With the game still tied at three in the 8th inning, one Rangers fan stood in the front row at Safeco stadium, a red Prince Fielder jersey adorning his torso, and held his arms slightly forward, palms up, looking into the remarkably clear Seattle sky as if to request some mercy from the Heavens upon himself or his baseball team.
Instead, he received a 105-mph Kyle Seager home run ball to the gut. He doubled over as the ball escaped his grasp.
Never before has one fan so encapsulated his team’s entire aura: hope-turned-sour, optimism-turned-pain, a well-planned outing turning to a gut-punched gasp for air in the late moments. Even the Prince Fielder jersey, man.
Yes, the Rangers took an early lead again on Sunday. Andrew Cashner was quite good, yet again. Each of his first six innings had the same outcome: one runner reaches (either by hit or by walk), no runners score. No runners even reach second base. It went on this way until the bottom of the 7th, when Cashner walked leadoff hitter Seager.
By then, he had a 3-0 lead. In the first, Rougned Odor bunted himself aboard and later scored on a Carlos Gomez sacrifice fly. In the second, Mike Napoli had a strikeout-wild-pitch to reach first and later scored on a Shin-Soo Choo groundout. Then in the top of the 7th, Rua walked, Choo got an infield single on a smash that Jean Segura couldn’t wrangle in, and Pete Kozma placed a bunt perfectly and loaded the bases. Delino DeShields did his job: his sac fly scored Rua. Three runs, all on outs - it was the sort of run manufacturing the Rangers had been lacking. But the home runs would have been nice, too: Odor struck out and Andrus bounced a ball back to the pitcher. The Rangers got just one run from what had been a bases-loaded no-out situation.
So when Cashner’s 94th pitch of the day sent Seager to first base in the 7th inning, the margin of error was still slim, especially by 2017 standards. Cashner had been effective, but as his season started late due to a biceps injury, Banister elected to bring in Jose Leclerc, who entered the day with an 0.82 ERA. But Leclerc’s availability has been spotty of late, thanks to a bone bruise in his finger. Leclerc walked Taylor Motter, got a fielder’s choice out of Guillermo Heredia, and walked #9 hitter Jarrod Dyson to load the bases.
Then he walked Jean Segura to make it 3-1.
Alex Claudio entered, and did what he usually does: induce bad contact. Unfortunately, pinch-hitter Danny Valencia’s 73mph bloop found real estate just beyond Elvis Andrus and into short left-center field. The game was tied at 3. Claudio required just one more pitch to escape the inning, but the fire hose had already come unscrewed. The lead was gone.
After three Rangers struck out in the top of the 8th, Jeff Banister called on Sam Dyson to keep the game tied.
Arms slightly forward,
...look to the sky…
...punch to the gut, drop the ball.