The Rangers were struggling coming into the game, and the Nationals were the best team in the National League. Baseball’s 162-game season dictates that neither of those are the sorts of things that change over the course of one game, but it does set a nice stage for a memorable performance, and that is precisely what we got from Andrew Cashner, whose marvelous 7-inning start led Texas to a 5-2 win in the Nation’s capital on Friday night.
The Rangers took a break from their recent pattern of scoring in the first inning. Tonight, Cashner and Nationals starter–and former Rangers minor-leaguer–Tanner Roark traded zeroes for the first two innings. But in the third, Elvis Andrus’ bouncer up the middle was gloved by the usually sure-handed Trea Turner, who spun once, flung the ball towards first, and spun again in the aftermath as the ball sailed just far enough up the first-base line to pull Ryan Zimmerman off the bag.
Nomar Mazara singled on the next pitch, and with runners on first and third, Jonathan Lucroy singled just to the first base side of second, and the Rangers had a 1-0 lead.
The score would remain there unbudged until Lucroy again shoved it. After Shin-Soo Choo reached via Zimmerman’s fifth inning error, Lucroy’s home run made it 3-0.
If there was a theme for the evening beyond “Wow, Andrew Cashner was great.” it might be that the Rangers took advantage of mistakes by the Nationals. Turner’s third inning throw, Zimmerman’s fifth inning error, and then again in the sixth when Turner made another error (allowing Joey Gallo to reach first base) and was unable to make a diving play on another ball up the middle, this one by Delino DeShields. Cashner’s sacrifice bunt–beautiful, by bunt standards–put them on second and third, and then it was time for more Nationals mistakes: namely, walks to Choo (to load the bases) and Mazara (to put the Rangers up 4-0.
Cashner’s lone run allowed was in the bottom of the 6th inning, when Zimmerman doubled off the wall and later scored on an Anthony Rendon single. But this time, instead of capitalizing on Nationals’ mistakes, Cashner capitalized on one of his own:
Instead of standing behind the catcher to back up the throw home, as is the pitcher’s role on an RBI hit to the outfield, Cashner found himself between home plate and the mound… which just so happened to be where Nomar Mazara’s throw landed. Cashner cut off the throw and whipped it to Rougned Odor just in time to tag out Rendon and end the inning.
Odor maintained the spotlight for just a little longer, leading off the next inning with his ninth home run of the season. It was 5-1 and would stay that way until an inexplicable ninth inning:
After Matt Bush threw 23 pitches on Tuesday, and 30 on Wednesday, everyone assumed he would be unavailable for the series opener in Washington. When Keone Kela emerged from the bullpen to start the ninth inning, everyone nodded. “Yes, this is what we expected.”
Except after Kela allowed a leadoff single to Daniel Murphy and started Rendon with a 2-0 count, Bush started warming. Kela retired Rendon on a flyout, but when Matt Weiters hit a bloop that found a place to land to put runners on first and second, Jeff Banister made his way to the mound and pointed towards the bullpen.
Bush’s outing was not as adventurous as the last two, but it was not without, shall we say, a few peccadillos. Michael Taylor beat out a double play to put runners at the corners with two outs, and Stephen Drew–pinch hitting in the pitcher’s spot–hit what looked like an easy fly ball to center field, but Jared Hoying inexplicably stopped to take in the majesty of the stadium. Nomar Mazara was unable to get to the thing, and the Nats had made it 5-2.
Not to worry. With the tying run now at the plate, Bush bore down. Baseball has a symmetry to it, and after the night he’d had in the field, it should surprise no one that it was Trea Turner who bounced a high chopper that Bush–a former shortstop himself–fielded and scorched to first to end the game. The Rangers had taken the series opener, 5-2. They will play again tomorrow at 11:05 central time as Martin Perez and Gio Gonzalez face off.