the same as the one that Texas played with for much of the first half.
Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo are gone (and man, does this lineup miss Choo and his approach), but in are Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran.
Yu Darvish is back and soon Colby Lewis should rejoin Derek Holland (who was outstanding last night) to boost the rotation.
As it appears Lucroy is doing himself.
The arrival of Jeremy Jeffress and the emergence of Alex Claudio have helped to settle and ease the workload on a bullpen that’s missing Shawn Tolleson and that got nothing out of Tom Wilhelmsen.
In a week Joey Gallo will give the club another weapon on the bench, Dario Alvarez and a sizzling Jose Leclerc and a rejuvenated Andrew Faulkner could bring swing-and-miss stuff back to the pen, and don’t count Tanner Scheppers out. If Lewis’s return means A.J. Griffin moves into long relief, that should help.
The lead is back down to 5.5. Texas has lost three straight, all to teams not only with losing records but in fact sitting in last place in their own divisions and hopelessly out of the running for anything in 2016 aside from draft position.
But after today, better opponents loom, and for whatever reason this year that’s been a very good thing for the Rangers.
If, after play September 8, two weeks from tomorrow, Texas is still up at least five games in the West, I’ll feel good.
And then I’ll feel comfortable spending time thinking about the fact that the Rangers, happily, will only have to face teams with winning records when the post-season rolls around.
One year ago this morning, the Rangers woke to find themselves in the second Wild Card position (and as high as second place in the West) for the first time in two months, having won 17 of 23 to get there.
During that stretch, Texas had picked up Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson and Mike Napoli and Bobby Wilson and Will Venable, and was about to add Drew Stubbs.
Six days earlier, with the Rangers fourth in the Wild Card standings and third in the division, asked if he believed his club would continue its march up the standings and nail down a spot in the Wild Card Game, Jon Daniels told our group at Newberg Report Night, with six weeks to go: “Man, I think we’re going to win the division.”
He, of course, was right.
Today, the team hasn’t had to claw its way to contention. It has a 5.5-game edge on the division and on the teams chasing a Wild Card spot. The last time the Rangers didn’t lead the West was in May.
This isn’t a worry so much as an observation: Texas seems to be at its best when the pressure is dialed up.
The club has the most wins in the American League but isn’t all that good (22-26) against teams who currently have losing records.
The Rangers seem to play their best baseball in close games, evidenced less by their league-leading number of comeback wins than by that insane run differential of +1.
How a team that’s scored just one more run this season than it’s allowed, a mark that’s eighth in the AL and 15th in the Major Leagues, nonetheless has more victories than any AL club, with only one team in all of baseball having logged more wins, is difficult to fathom, or explain. The Rangers win the close ones and, from time to time, lose big.
They’re not great against subpar teams, they yield far more blowouts than they claim, and, it seems, they are at their sharpest — defensively, in their approach at the plate, in the win column — when things get tight.
It’s almost akin to a lockdown closer who isn’t at his best when handed the ball in a non-save situation.
In the last four weeks the Rangers have added Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran and Jeremy Jeffress and Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez, and is about to add Carlos Gomez, who in his first two AAA games has gone 4 for 9 with a double and a triple and a hit-by-pitch that I don’t believe led to any bench-clearing activity.
Gomez will be here, by all accounts, in two days, when the big Cleveland-Seattle-Houston homestand kicks off.
Which, for this team, has proven to be a good recipe.
And of course, which bodes well for a team that hopes not only to get to October but also to hang around very deep into the month and, if necessary, into November.
But first there’s two in Cincinnati, with Derek Holland and Yu Darvish facing Dan Straily and Tim Adleman and a club that sits 26 games out of first place.
I prefer to look at this as a two-game series in hostile territory against a Reds team that has won 7 of 11, and that sends a veteran to the mound tonight who is 5-0, 2.25 since the All-Star Break in seven starts, all of which his last-place team won, and then a rookie with a sub-3.00 ERA who went five scoreless Friday against the likely playoff-bound Dodgers.
Bad team, maybe, but Cincinnati is hot right now.
Feels like that might be a good thing for this very good Rangers team that, for whatever reason, seems to rise to and play at its ceiling most reliably when the pressure is amped up.
Man, I don’t know.
He’s hitting an ugly, career-worst .210/.272/.322. The power is down, the run game is down, the strikeouts are up, he doesn’t draw walks, he makes bad decisions on defense, and he tends to swing so hard and out of control that the right-handed hitter ends up in the left-handed batter’s box.
Carlos Gomez is 30 years old and it would be a leap of faith to believe his terrible two-season run with the Astros has just been a slump.
Houston is paying Gomez the balance of this year’s $9 million salary to go away, knowing it could have meant he’d end up playing for a team the Astros are competing with (at a little more than $100,000) to extend their season past 162.
We all know all about the bat flips and the swagger that sometimes crosses a line, and the players know a lot more than we do, and not just his former teammates Prince Fielder and Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress and Carlos Beltran.
Ian Desmond has never played with Gomez but surely remembers that in June 2014, Gomez was hit by a pitch and then slid hard into Nationals second baseman Kevin Frandsen, leading Frandsen’s teammate Desmond to say something to him, which led Gomez to say something back, which led the Washington and Milwaukee benches to clear.
Jeff Banister has never coached Gomez but surely remembers that, two months after the Nationals and Brewers jawed, Gomez bat-flipped and admired a shot in Pittsburgh that stayed in the park, which led the benches to clear and punches to be thrown.
Jon Daniels and his group know all of this, because they always do their homework. Exhaustively.
Sometimes guys bounce back strong after it looks like their career might be circling the drain, or approaching that.
Nelson Cruz. Mike Napoli. Darren O’Day. Koji Uehara.
Sometimes they get those extra chances, and nothing comes of it.
Banister said this morning that Gomez, who will spend a few days with AAA Round Rock (after having not seen a pitch since August 8), was signed to be the Rangers’ starting left fielder. That project will get rolling, apparently, when the Rangers return home this Thursday for very big series against Cleveland, Seattle, and Houston.
How will Gomez, heading toward free agency this winter, respond to being given this opportunity to contribute in a pennant race?
How will Jurickson Profar and Delino DeShields respond in the meantime?
Gomez is no longer the player who finished in the top 10 in the NL MVP vote three years ago.
And Josh Hamilton wasn’t the same player last summer, also three years removed from a top 10 MVP vote, when he impacted several ballgames to help Texas reach the post-season.
Some of those games came against the team that was paying his salary, and that was chasing the Rangers.
Gomez has that chance.
On a veteran club where his antics won’t fly. He should know that.
Carlos Gomez has a lot of proving to do. To the league that he’ll shopping himself to this winter and, more immediately but not unrelatedly, to this new team of his, on the field and also off of it.
From a production standpoint, there’s not a whole lot of risk here. If it’s not working, it won’t last.
As far as the whole picture is concerned, man, I just don’t know.
But I do know that I trust this front office.
And, maybe more to the point in this situation, I trust this clubhouse.
In 2010, Jurickson was a first-year pro with Short-Season A Spokane.
Desi was a rookie shortstop with the Nationals, Luc a rookie catcher with the Brewers, Mitch a rookie first baseman with the Rangers.
Tony was a rookie gaijin for the Yakult Swallows.
Drew was a second-year big leaguer in Cincinnati, and had his career year.
Banny was the minor league field coordinator for the Pirates.
And in October, in St. Pete, on one day in particular, Elvis ran wild.
In 2011, Cole had his best Cy Young finish as a Phillie.
Carlos was traded at the deadline from the Mets to the Giants and put up insanely strong pennant run numbers.
Jake had his breakout prospect campaign in the Arizona Fall League.
Rougie and Nomar signed contracts at age 16 to play baseball professionally.
And in October, in St. Pete, on one day in particular, Adrian wasn’t satisfied with just one home run.
Texas 6, Tampa Bay 2 didn’t have nearly as much riding on it as those two October series against the Rays, in 2010 and in 2011.
But it had that feel.
Day off today, another one Monday, and then the sprint.
Seven left against Seattle, and six remaining with the Astros, who I still refuse to write off.
We’re now in the final quarter, with bad teams in Tampa and Cincinnati up next, but then again Texas is 21-24 in games against teams who currently have losing records, while 45-25 against winning teams (and 6-1 against the .500 Royals).
The Rangers sit with the best record in the American League, second in baseball only to the Cubs, and so if you’re wondering whether Texas might land an everyday outfielder on the trade market this month, consider that the only useful players who stand a chance to get to them on revocable trade waivers will have awful contracts that nobody’s going to want to touch — including Texas.
If they based waiver priority on run differential, seven AL teams would rank ahead of the Rangers and seven others behind.
But they don’t.
In fact, 14 MLB teams have a better run differential than Texas, while 15 teams are worse. The Rangers are 72-50 in spite of having scored just seven more runs than they’ve allowed.
And a big reason the bullpen has been worked so hard. Texas tends to win its games close. Not a whole lot of comfortable ones.
That’s why the arrival of Jeremy Jeffress and the emergence of Alex Claudio (0.47 ERA since returning to Texas on July 9) has been so big.
Last night the club was able to send Matt Bush out for the ninth with a four-run lead. Jeffress has taken a good number of the high-leverage, late-inning assignments, allowing the Rangers to back off of Sam Dyson and Bush and Tony Barnette a bit, and Claudio’s ability to go through a lineup more than once affects more than just that night’s game — Jake Diekman and Bush were each fresh last night, throwing good strikes and shutting Texas 6, Oakland 2 down cleanly.
Bush needed only 12 pitches to strike out the side, which is crazy efficiency.
He and Jonathan Lucroy struck Marcus Semien out on a 93 mph cutter. Swinging.
He and Lucroy then struck Ryon Healy out on a 99 mph fastball. Swinging.
He and Lucroy then struck Jake Smolinski out — after showing a curveball up in the zone (swinging strike two), another curveball off the inner half (ball one) — (they’ll never go to a third straight curve) on an 81 mph curve down in the zone. Swinging.
Speaking of which . . . .
In Yu Darvish’s last six starts: 48 strikeouts and four walks in 39 innings.
And how weird is this: In that stretch, he’s allowed eight home runs.
And 11 earned runs.
He was, once again, outstanding last night.
After which he said: “I think one of my strengths is that I’m able to make adjustments. But, with Lucroy, we are always on the same page and it’s easy to do it. . . . He works and studies so hard, it gives me so much confidence. There’s an extreme trust that I feel out there.”
Darvish has allowed nine runs (seven earned) in the four starts he’s made with Lucroy behind the plate.
In those four games, Lucroy (7 for 16) has driven in nine runs.
Lewis Brinson (who is back on the DL with a hamstring strain) is hitting .391/.375/.543 in 48 AAA Colorado Springs plate appearances since the Lucroy/Jeffress trade. Luis Ortiz has a 0.00 ERA in three starts (12.1 innings) for AA Biloxi. There’s still a player to be named later due to the Brewers, and it’s supposedly a legit one.
No worries. Nothing wrong with a win-win trade. Those guys are gone; they might as well perform, which continues to brand the Rangers’ player development program around the league the way you want it to be branded.
Dillon Tate for Low A Charleston: three runs (one earned) on six hits and three walks in six relief innings, fanning four. He hasn’t pitched since August 10. Nick Green, now with Charleston after two starts with Short Season A Staten Island: three earned runs on 12 hits and four walks in 16.2 innings over three combined starts, fanning 13. Erik Swanson, in three appearances (two starts) for Charleston: five earned runs on nine hits and five walks in 12 frames, punching out 13.
Meanwhile, Carlos Beltran: .315/.351/.500 in 57 Rangers plate appearances, with zero World Series rings.
They don’t always end up like Tomas Telis (.297/.352/.410 in AAA) and Cody Ege (designated for assignment by the Marlins last week and claimed by the Angels) for Dyson. Sometimes they end up like the Cole Hamels/Diekman deal and both sides are thrilled.
And sometimes Tom Wilhelmsen returns to the Mariners and, in nearly as many innings as he posted with Texas, has a wildly different ERA (1.56 vs. 10.55), now throwing 96 for strikes.
Lucroy and Beltran have driven in 22 of the Rangers’ 65 runs in the 16 games since they’ve arrived.
And have hit nine of the club’s 15 home runs.
Meanwhile, the Astros claim they went after Lucroy and they went after Beltran but, ultimately, they “were not prepared” to make an impact trade at the deadline.
Since the deadline, Houston is 5-10, sitting 10 games out of first in the division (furthest out since June 28), and 5.5 games and four teams back in the Wild Card standings.
Same stretch: Texas, with Lucroy and Beltran and Jeffress, is 10-6.
Since returning to AAA when the trades were made: Joey Gallo is hitting .268/.397/.661 with five home runs in 14 games. He’ll be back September 1, if not sooner.
Thanks to those who attended Newberg Report Night on Sunday, when we raised more than $23,000 for Assist the Officer and Jose Luis Felomina’s family. Incredibly great.
You can listen to the latest edition of the Spitballin’ podcast that Ben Rogers and I recorded this week here: atmlb.com/2b064Il
And thanks to those of you who have responded with “honor system” contributions for the Newberg Report team. If you’re interested in participating (we do this once a year), you can find the details here.
I feel bad that I haven’t said enough about Jonathan Lucroy today, so here’s another note:
Rangers-killer Khris Davis went 2 for 13 (.167/.231/.333) with four strikeouts in the Rangers’ sweep of the A’s the last three nights.
Lucroy and Davis were teammates for three years in Milwaukee.
And that’s this morning’s combined edition of (1) Jonathan Lucroy Is Awesome and (2) Today in Stuff.
I send one of these each year and it’s typically early in August, but didn’t want to do it this year until after our event this past weekend to support the Assist the Officer Foundation and the Jose Luis Felomina Family, because I didn’t want to take focus or dollars away from our efforts to support those folks. In fact, if you read the rest of this, I would encourage you to continue to support Assist the Officer at https://atodallas.org or the Felomina family via the Texas Rangers Foundation at http://texas.rangers.mlb.com/tex/community/foundation.jsp . . . and then, and only then, consider what follows if you see fit. Thanks.
As you know, the content on the Newberg Report website and newsletter is free of charge and always has been. It’s never been a subscription-based product and I don’t want it to be, because that might mean some of you would stop reading Scott’s reports and mine, which I don’t want.
Once a year, in August, we announce an “honor system” program, for you to respond to, or not respond to, as you wish. I’ll share your contributions with folks who put significant time and talent and energy into the Newberg Report — including Scott, as well as Norma & George & Ryan Wolfson, Don Titus, Ed Coffin, Devin Pike, and Marty Yawnick — to help improve the product, some of whom do so every day. Without their efforts, the newsletter and website and book and our events wouldn’t be what they are today, and probably wouldn’t even exist.
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“It’s one of his best pitches. They turned on a couple fastballs pretty good the first couple innings. I decided, OK, we’re gonna start mixing in that changeup a lot.”
Jonathan Lucroy said that last night in the clubhouse, after Martin Perez delivered seven of the club’s nine innings in Texas 5, Oakland 2.
He said more.
“I told him earlier: The changeup is an equalizer pitch. When a guy has a really good changeup, you can’t just go up there and sit fastball and then react to curveballs or sliders. . . . [The changeup] looks like a fastball. You swing at it, and it’s not there.”
Perez threw 40 changeups last night. The most he’d thrown in a game this season before Lucroy arrived was 26. That was in mid-April. In Perez’s 20 starts after that, he averaged 13 changeups a start, culminating with his final effort paired with someone other than Lucroy, on August 5 in Houston. He threw all of three changeups that night, in a 5-0 loss.
Lucroy called for and got 32 Perez changeups on August 10.
And then he got 40 last night, at least according to this PITCHf/x breakdown.
More Lucroy, a big part of whose job description (and track record) is to help make his pitchers more effective:
“I knew if we could locate it down and away, we could get some pretty decent soft-contact swings on it. We did. [Perez] was really good, mixed it well. We threw it ahead in the count, behind in the count.”
Yes, you did.
“Whenever a guy’s doing that, he’s probably gonna have a pretty good night.”
Of Perez’s 40 changeups, 26 went for strikes, and not always because they caught the zone. The A’s swung at 20 of them, and missed eight (swinging through only three of his other 51 offerings all night).
Oakland put just five of those 40 changeups in play, hitting safely only twice.
According to that same data, last night Perez threw the fewest four-seam fastballs (eight) of any start he’s made this year. He was on the high side with the curveball (17), but he threw the fewest sinkers (24) he’s thrown all year, and he threw the fewest sliders (one) he’s thrown all year.
He started 20 of 26 hitters off with a strike, which is huge. He fanned six, walking just one, and got 11 outs on the ground (four in the air). He needed just 13 pitches per inning, a super-economical number, especially for a pitcher whose occasional tendency to nibble can be super-frustrating.
And he faced the minimum amount of A’s possible in the fourth through seventh innings, thanks to a couple double-play ground balls.
The second one came on a changeup. As did four of the six punchouts.
One helluva job, Mr. Perez. Pretty good night, as your catcher said.
And maybe no fluke.
And that’s today’s edition of Jonathan Lucroy Is Awesome.
A phase of your life comes to an easily defined and well-publicized end, and you’re around for the opportunity to move on, something not everyone is lucky enough to be.
A roomful of friends whose bond will last forever are there for you on that day, nearly five dozen of them, the type of friends with whom you’ve spent spend entire days for entire weeks for more months than not, for what’s been nearly half your your life.
You have your kids by your side, and millions of fans you’ve never met are there for you, too, in other rooms all over the country, at least, the same rooms where you’d made their lives better many days without thinking about that, taking their minds off their own stresses and giving them joy for a minute or more here and there, and they’re there sitting down to watch you talk about moving on, and everyone of them remembers you well at that moment, and the truth is for many of us that level of appreciation got turned up another couple notches on that day.
Nearly five dozen of those close friends, the friends who you call “family” without a hint of cliché or drippiness, are in the room, just for you.
The people you care the very most most about, the people you are blessed to care so much about in numbers that many would covet, are all there, in one room. And when you say your things, the way you want to say them, with everyone’s intense attention, and you drop the mic — literally, deliberately — you stand up to make the slow, 30-foot shuffle out of that room, and you get about four feet into those 30 before one teammate starts to clap, and then two more and a coach, and then the owner and the clubbies and everyone else, and you don’t look up but it clearly registers. For sure. It registers.
Applause. No hollers and no leaps or fist pumps. This isn’t a baseball moment. It’s basic, consummately quiet, ordinary yet extraordinary, unified applause. As a television audience in perhaps the millions experiences it with you, in real time.
Or was it awful?
In sports it’s pretty much never a sign of happy things when teammates and coaches and trainers and front office officials all stop down from their routines to file into a room open to the media and, by extension, the public, as you take center stage.
Those five dozen were locked in on you, that is, other than the fraction who were staring at their clubhouse shoes, unable to look up.
That was the scene on one side of the room. There was another just like it on the other side.
Mortality is a weird, sort of incomprehensible thing at any level. It’s a thing in professional sports — hell, in high school sports or college sports or weekend warrior sports — that, though inevitable, isn’t normal. It usually arrives not because of health but because of ability bumping up against its ceiling or because the reflexes and reactions and trigger aren’t so sharp any longer, even if life’s prime is still ahead.
But sometimes, it’s because of health.
In that room among those five dozen were Jeff Banister and Colby Lewis and Matt Bush and Doug Brocail and Tony Beasley, men who have faced their own challenges to stay in uniform, and more, and they have survived and thrived.
They watched (or at least heard) Prince Fielder tell them, and the world, his world, with his sons at his side and a devitalizing brace on his neck, that his doctors told him he can’t play baseball anymore.
Done playing baseball.
Before Prince entered that room, while other baseball players started filing in and taking seats while there were still empty ones, it was incredibly quiet. Solemn, reflective, quiet. Appropriate, but still jarring, shrill if quiet can be shrill.
The only noise, faint but certain, was the sound of someone’s tee work, the repetitive and sometimes tedious but sports-beautiful sound of bat on ball, reverberating even though muted by its distance down the hall. That sound, as we waited on Prince, made me sad. It’s never made me sad.
He walked in and (after touching Adrian Beltre’s head, with impunity) he sat, between his agent and his boys, and he cried. Man, he didn’t want to cry. He didn’t tell his teammates for a baseball eternity that he was hurting physically, and he didn’t want to show the world he was hurting in every possible way at that table in that room. But his tears betrayed him, and that’s OK. It was real.
The sniffles in the room, faint but certain, were his, but not only his. And not only his sons’.
He talked, as much as he felt he could, and in what was a relatively short amount of time, he said so much. Nothing about numbers and nothing about awards and nothing about legacy. No. Prince talked about his teammates. A lot. About what they mean to him, about how much he will miss being around them every day, competing with them. About them, more than about him.
If you don’t think chemistry and brotherhood play a role in success in sports, you can hang onto your opinion. I’ll stick with mine.
Later, Banister — whose voice carries as much command as anyone’s in the game, whose words always calibrate the room — with a noticeably shaken voice of his own that I’d heard only when he talked in camp about the battle Beas would be going through, talked about the human being Prince Fielder is. The leader. The teammate. The things that a second neck fusion doesn’t take away.
Even if the spinal issues that resulted in it and the May 2014 operation that preceded it took away the raw power that, despite his .410 slugging percentage in three seasons here, still resulted in a career-ending .506 slug. Few hitters consistently let it eat the way Brewer Prince Fielder and Tiger Prince Fielder did and, in flashes, Ranger Prince Fielder did.
Prince’s final game was 25 days ago. He grounded out to the second baseman (stationed in shallow right field), grounded out to second again, grounded out to first, and, in the final plate appearance of more than 7,000 (counting 185 in the playoffs) in his big league career, he put the ball on the ground on the right side again, reaching first on an E-3.
Four grounders, pull side. Too familiar of late, if completely foreign as far as the pre-surgery slugger with the pronounced uppercut that no hitting coach dared castrate was concerned.
Emily Jones commented, as the presser was underway, that the “raw emotion” Prince showed as he “announce[d] his retirement [was] beautiful and heart-breaking all at the same time,” and that’s exactly what it was.
It was a man conceding his mortality. Far too soon.
The man with 80-grade raw the minute the high school grad put on a pro uniform in Ogden, Utah, and who put it on display as regularly and prodigiously as anyone in the game for so many years, was putting a completely different brand of raw on display Wednesday.
You may have as difficult a time wrapping your head around this as I did, when I looked it up:
When Texas traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder on November 20, 2013, a full 1,322 games into Fielder’s big league career — 1,361 if you count the post-season — and 1,066 games (or 1,100) into Kinsler’s time in the Major Leagues, Kinsler had spent 230 days on the disabled list.
Fielder had spent 230 fewer days than that on the DL.
That’s Michael Young territory.
In fact, as of the day Fielder arrived, he was baseball’s reigning iron man, having played all but one game in the preceding five seasons.
Since the trade, over two-and-a-half seasons:
158 days deactivated for Fielder. Zero for Kinsler.
Prince told everyone on Wednesday, forcing a smile, that this year had been “the most fun I’ve ever had and the best I ever felt mentally about baseball.”
But not physically, and when the man paid extremely well to hit baseballs thrown in his direction at 96 miles an hour with life had trouble last month walking a straight line for doctors because of his neck issues, and lacked strength in an arm because of his neck issues, and felt awesome mentally but broken physically because of his neck issues, he wasn’t going to let on to his teammates.
But his doctors let on to him: Playing ball was no longer something they could stand behind.
He’s 32 years old.
Names like Eddie Murray and Darryl Strawberry and Juan Gonzalez show up on age-similarity measures. They played until they were 35, 37, and 41.
A man with a uniquely and gorgeously violent swing can’t do it any longer. Mortality is reality for any athlete. It usually arrives before he’s ready for it. But this one came far too prematurely.
Prince concluded his remarks with this: “I’ve got some cheerleading to do. And hopefully we’ll win the World Series. And pop some champagne.”
Then he took a few questions, and with that he picked the mic up and dropped it, he stood and his boys Jadyn and Haven stood, and he walked first out of the room that he had walked last into.
And his teammates applauded.
It had to be one of the best things Prince Fielder has ever heard, and possibly the worst.