When Mitch Haniger hit a 401-foot solo home run in the bottom of the third inning, two things were true: the Mariners led the Rangers 1-0, and Felix Hernandez was one-third of the way through a perfect game.
When Nelson Cruz hit a 417-foot solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning… all of that had changed.
The Rangers scored seven runs in the fourth inning en route to an 8-6 victory in Seattle, and with the win (and losses by the Twins and Angels) Texas is, somewhat unbelievably, back in the thick of the Wild Card race with just eleven games left to play.
The top of the fourth inning went like this: [deafening sound of a volcano erupting]
*places finger to ear* Ah, yes, that is correct. I’m reminded that this was a west coast game, so many of you readers went to bed at a reasonable hour. I’ll be more detailed:
After a Delino DeShields walk, Shin-Soo Choo singled, and the Mariners proceeded to commit two errors in a row: one to allow DeShields to third base, and the next just one pitch later when Kyle Seager failed to field a grounder by Elvis Andrus. The game was tied at one just long enough for Adrian Beltre to walk, then Nomar Mazara singled home two. It was 3-1 and there were still no outs, which Joey Gallo remedied by striking out. But Robinson Chirinos’ walk re-loaded the bases just ahead of Rougned Odor clearing them: his second career grand slam was his 30th home run of the year, and the score was 7-1.
After Cruz’ homer in the fourth made it 7-2, Texas very nearly made it a blowout: in the sixth inning, Delino DeShields was hit by a pitch and joined Chirinos (single) and Odor (TWELVE-PITCH WALK, EVERYONE) on the bases, and Shin-Soo Choo hit a ball that would have been the second grand slam of the evening, had Guillermo Heredia not reached over the wall to turn it into a sac fly instead. It was 8-2.
Then came the race: which would run out first? The Mariners’ 12 outs, or the Rangers’ 6-run lead? It was closer than it should have been.
In the sixth, a single-walk-single sequence from Cano-Cruz-Seager loaded the bases with no outs against Cashner. But a double play and a fly-out–while allowing a run to score–provided the trap-door exit. Cashner escaped the inning and the game with an 8-3 lead.
In the seventh, Nick Gardewine was only able to retire one of the three batters he faced, then Jake Diekman–after striking out Haniger–allowed a 2-run single to Cano, then walked both Cruz and Seager to load the bases. But again, Texas managed to creep through the big inning without stepping on any land mines: Scott Servais opted to allow Yonder Alonso (who has hit just .186 against left-handed pitchers this year) hit against Diekman rather than take his chances with a pinch-hitter against Matt Bush.
Alonso grounded to first base on the first pitch. It was 8-5.
You cannot ever say, of course, that (for instance) Carlos Ruiz would have had the same success against Matt Bush that both Mike Zunino and Ben Gamel had when Bush began the eighth inning by allowing back-to-back doubles to the tandem, but I can’t help wonder if Scott Servais would like a do-over on that decision. Bush has looked uncharacteristically pedestrian of late, and the slider that Gamel hit…simply didn’t slide. With a run in, a runner in scoring position, and the lead behaving like so much bathwater down an unreliable drain, Jeff Banister wasted no time calling on human drain plug Alex Claudio.
Claudio, who is from Puerto Rico, entered the game wearing a blue hat with “Stay Strong” on one side of the T logo and “Pray 4 P.R.” on the other.
He got Danny Valencia to pop out, then induced a grounder to short that culminated in this tense rundown play to eliminate Gamel from the basepaths. (Side note: watch Rougned Odor flip the ball back to Claudio, and the subsequent barehand. How did Odor get that ball anywhere near Claudio from that angle? I have one theory.)
Claudio then retired Haniger on a flyout, then returned in the ninth to retire Cano (strikeout swinging), Cruz (groundout to shortstop) and–after a Seager single–Ruiz, who finally did get that pinch-hitting appearance after all: he lined out to Ryan Rua, who had entered the game as a defensive replacement.
So here we are again: raise your hand if you thought that losing the Mariners series 3-1 in Arlington was the end for Texas. On second thought, let’s don’t. I have a few more sentences to write, and it’s hard to type with one hand.
The Twins lost and the Angels lost, so as of Thursday morning, the Wild Card race looks like this:
Anaheim: 76-75 (-1.5)
Texas: 76-76 (-2.5)
Cole Hamels will take on James Paxton tomorrow as Texas goes for the sweep.