When you see the breathless effusions of writers waxing lyrical about baseball and its timeless magic, they are talking about nights like tonight. Sure, sure, there are Game Sevens and Opening Days and heartbreak and euphoria, but you don’t make it through the six-plus months of long summer nights and rain delays and injuries and slumps without a little magic in between to keep the pistons firing. Sometimes, on a night like tonight, you get lucky and all the magic intersects. These are the nights that keep you believing in the...
“Unbelievable,” Jared Hoying said after the game. Hoying was called up yesterday. The timing was remarkable: Hoying had an option in his minor-league contract to declare free agency if he had not been called up yesterday. The Rangers risked losing him to another team that could use a center fielder. Instead, Carlos Gomez strained his hamstring, and Hoying made his way north from Round Rock. He got four hits tonight and made a leaping grab of an Odubel Herrera line drive in the sixth inning, a grab that tipped its cap to irony: Herrera is with Philadelphia because of a similar contract situation: the Rangers did not put him on their big league roster in 2015, and Philadelphia selected him in the Rule 5 draft. He is now the Phillies' starting center fielder and perhaps the best hitter on the team. Hoying is a Ranger.
Hoying's leap resembled a short little flight, just enough jet fuel to appear a little magic, and maybe it was powered by the half inning before: in his 52nd Major League at-bat, Hoying had hit his first career home run.
“I got down 0-2 right away,” Hoying continued. “I just told myself ‘be patient, let’s not over-swing, just cut down on the swings a little bit’. He left a slider up, and I got enough barrel on it… good thing the wind was blowing a little bit too, so I’ll take it.”
A 9-3 win (the team's eighth), a four-hit game, and a first big league home run. That would have been enough to make it a fun night. But Hoying wasn’t the only story. Far from it, in fact: he wasn’t even the only one with four hits (Delino DeShields also had four, three of which were infield singles), and Hoying’s Big First was just one of three first, and not even the most heartwarming of the night.
No, that honor would belong to Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who–at thirty-two years old and in his twelfth professional season–trotted in from the bullpen for the ninth inning to make his MLB debut. It was fitting, perhaps, that after eleven-plus years waiting for a call to the big leagues, it was on his eleventh day on a big-league roster before he finally got into a game.
“I had a really big smile on my face pretty much the whole way there,” Bibens-Dirkx said of his trot in from the bullpen. “Just the feeling of being able to run out on a big-league field during the season (...) with a good crowd and us winning. I had a smile the whole way up there. Nothing else was really rolling through my mind except for being extremely happy.”
Bibens-Dirkx’s first pitch was a called strike to Aaron Altherr. His second? It hit Altherr right in the middle of the torso. Bibens-Dirkx admitted later that his nerves played a part.
“It was my first sidearm heater, and it got away from me a little bit. It ran a lot more than I thought it was going to, and that’s something — big-league balls move a little bit more. It’s something I have to get used to and control next time.”
Bibens-Dirkx gave up a run, but not before he got his first career strikeout. When Daniel Nava lined out to Mike Napoli to end the game, it was Bibens-Dirkx on the mound to greet Jonathan Lucroy and hear "I Like Texas" blaring over the loudspeakers.
This game story has been short on actual details: there are a lot of videos here that you can watch. The other Big First was Andrew Cashner, getting his first win as a Ranger, inducing double play after double play early and dominating later. It was Cashner's first win with Texas, and his first in Texas, his home state. The team scored nine runs for him tonight after scoring a combined six in Cashner's first six starts.
Shin-Soo Choo made his return after a couple of games on the bench nursing a stiff lower back and got three hits and three RBI. The Rangers scored in each of the first five innings, in fact. They manufactured runs, something they were unable to do early in the season, scoring on sacrifice flies in each of the first three innings, eventually driving home four runs in the third, capped by a Choo 2-run double.
But those are the details that could come up any night. Cashner will win more games; he has been a stalwart since arriving in the Texas rotation. Tony Barnette will pitch more scoreless eighth innings. Nomar Mazara will have more two-walk nights.
But a night with this much magic in one place? That’s the stuff that keeps you counting down, year after year, the winter days until pitchers and catchers report.
"Fun. It’s the biggest word I think I could use is it was just a lot of fun. It’s everything that I had hoped and dreamed for. Before I had gotten out there and thrown that first pitch, I had to take a step back and try to take it all in and take a deep breath and just go out there and try to throw strikes."
(on his teammates in the dugout)
"I could hear them a little bit, which, usually it’s kind of rare. Usually, I don’t hear much when I’m out there, but I could definitely hear them. The crowd here at Ranger Stadium gave me a very warm welcome, and that was awesome."
(on the ball from his first big-league strikeout)
"It’s going to go up somewhere in the house. For sure, I’m pretty sure they said I was getting the jersey tonight, even though it’s covered in mustard. Eventually, when that’s clean—it’ll probably take a few washes—hopefully I get that and the ball and do something with it, put it up on a wall somewhere, because it’s definitely a memorable moment.
"It’s very encouraging. Delino shows up for us, Hoying shows up for us. Choo coming back off a back issue. It’s big. When you’re not at full strength of regular guys … when Plan B is ready and they contribute, especially in this type of situation, kind of keeping some things going for us. It’s huge. It’s a great lift for a team, it gives the rest of the crew of guys great confidence to go play the game the way they need to."
(on manufacturing runs)
When you take Gomez and Choo out of the lineup you go into a different mode. What can we do to put some runs on the board. We know we have some guys with speed, who can lay the ball on the ground, draw some walks. Set up some situations the last few games that have allowed some of these guys to use other tools in their tool box. Puts pressure on the defense, forces to teams to look at you differently.
(on Austin Bibens-Dirkx)
The complete back story, guys like that, it’s obviously emotional for everybody. They couldn’t wait. The number of guys that came to me in the dugout tonight, going look, this is the night. I said, I get it. We’re going to get him in there. They love the guy. They love the story. They relish in it also. It’s fun for everybody. You notice that every single player was up on the rail. They were clapping as soon as his name was called. He had a lot of advocates in that dugout tonight. That’s what’s great about our game. When you get a guy like this who was out of organized baseball at one point, was teammates with a number of our guys in the minor leagues on our team. They love the guy. And just to get him in a game, I know that there were probably a couple of opportunities earlier. I know in San Diego, a situation. Well worth the wait I’m sure for him. Well worth the wait for all of our guys. They all applauded him. The hugs, the smiles. It’s worth sitting in this seat and being able to have a hand in things like that."
"It was unbelievable. I got down 0-2 right away. I just kind of told myself be patient, let’s not overswing. Let’s cut down on the swing a little bit and I tracked the ball and he kind of left a slider up. I got enough barrel on it. The good thing the wind was blowing a little bit. I had a good feeling. I thought I got enough of it. It was awesome.
What’s the feeling: It’s kind of a sigh of relief. It’s one of those feelings you can’t hardly explain it. It was a real sigh of relief running around the bases."
JONATHAN LUCROY (on Cashner)
"He threw well. He velo was down today, but whenever a guy’s velo is down a little it tends to make the movement a little more. He had a lot of movement on his sinker today and did really well. He kept the ball on the ground for the most part and he did a great job. That was a fun game."
(on the offense)
"Homers aren’t going to win games for you unless there are a lot of guys on base. They’re always great but you’ve got to string good at-bats together and get guys clogging the bases up and get hits here and there. You’ve got to nickel and dime runs a lot of the time to be able to put up runs like we did tonight. We definitely did everything tonight.”