The Rangers won a really exciting baseball game on Wednesday night / Thursday morning, but I think you’ll enjoy hearing about it even more if I take three full paragraphs to give you a little bit of a backstory about Baseball Dominoes and how tonight’s game was impacted heavily by the 2010/2011 offseason. If you’re not into history or baseball transactions, skip to the big bold “DOWN HERE” down there. For the rest of us, let’s take a trip to the aftermath of the Rangers’ first World Series appearance… *wiggly lines, wiggly lines, harp music, harp music*
You might already remember what happened next: the entire baseball world waited while Cliff Lee meandered off to Arkansas to go deer hunting. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees both sent search parties to, and I cannot stress this enough, frickin Arkansas to try to woo the laconic left-hander to come play for them and return them to postseason glory. Then seemingly out of nowhere, here came the Philadelphia Phillies. On December 15th, fresh out of the deer blind and still smelling faintly of venison blood, Cliff Lee joined Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and, uh, *double checks* yes, Vance Worley to form the SuperRotation dubbed by one radio caller as “H2O-Lee-Crap”. (That nomenclature really wasn’t fair to Worley, he went 11-3 in 2011 with a 3.01 ERA).
The Rangers, with that Cliff Lee money burning a hole in their pocket, signed a third baseman coming off a one year “pillow” contract in Boston. That man was Adrian Beltre, and as legend has it, what he had really wanted was to be an Angel. He had debuted as a Dodger, and still lived in Los Angeles. But the Angels felt okay about taking the field on Opening Day with *triple checks* ...Huh. Alberto Callaspo manning the hot corner, so on January 5th (just two days after the Rangers signed Rougned Odor as an international free agent), Adrian Beltre became a Ranger.
One more fun twist: sixteen days later, on January 21st, 2011 the Angels made one more move, trading Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to the Toronto Blue Jays for Vernon Wells. Ten days later, the Jays sent Napoli to the Rangers ten days later for Frank Francisco. Napoli has since signed free-agent contracts with Boston, Cleveland, and Texas again, but it’s still a fun note.
-SO- What does that have to do with the 7-5 win over the Angels on Wednesday? This: when Adrian Beltre broke a 0-0 tie by leading off the second inning with a solo home run, it was his 26th against the Angels in 112 games since signing with the Rangers. And when he led off the fourth inning by hitting another one? Well, you’re good at math. That’s 27. Robinson Chirinos bridged the gap by leading off the third inning with his 15th home run of the year, and by the time Andrew Cashner took the mound for the bottom of the fourth, it was 3-0 Rangers.
Andrew Cashner had a statistical oddity tonight: he threw first-pitch strikes to the first 17 batters he faced (including Luis Valbuena, who hit a fourth-pitch strike to right field to tie the game at 3-3 in the fourth inning). Then Cashner threw first-pitch balls to the next five batters, including a 1-2-3 fifth inning. After that, he threw first-pitch strikes to the final four batters. There may be some among you who say “Hang on. The count was 1-0 when C.J. Cron grounded out to third base” and to you I say: check out this photo.
Fast-forward to the top of the ninth: the score is tied 4-4. Ricardo Rodriguez (amateur free agent, December 13th, 2010) has pitched a scoreless 7th and Alex Claudio (27th round of the 2010 draft, if we want to extand the premise a bit) has pitched a scoreless eighth. Now the Rangers have something cooking: Chirinos is on second, DeShields is on first, and Shin-Soo Choo hits a single to center field. Mike Trout, who does not have a strong arm, unloads a perfect strike, and Chirinos is out, thanks to a spike hanging in front of the plate, causing his foot to bounce. The inning is over, and Alex Claudio has to pitch another scoreless inning to send us to the 10th.
And this is where the magic happened. Elvis Andrus not only reached on an infield single, but a unicorn appeared: Andrelton Simmons overthrew first base. With Andrus on second, Beltre grounded out, advancing the runner. Mike Scioscia elected to intentionally walk Nomar Mazara to get to Mike Napoli. But Napoli also walked. With the bases loaded, Rougned Odor did battle until he got a pitch he could hit to right field for a go-ahead sac fly. It was 5-4 Texas. Then they piled on a little bit. Chirinos singled home another run. Then so did Drew Robinson (4th round, 2010). It was 7-4.
Jose Leclerc signed with the Rangers as an international free agent on December 9th, 2010, and had he closed out the tenth inning, it would have made for a neat little bow for the end of the story. Instead, he walked the first two batters he faced, and Jeff Banister called on Tony Barnette (who spent the 2010-11 offseason preparing to transition from starter to reliever as a member of the Yakult Swallows in Japan, a transition that would see him convert 97 of 110 save opportunities before coming back to the states as a Ranger in 2016) to finish the job.
Barnette immediately got a double play ball from Albert Pujols (whose Cardinals eliminated both Cliff Lee and the Rangers from the 2011 season, while we're at it). Kole Calhoun (8th round, 2010) singled home the Angels’ final run of the game, but Simmons (2nd round, 2010, Braves) flied out to Robinson in left field for the game’s final out. It was Barnette's first MLB save.
The Rangers are back to .500, and back to just 2 games out of the second Wild Card spot. They’ll try to win the series in just a few hours when Martin Perez and Troy Scribner square off in the series finale.