Read enough baseball stories, especially by this writer, and you’re bound to find a theme: baseball is a game of failure. A million little failures plus a million and one redemptions, and you have a success. I spent most of this off-season saying about one player in particular “I think he just hasn’t learned how to fail well yet.”
That player was Joey Gallo, who hit .040 in 17 big league games in 2016, and while batting average is never going to be the signature statistic for Gallo’s career, you’re okay to say that was not a great time for him. Thursday night, however, was just the latest example of the progress that Gallo has made this season. His 3-run home run in the fourth inning was the difference in the 4-1 Rangers victory, while A.J. Griffin made a dominant return after two months on the disabled list.
Let’s start with the start: Delino DeShields led off with a walk, and scored the game’s first run after singles by Elvis Andrus and Nomar Mazara. After that, however, the bats went a bit cold in the high-50’s wet Minnesota air: Twins starter Adalberto Mejia struck out the next five batters he faced.
Meanwhile, Griffin didn’t give up a baserunner until the third inning, a leadoff walk to Robbie Grossman. Grossman later scored the Twins’ only run when Byron Buxton got their first hit, a double to left field that Delino DeShields was unable to wrangle in time to get Grossman at the plate. That hit was one of just two that Griffin would allow on the night (Grossman again in the fifth inning. He was erased on a double play).
The thick cold air played the part of dream-killer on a few occasions tonight, hugging the baseballs for warmth as they tried to escape the park, and succeeding in squelching their progress, nearly without fail.
There was one that escaped.
Mike Napoli had recovered from an 0-2 count to double, smacking a ball that went in and out of left fielder Eddie Rosario’s glove. Then with two outs, Carlos Gomez, also facing an 0-2 count, had tightwired his way safely through the at-bat and walked. Now it was Joey Gallo’s turn. Gallo entered the night having homered thrice in the last two games, and he too faced an 0-2 count before taking one slider out of the zone. The next pitch was up and across the plate. That’s a dark and dangerous alley in Galloville, most baseballs know to avoid it, not because any baseballs have ever lived to tell about it, but the legends and rumors spread.
They’ll get a little louder after tonight. Gallo swung his Paul Bunyan swing, and the night air held on tight, but it was too late: another baseball was bound for the afterlife. There was nothing the Minnesota mist could do to change it, it shouldn’t blame itself.
It was 4-1, and while the Rangers loaded the bases after that without scoring again, it didn’t matter in the end. Griffin went six innings in his return from the disabled list, and aside from the two hits and a walk, there was nothing to mark his line except four strikeouts.
Keone Kela, Matt Bush, and Alex Claudio handled the seventh through ninth innings, and the fact that there’s not much of note to relate means they did their job exactly as one would hope.
Yes, baseball is a game of failures. It is also a game of overcoming them and growing. And sometimes, like on a 1-2 pitch up and in the zone, it is about giving the other team’s pitcher something to overcome and grow from. Joey Gallo has been doing a lot of teaching lately.