It was Weather Day at the ballpark today. Around 9am, long before the 1:07pm first pitch, a gaggle of students sat in the stands down the third base side and listened to meteorologists talk about weather balloons, storms, and other patterns. As they were directly behind the visitor’s dugout, perhaps it would have been kind to leave behind some kind of warning to the Phillies: the storm is not over yet.
Of course, in sports, one team’s tempest is another’s smooth sailing. The Rangers today were the baseball embodiment of both the serene sailor and the angry sea, and when it was all said and done, they had an 8-4 win, tacking on yet another to the now nine-game streak, a completion of a perfect eight-game homestand.
The serenity came in the form of a man who has weathered (and been capsized by) more than his fair share of storms: Martin Perez. After hearing the “he has one blow-up inning per game” narrative for what seems like his entire career, Perez has embraced a new philosophy in May.
And it’s working.
Perez allowed just one single in the first, and navigated through a choppy second inning, in which a Michael Saunders triple became a 1-0 Phillies lead when Maikel Franco’s sac fly landed in Jared Hoying’s glove and stayed there, despite Hoying banging into the center field wall.
Not a single Phillie reached base between that Saunders triple and the fifth inning, when Franco hit a solo home run to make it 2-0. But Perez stayed the course, continuing to throw strikes, even when catcher Andrew Knapp followed with a double. Knapp would be stranded at sea: Perez retired Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez to escape the inning.
Meanwhile, the Rangers offense had been patient, drawing three walks in the first four innings, and working deep into counts all day long. With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Shin-Soo Choo also walked. After Elvis Andrus struck out, Phillies starter Nick Pivetta was at 107 pitches, and Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made a call to the bullpen. Joely Rodriguez entered and promptly balked Choo to second.
Then came the thunder, the lightning, and the waves.
Only this time, Perez was in the dugout, cheering on the hurricane as it gained strength. Mazara walked. Chirinos hit a bloop single to right field for an RBI single. Rougned Odor laced a sharp opposite-field line drive to tie the game.
Then Ryan Rua untied it.
"Just trying not to do too much, make sure I put a good swing on it,” Rua said nonchalantly after the game. But there was nothing nonchalant about what happened after that good swing. His three-run home run gave the Rangers a 5-2 lead, one they would not relinquish.
In fact, they added to it in the sixth. Hoying led off with a bunt single, and–after another Choo walk–scored on an Elvis Andrus double down the left-field line. Choo and Andrus would both score six pitches later, when Nomar Mazara shot a single up the middle to make it 8-2.
“I think there’s an element to that,” Jeff Banister answered after the game when asked if he thought Mazara–who also had a double and a walk–was putting it all together now. “I think all our young hitters go through fluctuations like veteran hitters do. He’s continually been working on that. I’m proud of him staying out of the chase zones today. When you see him going the other way, driving the ball in the gap early, he’s seeing the ball well, so it’s not surprising that he was able to stay out of the chase zones.”
Perez' day was over after seven innings. He allowed five hits, two runs, walked nobody, and sent eight souls back to the depths of the dugout via strikeout.
After Alex Claudio worked a scoreless eighth inning, Jeremy Jeffress got into hot water of his own in the ninth, allowing a two-run home run to Tommy Joseph and a follow-up double by Ty Kelly. Banister pulled the plug on Jeffress’ day and called on Matt Bush to finish the day, even though the game was not a “save situation” yet.
“We wanted to finish the game,” Banister said flatly in explanation. “That was a very simple thought process. I was not going to let another hitter get on. We’re going to put our best out there, finish this game and move on. Don’t want to allow the other team to continue the same process. From what we saw in the dugout, the ball was up, seemed to be a little bit flat, Jeremy didn’t have his best stuff. We had Matt hot, and I wasn’t going to wait for another one.”
Bush retired both batters he faced, and just like that, the storm passed, heading north as the skies in Arlington took on a hue a little bluer, a little brighter than it seemed just a couple short weeks ago.
(On how to keep hot streak alive) "We don't change. We stay aggressive; on the mound, at the plate, on the basepaths, defensively... try not to do too much and put pressure on ourselves. We can only control what we can do, we can't control other teams. We're playing pretty good right now."
On team's increased patience:
"I just think it naturally happens. Guys have better at-bats (and) their starter, we got him out in five innings and got to the bullpen; just tried to continue to do things we needed to do to win."
On staying engaged when he has been on the bench.
"For me, whether I'm playing or not, it's the same routine every day. Whether it's defensively, one day at first base, one day in the outfield. Offensively, same thing. Same thing in the cage, in the weight room; preparing like you're going to play every day."
"We just feel good. We win a couple of games and I think that momentum carried over and kept carrying over and you keep winning and winning and you don’t want to lose. It’s always great when you keep finding a way. Our rotation has done an amazing job of keeping us in games putting up zero after zero. That makes everything easier for us and as an offense we continue to get better every single day.
(on the 9-game win streak) "I think it starts with the starting pitching. The quality starts that these guys have given us, and then I think it’s the mindset of what the offense was able to do. The comeback wins early in the homestand that I believe gave these guys a little bit of extra energy, some confidence, and then there were some of the little things that we were doing — that we did. Whether it was runners in motion, drawing walks, laying the ball on the ground, some hit-and-runs, just getting back to the mindset of pass-the-baton. Take a professional at-bat, be tough in the box. Then we had some walks that showed up that really gave us the extra baserunners."
"I truly believe that the freebies in this game, you can go back and track them. When you win that freebie battle, whether it’s a walk or on the bases, or you take advantage of another team’s errors, those type of things ignite offenses, because you continually bring your guys up to the plate in some of those high-leverage situations, and when they’re locked in, you see they’re keeping the ball in the middle of the field, and when pitchers make mistakes, they’re locked in."
"We didn’t start the year the way we wanted and to have a streak like this is important, to keep the guys moving, we’re having fun right now, we continue to do things the right way, we’re working hard and it’s so much fun to go out there and play baseball."
"We have a good team and we can win any game that we’re in. So you have to play how we’ve been playing and put everything together to have a good season."
(On how much run support helps)
"A lot, but my focus now is to go out there and throw quality pitches and give a chance to my teammates for a win, that’s all. You don’t have to think if you’re going to win or lose. If we continue to play how we play, we’re going to win a lot of games. We enjoy the game and it’s good that you have teammates inside of your house and you go out there and you’ve got people behind you that are going to make the plays, it’s going to be easier."
"He was really good the whole game. It’s good to see Martin going deep in the game, I think his whole game today, it was fluid. Sometimes he has that one inning that’s long, he misfires a lot of pitches, and today it was not the case. Even after he gave up that homer he kept pounding the strike zone, getting ahead of everybody. It was good to see him going deep in the game."
"Not only today, I think Martin has been pitching really good the last three or four outings. He’s throwing more strikes, not only with his fastball but his changeup, his breaking ball, he’s using more of his curveball the last three or four outings. It’s good to see that. He’s working really hard in the bullpen and it’s starting to show in the games."