After all the hard-hit outs, the soft-hit hits, the would-be-doubles-that-hit-umpires-and-became-singles, and home runs, and the strikeouts, the outcome of the game came down to two barehanded plays in the tenth inning.
The first, in the top of the tenth, came at the conclusion of a textbook small-ball manufacturing session. Jonathan Lucroy walked on four pitches, and Delino DeShields pinch-ran, moving to second on a sacrifice bunt by Carlos Gomez and tagging/advancing to third on a fly ball to deep right field by Joey Gallo. After an intentional walk to Shin-Soo Choo, it was Elvis Andrus who stood at the plate in a tie game.
He hit a ball 103 miles per hour down the third base line, and like so many times this evening, instead of finding room to roam, it instead hit a Rays glove: Evan Longoria's dive towards the line had been just enough, and while the ball didn’t stick in his glove, it stopped dead on the ground beneath it. Longoria reacted immediately, grabbing the ball with his right hand and in one motion twisting, lifting his body from the dirt, and throwing the ball to first base.
His aim was true, but Longoria and the ball both bounced at about the same time: he was unable to muster enough velocity, and the ball got to first baseman Logan Morrison on its sixth bounce. Andrus was safe at first, Choo was safe at second, and most importantly, DeShields was safe at home, giving the Rangers a 4-3 lead in a game that had, until the ninth inning, appeared to be just the latest in a streak of abysmal baseball, and a longer streak of being unable to score runs with Darvish on the mound.
Darvish, for his part, was excellent tonight. He struck out twelve in his eight innings of work, allowing just five hits and walking only one. But three of the five hits were solo home runs, two of them on pitches low in the zone and not bad pitches. Tip of the cap to Brad Miller and Corey Dickerson, and for that matter, Mallex Smith, whose opposite-field shot in the eighth inning made it 3-1. The Rangers’ lone run had scored in the first inning when Elvis Andrus hit a solo home run, his twelfth of the season.
But in the ninth, after a Joey Gallo walk, Shin-Soo Choo had hit a two-run opposite-field home run to tie it, and now here we were in the tenth, the first non-homer run having been manufactured in the top of the inning.
It was time for the second barehanded play.
With Steven Souza, Jr. on first base with a leadoff single, the Rays tried to manufacture a run of their own. But Adeiny Hechavarria’s bunt was bad. Robinson Chirinos sprung from his crouch and nabbed the ball, hurling it to second base. Andrus caught the ball, turning the double play, and paying for his bravery with a spike to the ankle. One pitch later–a lineout to left field–and the Rangers had their first win in six games. It was the sort of game, by the way, that makes a manager look good: Chirinos was only in the game because Jeff Banister had pinch-run for Lucroy with DeShields, who scored the game-winning run.
We won’t know tonight whether tonight’s win was a Chirinos spring or a Longoria dive, the push up from the bottom of the pool or the last twitches of life from a dying season. We won’t know for a few days yet whether this was the last time we’ll see Yu Darvish in a Rangers uniform or not. There’s a lot that still remains to be seen.
But for tonight, it was a much-needed win, and those are never bad.