Yu Darvish entered the game with a 7-2, 3.03 record in 10 starts, facing Kansas City starter Ervin Santana, whose career ERA in Rangers Ballpark was an appropriate 7.47, with an opponents’ OPS hovering around 1.000.
Darvish set the Royals down in order in the first, and Texas put a run on the board in the bottom of the inning, in a way that was just as old-school Rangers as it was old-school Royals: Elvis Andrus hit a ground ball to short and ended up on second base when Alcides Escobar threw wildly, took third on a David Murphy fly to center, and scored on a feeble Lance Berkman grounder between the mound and the plate.
Then Darvish and Santana matched zeroes under sunny afternoon skies and 80 Arlington degrees in the second inning. And the third. And the fourth and the fifth and the sixth and the seventh.
And then something that just doesn’t happen happened. Neal Cotts allowed a run. It had happened to him once in the minor leagues in 2013, and hadn’t happened at all in the big leagues. Alex Gordon rifled a broken-bat double down the right field line, Escobar bunted him to third, and Eric Hosmer hit a bounder to third base, where Jeff Baker gathered it in and threw home high and late. Tie game.
Tanner Scheppers replaced Cotts and got out of the inning, and Kansas City then called it a day for Santana, who was at 108 pitches, replacing him with journeyman reliever J.C. Gutierrez, who is now blowing games for the Angels. And Texas then did something to J.C. Gutierrez that teams do to J.C. Gutierrez.
Five pitches into the inning, Gutierrez had recorded two outs, and he then had Jurickson Profar down 0-2 before the 20-year-old watched a pitch sail out of the strike zone and fouled another off.
And then Jurickson Profar homered to right.
An Andrus single and stolen base and a Murphy single extended the Texas lead to 3-1, and Joe Nathan retired the Royals in order in the ninth to seal the June 2 victory.
The win allowed Texas to maintain a 2.0-game lead on Oakland, the tightest the gap had been in a month.
It’s also the last time the Rangers were as many as two games up on the A’s. Until last night, two-and-a-half months later.
On June 2, Cubs righthander Matt Garza was between starts, having just appeared for the third time all season and recording his first 2013 win, a 7-2 Chicago victory over Arizona in which the veteran righthander went a strong seven.
The day before the Diamondbacks fell to Garza’s Cubs, the Diamondbacks fell to the Rangers and Justin Grimm, who improved to 5-3, 3.93 with a strong six frames of his own.
The day Garza downed the Diamondbacks, Mike Olt returned to minor league action after a five-week layoff due to vision problems. Olt homered off a AA relief pitcher that day, helping to seal a 7-4 Frisco win over Tulsa for rehabbing starter Alexi Ogando, on the disabled list at the time with biceps tendinitis.
On June 2, Hickory righthander C.J. Edwards was in the midst of a brief DL stint of his own, nursing a 5-2, 2.22 record in 11 Crawdads starts. The South Atlantic League was hitting .189/.276/.229 off the 21-year-old.
So much has changed since June 2. Edwards got even stronger. Olt reestablished his health and his power stroke, even if other parts of his game lagged.
Grimm posted a 9.73 ERA (.351/.410/.656) from that point until a brutal July 12 start against Detroit, the day after which Garza completed a six-game run in which he went 5-0, 1.24 (.210/.264/.302) and established himself as the top available pitcher on the trade market.
It was Garza’s final start before the All-Star Break, and his final start before he was traded to Texas on July 22, for Edwards and Olt and Grimm and either Neil Ramirez or two minor league pitchers of reportedly lesser repute.
Since the trade, Edwards has pitched three times for the Cubs’ High A affiliate in Daytona, yielding three runs in a combined 9.2 innings, punching out a Darvish-like 17.
Grimm has a 6.52 ERA (.316/.391/.408) in four starts for AAA Iowa.
His teammate Olt is hitting .133/.188/.267 in 80 plate appearances, fanning 20 times against Pacific Coast League pitchers.
And Garza? He’s 2-1, 3.86 for the Rangers, who are 4-1 in his five starts.
Even in his two no-decisions, he’s kept his team in the game, and they’ve won.
If Grimm, who isn’t getting AAA hitters out right now, had made those five Garza starts, or if Josh Lindblom or Ross Wolf or Jake Brigham or Evan Meek or someone else had made those five starts, where are the Rangers right now?
Probably not two games up, where they are this morning and where they were last on June 2.
Since that time, the lead disappeared and the deficit grew to an ominous six games and then the Rangers rattled off five straight, and 14 of 16, and here they are, two games up again on the A’s, who have lost 9 of 13, including the last two nights at home, against the Astros, who immediately before that had lost all four to the Rangers in Minute Maid Park.
Sometimes you have to take a chance. You dash home on a grounder to Jeff Baker, you give Ervin Santana that one extra inning, you run on Leonys Martin.
And you trade key pieces for Matt Garza, even though he may be holding up someone else’s jersey in a press conference four months from now.
1: Texas maintained a one-game lead over Oakland behind another dominating Yu Darvish effort, beating Houston, 2-1.
2: Darvish is the second pitcher in Rangers history to have multiple starts in one season of at least 8.0 innings pitched and no more than one hit allowed (Nolan Ryan had three in 1989).
3: Darvish is one of three pitchers in the live ball era (since 1920) to have four starts in a season of at least 14 strikeouts and no more than one walk (Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Randy Johnson in 1999 are the others).
4: Darvish’s 428 strikeouts are the fourth most by any pitcher in his first two big league seasons since 1900.
5: Darvish is the fifth pitcher in big league history with at least five games of 14 strikeouts or more in one season (Ryan, Martinez, Johnson, and Sam McDowell are the others).
6: Texas plays Houston six more times in 2013.
7: Oakland plays Houston seven more times in 2013, starting tonight.
8: The Rangers have won eight straight games — all on the road, a club record.
9: Darvish has punched out at least 10 hitters nine times in 2013, which leads the big leagues.
10: Texas finishes its 10-game trip to Oakland, Anaheim, and Houston with nine wins, making it the most successful road trip (by winning percentage) in club history.
12: Darvish victories in 2013. Also the number of Darvish’s 15 strikeouts yesterday that came on offspeed pitches.
13: The number of Texas wins . . .
14: . . . in the last 14 games.
15: Darvish strikeouts yesterday, setting a personal best (after four games of 14 punchouts).
16: The Rangers control Darvish through 2016. His contract extends through 2017, but he can void the final season if one of two things happens: (1) he wins the Cy Young in any season before that and finishes second, third, or fourth in the vote in another season; or (2) he finishes second in the Cy Young vote once and finishes second, third, or fourth in two other seasons.
17: Darvish leads the big leagues in 2012-13 with 17 starts of at least 10 strikeouts. Max Scherzer and Chris Sale are next with nine such starts.
18: It was on the game’s 18th Astros hitter that home plate umpire Ron Kulpa issued a walk and ejected Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski out of the game, an exquisite example of #umpshow that he’s likely very proud of.
19: Darvish has allowed 19 hits and 10 walks in 34.1 innings since returning from the disabled list on July 22. In that span he’s 4-1, 1.31, holding opponents to a .160/.231/.277 slash line and punching out 50 batters.
20: Kulpa has ejected 20 baseball people since 2005, which is as far back as this website goes.
21: Number of times between now and the end of 2016 that I’ll beg in writing for Texas and Darvish to tear his contract up and replace it with a new, longer, more awesome one.
22: The uniform number of Astros backup catcher Carlos Corporan, who’s not as bad a word pair as “Marwin Gonzalez” but man, that home run sucked. It’s also the uniform number of Matt Garza, who could be pitching for a JD Wash-do tomorrow if Alexi Ogando and his teammates beat the Brewers tonight.
51,703,411: Thank you, Bob & Ray & Neil & your whole bad-ass crew.
Ah ah ah.
Before Mike Bacsik was a local radio personality and after he was the son of a 1970s Texas Rangers pitcher, he played in the big leagues himself, for the Indians and the Mets and the Rangers and the Nationals. Whether that gives him added credibility or not to have said what he did yesterday after Texas traded for Alex Rios, a player whose motor and body language has been questioned more than once and whose untapped potential gets mentioned as often as his actual production on the field, I’m unsure, but what he said struck a nerve.
Tweeted Bacsik: “If you get traded into a pennant race and you’re an everyday player, you see it as, ‘I’m the player who can put the team over the top.’ . . . [A] player sees it as his chance to become a savior and doesn’t want to disappoint his new teammates. Remember what Rick Carlisle says about pressure.”
Carlisle has a sign in the Mavericks locker room that says: “Love pressure.” The title-winning coach says pressure “has one of two effects: It makes diamonds or it bursts pipes.”
I don’t discount the body language thing. They don’t all have to be Matt Garza or Grant Balfour or Jered Weaver, but you want to see the key players on your team showing a pulse, and not getting benched in the middle of a game for not running out a double play ground ball. But here’s the thing.
How would you feel if Texas, sitting right now in a virtual tie atop the AL West after this run of 10 out of 11, finished the season five games out of any kind of playoff spot?
Imagine that for a minute. Five games out. The Rangers have been more than five games back on just two days since 2009 (and that was two weeks ago, right as this dominant run was about to get underway). Imagine Texas limping to a finish where the club is five games out of a Wild Card spot, and some larger number of games behind the A’s in the division.
It would be the most successful finish to a season in Alex Rios’s 10-year big league career, with the exception of one.
He’s been on a few teams that won more games than they lost, marginally, but he’s finished seasons 30.5 games out of the playoffs, 15 games back, 11 games back, 10 games back, nine games back, eight games, 7.5 games back, and six games back. That doesn’t count the White Sox in 2013, a miserable year that has that club 22 games out of the second Wild Card spot this morning and stripping down.
The one season in which a Rios team was closer to 162+ than six games out was last year, when the 85-77 White Sox finished three games behind Detroit (having held first place for four months before spitting things up with a week to go).
It happened to be Rios’s career year. A slash line of .304/.334/.516, an OPS+ of 125, and a number 15 finish in the AL MVP vote, a couple spots ahead of Albert Pujols.
Nobody ever questioned Adrian Beltre’s or Mike Napoli’s or Joe Nathan’s motor, but none of them had won a ring or had much of any post-season success at all, and that story line came up when Texas acquired each of them. The hungry Rangers like hungry players.
I have no idea if Rios really plays as spiritlessly as his reputation suggests, or if he’s hungry for another pennant race, or if 2012 reveals anything reliable about how he competes when he’s on a competitive team.
But I do know he’s a good defensive right fielder, has some juice in the bat, at least in spurts, can put pressure on the opponent with his legs, and, last night notwithstanding, is a better bet to help Texas win games these final two months than a platoon of Joey Butler and Engel Beltre. As we discussed yesterday, as long as ownership was comfortable with the financial investment — Rios is guaranteed about $3.5 million the rest of the way this season and $13 million in 2014 (when Nelson Cruz and David Murphy will be free agents), with a $1 million club option to buy out his $14 million commitment in 2015, with Chicago kicking in $1 million in the trade — you don’t turn away from the opportunity because of Leury Garcia, who has a chance to be a tremendous utility player, but no more than that in Texas. When names like Martin Perez and Luke Jackson and Rougned Odor are getting tweeted around, that’s one thing. This is another.
And I also know that the Rangers, in large part because of their manager, tend to get a lot out of their new players, sometimes a good bit more than their former teams did. Maybe it’s the winning atmosphere, the culture in the clubhouse, the hands-off approach of the skipper. Maybe it’s the type of player they target.
You probably remember seeing the national columns a week ago declaring trade deadline winners and losers, a couple of which placed the Rangers in the “L” column, presumably because they made no news in the final couple days of July.
But Texas is the team that, nine days before the conventional July 31 deadline, traded for the best pitcher in the league who was moved, and that, nine days after the deadline, traded for arguably the best hitter who changed addresses. Be my guest if you prefer Alfonso Soriano over Rios, but make sure to factor in not only the age and contract but also the defense and baserunning.
Garza won his first start as a Ranger, and since his second start, the club is 10-1. Nobody knows if the abstract boost that a move like adding Garza played any role in the team’s turnaround — it’s not as if the subtraction of Cruz has had an adverse effect so far — and Garza is player who, at least in the obvious sense, can only help your team win once every five days.
Maybe that’s all Rios will do, too.
But I like the idea of Alex Rios in a pennant race, not only because of what it might do for Texas but also because of what it might do for the player. Pressure can lead to one of two things, and there’s a pretty decent stack of evidence of what being thrust into this intensely competitive battle just might lead to in Rios’s case.
The Rangers have now won 7 of 11 games against the A’s this season, including 5 of the last 6.
Never mind those 5 of 6 against Oakland at the end of 2012. This is 2013.
Once this series at O.co ends tomorrow, the Rangers are scheduled to play 24 more times before meeting the A’s again in September. Oakland will play 25 games in that time.
In those 24 games, Texas faces zero teams who have a winning record.
In its 25 games before the next A’s-Rangers series, Oakland faces teams with a winning record 15 times.
Then again, after those three games against the A’s on September 2, 3, and 4, Texas matches up 10 times with winning teams over the club’s final 23 regular season games.
While Oakland will have only three such games — in Texas on September 13, 14, and 15.
Texas has a five-game win streak at the moment, a run it hasn’t surpassed since June — of 2012.
Take everything in the above 10 paragraphs and toss it out.
If Ron Washington manages a win over the A’s today or tomorrow, he becomes the Rangers’ all-time winningest manager. And it would happen in Oakland, which would be cool since so much of his baseball history is rooted there.
Throw that out, too.
Because the important thing is that if Texas wins today, or wins tomorrow, it’s a series win against Oakland, and that’s what matters.
And if it happens this afternoon, with The Count on the mound, that ridiculous stretch of heavy synchronicity that saw Texas go 32 straight days without once gaining ground on the A’s, even for a day, will have been followed by five straight asynchronous days on which the Rangers trimmed the deficit.
Let’s go, Matt Garza.
Monday, 9:16 pm: Explosive.
Tuesday, 11:51 pm: Explosive.
Wednesday, 9:37 pm: Explosive.
Thursday, 6:05 pm — 8:11 pm: Corrosive.
It’s a good night when the postgame notes invoke the names of Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Dwight Gooden.
Yu Darvish is an animal.
0.5, 2.5, 4.5, or 6.5. As we and Yu watch.
Here we go.
Monday afternoon, with just over 48 hours to go before the conventional trade deadline, we got word from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that Texas checked in recently with Atlanta about the availability of catcher Brian McCann.
Even though the Rangers have been in a tailspin and even though McCann is a core piece of a team headed toward the playoffs and even though Texas will be able to go get McCann three months from now without having to offer up the frontline prospects it would surely take to get so much as an attentive conversation going.
Hours after that, the left-handed-hitting catcher that McCann would possibly replace instantly and the backup catcher with the Yu Darvish/Matt Garza rapport that McCann would possibly replace instantly both honey-badger Ernesto Frieri ninth-inning, two-strike 94 with blasts of pure hang time pull, suitably fair and very gone, and suddenly a team whose wins of any kind have seemed improbable lately walked off with one in the most improbable of fashions.
Texas had won only three games in July that Joe Nathan didn’t save, but certainly none like that one, none that had him warming to enter the ballgame when the ballgame suddenly ended.
And upstairs, a General Manager who’s reportedly been gauging interest in his stud closer sees a sea of red hopping dugout rails and swarming toward the plate and dancing around like Joe Nathan’s eight- and six-year-olds (well, all but Lance Berkman: check out the dugout video or Kelly Gavin’s photos) and feels what’s left of 36,000-plus shaking the joint like they’re all of 86,000-plus, and you have to wonder whether it changed his thinking on whether he can trade a core piece like that, now, even if it’s dealing from the club’s greatest strength to address a glaring weakness.
Surely one game isn’t going to dictate the front office’s trade deadline direction.
Dictate, no. But influence? Maybe?
And now there’s just one game before teams have to put their trade deadline pencils down.
Tonight: Derek Holland, C.J.Wilson, and lots of subtext.
More, probably, than Matt Garza and Jered Weaver, who may or may not have teed it up as California preps or as Fresno State and Long Beach State horses before turning pro as first-round picks drafted a year apart (but signing two weeks apart).
I watched Garza’s postgame interview late last night. I’m glad I did. What a beast.
I love watching Matt Garza talk about team almost as much as I love watching Matt Garza pitch baseballs.
Even if it turns out he’s here for less time than Cliff Lee was, I can’t promise that the only two Rangers player T-shirts I have ever owned (Lee and Adrian Beltre) won’t be joined by a Garza 22.
Maybe the Braves would be open to the idea of trading Brian McCann now since Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt and McCann’s imminent free agency market probably mean just a 2014 first-round pick otherwise — well, a 2014 first-round pick and McCann in October 2013 — but c’mon. Can’t really happen, right?
Maybe the Rangers really are thinking about trying to overwhelm Atlanta for McCann, even though they could simply wait until the off-season when it would cost them a draft pick and not the three blue-chip prospects it would surely take to add him now to an offense that is more than one Brian McCann bat short of real health. They’d get to keep the draft pick, after all, if they went out and got him now and re-signed him this winter.
And maybe the Rangers really are thinking about trading Joe Nathan today or tomorrow before 3:00 — hey, maybe for a blue-chip prospect they could then flip to Atlanta now, or Tampa Bay or Miami in the off-season — on the theory that he’s going to opt for free agency this winter himself and, given the club’s depth in the bullpen and needs elsewhere (and Nathan’s age), probably end up somewhere else
Whatever happens in the next 30 hours could make Joakim Soria or Tanner Scheppers or Neal Cotts a ninth-inning guy. Or could cost A.J. Pierzynski or Geovany Soto, hours after their biggest moments as Rangers.
Or we could take Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan at their word, and not expect Texas to do anything nearly as significant as trading for Matt Garza.
Even if the momentary jolt of a ballgame that ends with a party at the plate threatens to knock reason out of the park and change the way you think about things.
So Ken Rosenthal dropped a Fox Sports blog post late last night, reporting that, according to Major League sources, the Rangers have internally discussed the idea of trading Joe Nathan by Wednesday’s trade deadline, in an effort to see what sort of noise they might be able to make by “exploiting a thin market for relievers” while dealing from a club strength.
But I can’t bring myself to embrace the idea of the Rangers as sellers, no matter how nuanced that definition might be in this case.
I have a thousand COFFEY-appropriate notes that I’ve dutifully gathered over the last week, mostly concerning right-handed bats and touching on the Blue Jays’ free-fall and the Rockies’ own little skid.
But I can’t bring myself to embrace the idea of the Rangers as buyers, not the way the lineup has looked so uniformly hollow and drained for an uncomfortably long time.
I want to write an article about Engel Beltre and how he fits going forward, even as his options run out with the completion of this season.
But I can’t bring myself to do that today, either.
On June 27, the Rangers beat the Yankees, 2-0, and in doing so moved from a deadlock with Oakland atop the West to a half-game up on the idle A’s.
That was the last day Texas gained ground on the A’s, whether ahead of them or behind.
I’ll leave it to someone with more energy for the task to figure out the last time in baseball history one team went a month without gaining ground on any one other team.
Let’s go, Alexi. Let’s make this next month of baseball different.
We’ve been saying for weeks that this lineup is a bat short, if not more, but last night it was every other phase that failed the team.
The bats were fine. Not so much for the defense, the baserunning, the starting pitching, the concentration or intensity or attention to fundamentals or whatever you want to call that, and, in the end, the bullpen.
The bullpen, which had been so good since coming to the rescue in the fourth inning (7.0-7-1-1-2-4) and which, thanks to Matt Garza on Wednesday and Derek Holland on Thursday, was as lined up for battle as you could hope for in the dead of summer.
The bullpen, whose stalwarts Neal Cotts and Joe Nathan remained available and seated as Jason Frasor was sent out for a third inning in the 11th. Jason Frasor, who had never pitched three innings in his 10 big league seasons. Jason Frasor, who had thrown two innings once in 2012 and once in 2011 and once in 2010 and in fact who had only recorded more than three outs as a Ranger two times — a 1.1-inning effort in May and another 1.1-inning job in June.
Cotts and Nathan sat. So did Tanner Scheppers, who threw 11 pitches last Saturday, rested on Sunday, threw 11 pitches on Monday, rested on Tuesday and Wednesday, and threw four pitches on Thursday. The manager said after the game that Scheppers was unavailable last night.
OK. There’s got to be a reason for that. Fine.
But the manager said Cotts and Nathan were available.
Thank goodness they’ll be ready tonight with Yu Darvish on the mound. No, don’t even have one of them getting loose just in case Jason Frasor happens to let the first two Indians hit safely in the 11th inning on a night when the offense and the bullpen had absolutely battled to turn Cleveland 7, Texas 1 into a tied ballgame. Keep Cotts and Nathan down in a winnable game against a team whose bullpen you clearly outmatch, because who knows how much help your ace will need the next day. Cotts and Nathan were available, but what does that even mean?
The last time the Rangers were four games back in the division, they’d never been to a World Series.
There have been too many nights this season, more so than any time since Texas was winning pennants, when this team seems more than just a bat or two short.
“It’s just [about] going right after those guys. Make them uncomfortable. Make them think about what they’re doing, what they’re going to swing at. Right now, they’re real comfortable. They’re just up there swinging and hitting the cover off the ball. So I’ve got to go in there and make them uncomfortable, make them do what I want them to do. It’s a hard job, definitely a hard job, but somebody has got to do it. And I feel I’m the right man for the job right now.”
So said Matt Garza.
On October 7, 2010, minutes after Texas had won the first two games of its best-of-five against Tampa Bay in its first ALDS in 11 years, with the series about to head to Arlington.
The Rays won Game Three, a Garza-Colby Lewis pitchers’ battle in which Garza had allowed nothing but an unearned run through six innings. He surrendered an Ian Kinsler home run to start the seventh and exited the game. Tampa Bay went on to score five unanswered runs and won, 6-3.
“I’m excited. I couldn’t be more happy being in a place where I’m at, a place where I’m wanted, been wanted. It’s awesome. I felt good. I just wanted to throw strikes.”
So said Garza.
Right after the very next game he would pitch in Rangers Ballpark.
Which was last night.
Texas 3, New York 1, a game in which Garza allowed nothing but an unearned run through seven and a third.
Garza, who missed Tanner Scheppers by a year at Fresno State and who ensured that Scheppers — and Robbie Ross and Joakim Soria — wouldn’t be needed last night, helping the Rangers not only take a 2-1 series lead over New York but also go into this afternoon’s series finale at nearly full strength.
“We’re in a playoff hunt, aren’t we? We’re trying to make it to October. So every game’s a big game. I don’t care who’s on the other side. Every game counts. . . . I just want to get us to October. That’s it.”
Matt Garza. Arlington. October.