Okay, I’ll just come right out and admit it: A.J. Griffin is my favorite pitcher to watch. He doesn’t have Yu Darvish’s dazzling array of pitches or Cole Hamels’ elegant poise or Martin Perez’ devastating ability to get the groundball out. He’s just this guy with a lot of hair who walks out to the mound and start chucking pitches through the strike zone at about 88mph. Then, of course, there’s that tantalizing curveball that turns big league hitters into Heddo.
And sure, sometimes throwing a sub-90 fastball into the strike zone means that Griffin gives up home runs. But on a night when the air in Oakland was still thick with the dense humidity of a ten-minute rain delay, a fly-ball pitcher in a spacious park was the perfect recipe to put an end to the Rangers’ 3-game losing streak.
The game began with an extended at-bat by Carlos Gomez, who eventually singled on the tenth pitch of his at-bat. Elvis Andrus also singled on a ball that Jed Lowrie couldn’t get corralled in time for the out. With two runners on, Nomar Mazara continued his torrid 2017 and doubled down the left field line to give Texas a 1-0 lead.
And man, did it ever stay that way for awhile. At least by baseball standards. By actual time-on-the-clock standards, both Griffin and A’s starter Jharel Cotton set to mowing batters down. After Mazara’s double, Texas wouldn’t get another baserunner until the 5th inning.
In the meantime, Griffin also lost a leadoff battle when he walked Rajai Davis. But Davis was erased on a double play, and aside from a Steven Vogt double in the second inning, Griffin didn’t allow another baserunner until *double checks scorecard* ever. Griffin struck out all Non-Vogt batters in the second, all swinging, and all on fastballs at under 90mph. After Cotton ended the top of the third on just six pitches, Griffin proceeded to strike out everyone he saw in the bottom of the third, this time all looking, and again all on fastballs. Cotton retorted with another six-pitch inning. Griffin raised with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 4th.
In the top of the fifth, Cotton flinched.
Shin-Soo Choo walked to lead off the inning, and Joey Gallo followed suit. With the score still 1-0, Jurickson Profar laid down a sacrifice bunt, and with both runners in scoring position, it was Carlos Gomez who finally broke the dam and allowed the runs to start flooding the Coliseum.1
With the score now 3-0, and after an Elvis Andrus strikeout, Nomar Mazara was the recipient of an intentional walk. In the old days, Mike Napoli would have pulled a white glove from his rear pocket and slapped Bob Melvin to show his offense. Tonight, he pulled a Jharel Cotton pitch down the left field line, and it was 5-0. Three Rangers had walked in the inning. All three of them scored.
There was a managerial decision of note tonight. In the bottom of the 7th inning, A.J. Griffin was throwing a one-hitter and had thrown first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 19 batters he faced. There were two ditches for Jeff Banister to avoid: the first, of course, was the number of blown leads that have already transpired this season, especially in games where the Rangers had a 5-0 lead. On the other side, there was the fact that Griffin has significantly struggled in his third time through a batting order.
Banister pulled the wheel to the left: Alex Claudio trotted in from the bullpen.
The 7th inning was pretty easy for the Puerto Rican lefty. He did walk Jed Lowrie, but the very next pitch was grounded to second for a 4-6-3 double play.
But in the 8th, with two outs, Claudio allowed a single to Trevor Plouffe, and a double to pinch-hitter Ryon Healy. With runners on second and third, it was time for Jeremy Jeffress, who entered the game for his 9th appearance in the Rangers 13 games.
Jeffress threw two pitches, the second of which was grounded to shortstop. The threat was quelled and we were on to the 9th inning.
We're not superstitious, but just in case, let’s fix that 5-0 figure, shall we?
Jurickson Profar walked, and so did Carlos Gomez. And, just like in the fifth inning, the Rangers converted each free pass into a run. This time it was Nomar Mazara singling off Jed Lowrie’s glove to make it 7-0. With the half-price pizza secured, it was time for some redemption. Keone Kela entered the game, called up today after spending the first two weeks of the season in AAA after a still-somewhat-mysterious confrontation on the last day of Spring Training.
Kela retired Rajai Davis on a high chopper to Joey Gallo, who made a brilliant catch-and-throw play to get the speedy leadoff hitter.
Matt Joyce struck out swinging at a curveball.
Jed Lowrie grounded out to second base.
After the game, Kela talked about what he learned from the demotion to AAA.
“The biggest thing I took away was understanding my lane, understanding my role, and what I need to be the best I can be, not only for myself, but for the guys around me and help the team in the best way I can. You know, there’s a lot of things I need to work on as an individual, and these guys here don’t want to do anything but help me become a better man, on and off the field. I’m gaining more accountability for my actions, and I’m just ready to continue to push forward.”
As to how he was greeted in the clubhouse, Kela affirmed that it was all positive: “With love. Nothing more than that. I walked in and everyone was cheerful to see me, they came up and gave me hugs, and said they were happy to see me back, and i told them the same thing.”
“It was like a family reunion.”
Kela's clean frame was the first 1-2-3 9th inning for the Rangers since Jose Leclerc and Alex Claudio combined to do so in a 4-3 loss on the second day of the season.