A 1-0 game is compelling, no matter how it happens. A closely-contested matchup is infinitely more engaging than an 11-2 snoozer, and each strikeout, each fielded ball, each close play carries with it that little added weight of, you know, the entire outcome of the game. Inside the 1-0 game lies a thousand little stories, each that might merit little more than a mark on a scorecard in a lesser matchup.
Tonight it was Cole Hamels for the Rangers, and Danny Duffy for the Royals who alternated encores to center stage, alternating sessions of heaving fastballs and changeups, like an elegant dance-off between two artists, each signaling for the inside turn about every dozen or so steps as their backing dancers deftly spun and sprinted to the defense of the grass against a meager onslaught of batted projectiles.
Each pitcher faced one, exactly one, situation that dared increase the heart rate of the onlookers. In the top of the second inning, Mike Napoli hit a ball that at first appeared to be drifting foul, but then regulated mid-air and dove for the top of the right field fence just inside the foul pole. Napoli shifted gears and huff-puff-chuffed into third base as the ball clanged off the top of the metal railing and rolled towards center field. The umpires reviewed it to make sure it wasn’t a home run, but the call stood. It was a leadoff triple.
But then Nomar Mazara, Carlos Gomez, and Rougned Odor saw (and swung at) a combined five pitches, and the inning was over before the sound of the voices yelling “TAKE A PITCH” could make it all the way to the batter’s box.
In the third, it was Kansas City’s turn to make a rush and a push towards the flag. Alcides Escobar, who surprised us all last night when he hit his third home run of the season, did something nearly as rare: he walked for just the seventh time in 355 plate appearances. Then Brandon Moss singled, and there were two on and no outs for the still-mustachioed Hamels. Alex Gordon electrified the Kauffman faithful by sending a fly ball to the warning track in left field, but Escobar mis-read the play and was unable to advance. The runners were again unable to advance when Whit Merrifield also flied out, this one to right field, so when Jorge Bonifacio scorched a 107mph missile that hit Elvis Andrus’ glove, then bounced behind him for a single, everyone was only able to move forward one station.
With the bases loaded, Lorenzo Cain grounded out to Adrian Beltre
Every 1-0 game is interesting, but part of what made this one so fascinating was that Cole Hamels could be so in-character (7.2 IP, 4 hits, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts, no runs) and the Rangers’ offense could be so out of it. The team who has so often employed the try-to-homer-more-than-you-strike-out-but-do-a-lot-of-both-no-more-of-both-no-more-even-more-of-both strategy struck out six times, which isn’t paltry, except by 2017 Rangers standards. Oddly enough, three of the strikeouts were by the usually-stingy Elvis Andrus. And the one ninth-inning run they scored? If home runs are largely a one-man effort, tonight’s run couldn’t have been more of a small-ball team effort.
Jonathan Lucroy singled, then was replaced by pinch-runner Joey Gallo. Delino DeShields bunted Gallo to second base, and Shin-Soo Choo connected for an opposite-field single. Then the team that until last night had led the league in blown saves saw Alex Claudio enter the game with one on and no outs in the ninth inning. He struck out Eric Hosmer on an 86mph fastball, and induced a 1-4-3 double play on his second pitch to Bonifacio. It was Claudio’s third save of the season, and his second in as many nights.
The Rangers are back to .500, and they pass the Royals for fourth place in the AL Wild Card standings. They’ll go for the sweep tomorrow at 1:15pm, as Yu Darvish and Ian Kennedy face off.