BOTTOM OF THE SEVENTH: RANGERS 8 2 – 4 ORIOLES
So here I am, a life-long midwesterner, a Cub fan, watching Texas baseball with a song running somewhat traitorously through my head:
The stars at night are big and bright…. I see a slew of Rangers cross the plate, roaring back hard for the lead with a six-run rally… Deep in the heaaaaart of Texas!!
This 7th inning at Arlington was the first on the year that actually felt “big”—not just unusual or notable, but the classic big-league rally, from a team who’s yet to announce who they’ll be—are we getting the two-time pennant-winning Texas Rangers, or some sort of fatigued second-class version, without the pitching staff to get out of the AL West race?
The Rangers I know have always had concentrations of about half the American League’s slugging power in any given year—a long list of stars who never synced up for perfect team success: the teams of Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Hank Blalock, Teixeira, Hamilton, Cruz. And, now, Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre—who today just signed for another two seasons.
Judging by tonight, that classic Texas offense is here yet again—we’ll have to wait and see about the rest.
In the 7th inning, with a three-run lead on the books against his former team, ex-Ranger Yovani Gallardo trotted back out to the mound, looking eager to hang onto a lead just large enough to make Texas GM Jon Daniels salty not to have re-signed him.
Brett Nicholas comes up first for the Rangers. Who is this guy again?
Searches Wikipedia: apparently the he’s been in the minors a while, just called up last week for the injured Robinson Chirinos. Got it.
Nicholas walks on four pitches.
Buck Showalter checks his notes in the O’s dugout and has a pow-wow with the bench coaches. Gallardo cranks the ball around in his palms, looking for a better grip. Stares over at Nicholas crouching a few feet off first base.
Gallardo slots in a strike to Delino DeShields Jr., part of a forthcoming boy band of second-generation, same-name MLB players: The Juniors—with Ivan DeJesus, Jr. Eric Young Jr. and Lance McCullers, Jr. completing the quartet.
Gallardo, by the way, is up over 100 pitches now, with his jersey fluttering in the breeze and Showalter’s internal debate to pull him or not flitting back and forth through both their minds.
2-2 count now, no outs, and we have a break-through! DeShields rips a line drive to left, rolling to the wall, and Texas has the tying runs on base with no outs – men on second and third. “Hip Hop Hooray” booms out from the speakers as Showalter trots out of the dugout to remove his man.
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) April 17, 2016
After the break we get a plate appearance from Nomar Mazara, a player about just eight years too young to have had the first Nomar/Nomar match-up in league history, against his namesake and probable hero, Mr. Garciaparra.
T.J. McFarland is on the mound in relief, the league’s only currently active T.J., representing a league-leading Baltimore bullpen that’s got a 1.42 ERA on the early season.
2-2 count, Mazara lines it to first base just to beside Chris Davis, who dives and snags it, leaps up and finds himself too far from first, McFarland nowhere near the bag. Safe! Runners on first and third, 4-3 game now, still no out.
The rally continues.
Prince Fielder comes up, slapping the first pitch over to Davis, who steps on first for the out, but throws home just half a second late as DeShields slides in safe—reminiscent of Eric Hosmer’s gamble in the ’15 World Series—having taken off immediately like an unintentional safety squeeze, and he’s in for the tie. 4-4 now, the fans have all woken up.
A group of massive Texas flags now get run across the grass batter’s eye in center-field, some sort of crowd-rousing appeal to state pride. At this point it hits me that I’m probably watching the two most state-flag-proud fanbases in all of American sports, if reading into the uniforms’ shoulder patches can be any reliable sign—both depicting their respective flags. Is there a word for that? “Patriotic” not quite right. Sectionalist? Flag-fanatic? State-jingoist?
Adrian Beltre comes up. Intentional walk.
The rally, again, continues.
McFarland now flings a weak curveball on the outside corner to Mitch Moreland. Bad choice.
“A drive to right field, it is DEEP!”
The ball slams against the right-field wall, dropping down onto the warning track as Mark Trumbo tracks it down, as the Rangers take a 5-4 lead and Moreland jogs safely into 2nd base.
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) April 17, 2016
McFarland’s night is now over, as he shuffles back into the clubhouse and the crowd drones out the taunting, slightly monotonous refrain: Hit the road jack… and don’t you come back, no more no more no more…
Buck Showalter checks his notebook again and opts for middle-reliever Mychal Givens, who comes in against Ryan Rua with a corkscrew windup he now unfurls with a slider for a first-pitch strike. Ugly strikeout three pitches later as Givens gives Rua the business, a 95-mph fastball upstairs, a big whiff converted into cool breeze coming back to the mound, a balm for Givens’ sweat-soaked forehead.
As the Rangers roll through their order, Rougned Odor comes up for the finishing touches on the rally, a player whose name sounds like the type of thing you’d call a fumigator over to your house to fix. Rougned Odor.
Next pitch: base hit single to right, between Davis and Schoop, rolling into the outfield for another run.
The camera cuts to Moreland running home to score, then cuts back to right field where—as we all expect—Trumbo must be tossing the ball back into the infield, looking for a cutoff man near the mound, and I look up seeing the back of his jersey, the orange number 45 sprinting toward the wall as the ball rolls softly onto the warning track. No idea how that could’ve gotten through. Odor on third now with the hit, barely held by the coach from trying for the inside-the park home run.
7-4 now with the game completely flipped.
And. The rally. Continues.
Elvis Andrus up now, driving the first pitch in the air to right, as if set up on a tee. Odor comes home to score, and the four flag-bearing ladies are loping again across the center-field grass patch, towing the pride of Texas proudly above their heads through the late-night breeze.
Sweat now starts actually dripping from Givens’ forehead and cheeks, on the hook for at least two of these runs, as he and the Baltimore bullpen watch their sterling E.R.A. mark slip, marred by this hard-to-contain Texas offense.
The nine-man wheel of a lineup has by now made a full rotation, with six scoring and one more out to give, when Brett Nicholas up for the second time.
Nicholas strikes out. Inning over. But the lead: Rangers. 8-4.
I hear a great phrase on the TV broadcast, the kind you don’t often get in Chicago: “Givens closes the door, but the horses have already gotten out of the barn! We go to the eighth!”
In the press booth, in the stands, in the home-team dugout, in the TV rooms across north Texas: it’s confidence all the way. For tonight, at the very least, the Rangers are…for real?