Joey Gallo hesitated and leaned forward, watching the ball skip past Astros catcher Brian McCann. Twice he lunged forward, and twice he pulled up before leaning hard and pumping his legs into a full sprint towards home plate. Joey Gallo is a large man, but he is also deceptively fast. It is possible that McCann heard his teammates yelling that Gallo was trying to score.
It is equally as possible that the Earth shook.
Either way, the catcher retrieved the ball and flipped it towards home plate where Astros starting pitcher Joe Musgrove–the only player on the field taller than Gallo–caught it and applied the tag. Gallo was ruled out, but now there were a whole mess of things that needed to be sorted out before the top of the second inning could continue in Houston.
Here’s what we did know at that moment in time. Yu Darvish had retired the first three Astros he had faced. This was important because Darvish has, at more times than any other inning, struggled in the first. When he retired George Springer, Josh Reddick, and Jose Altuve on six pitches, he put the world on notice that he was planning on being Yu Darvish this evening.
We knew that Musgrove had also retired the first three batters he had faced, then retired two more before allowing a single to Jonathan Lucroy with two outs in the second inning. Then Rougned Odor had tripled into the left-centerfield gap, driving in Lucroy and diving into third base ahead of the throw with all the grace of a wolverine pouncing on its prey.
Then Gallo hit a ball to right field, and for the time being, the details started to get hazy. Josh Reddick appeared to leap high enough to catch the ball, extending his glove well above the rim of the wall, but the ball (and Reddick) bounced hard back towards the field of play. (Reddick would later leave with concussion symptoms, or as the MLB At-Bat app so delicately put it: "injured head")
You play it out in baseball. If it was later ruled to be a home run, no one would chastise you for hustling in the meantime. And so Gallo did, legging out the second Rangers triple in as many batters. Then the ball got past McCann, and… okay, we’re all caught up here.
Jeff Banister challenged the play, and after multiple trips between the headphones and the manager, the umpires determined that no, the ball had not cleared the outfield wall and yes, Gallo was out at home plate, ending the inning, both plays decided by no more than six combined inches. It was a weird play, but the end result was this: the Rangers had a 2-0 lead over the Astros.
Darvish continued his dominance, finishing his evening after 7 innings, having allowed just one lone hit, an Alex Bregman blooper to left field that it appeared Nomar Mazara got a bad break on, leaning in and sliding for, but unable to rein in. That, too, missed by just a few inches, and as a result, Carlos Beltran (who had earlier walked) scored the Astros’ first and only run.
And yet, despite the sort of little breaks that often frustrate and baffle teams, the Rangers still had a lead.
In the sixth inning, it grew; Adrian Beltre’s double off the wall scoring Elvis Andrus to make it 3-1.
In the eighth, it grew again, this time exponentially. After a leadoff walk by Delino DeShields was followed by a Shin-Soo Choo single, Astros Manager A.J. Hinch summoned Dayan Diaz, who struck out Andrus and Beltre. It appeared he was going to thwart any hopes of an insurance run.
But then Nomar Mazara scorched a home run to center field, making it 6-1 and putting the game well out of reach. Jeremy Jeffress emerged from the visitor’s bullpen and while he did allow a hit, a walk, and one hit batsman in his two innings of work, he didn’t allow any Astros to score.
The Rangers are now 2-6 against the Astros in 2017, so perhaps it’s not time to text your Houstonian friends just yet. But Texas has now won the first four games of a six-game road trip against first-place teams. They’re still 12 games back in the division, but the narrative has changed this week, inch by inch.