So the Rangers are 7-4 in their last eleven games. “Eleven games,” you might be thinking “is quite an arbitrary endpoint for this practice, isn’t it?” and the answer is yes, but they lost the four games before that, and 7-4 in their last eleven sounds a lot more impressive than 7-8 in their last fifteen, and if the whole point of sports is to provide us a little distraction from the stress of the real world, then why not be optimistic about it when there’s an opportunity?
Monday’s opportunity happened thusly: Martin Perez made a second consecutive strong start, Drew Robinson made a sensational catch in center field, Rougned Odor made a nuisance (the good kind) of himself, Ricky Rodriguez made a great first impression, Joey Gallo made another baseball go away, and the Rangers beat the Tigers 6-2 to pull to within three games of the second wild-card spot.
It looked early like it might turn into a slugfest: Justin Upton hit a two-run home run in the first inning to give Detroit an early 2-0 lead. Detroit threatened to continue the inning, but John Hicks' bloop to shallow center field ended up in Drew Robinson's glove at the last possible instant, as the rookie sprinted in and made a fully-extended dive to get to the ball and end the inning.
In the bottom of the first, Michael Fulmer–last year’s AL Rookie of the Year, and making his first start back from the DL–was pitching with all the accuracy of a Doug Gottlieb baseball opinion: he walked Delino DeShields, then walked Elvis Andrus, too. Nomar Mazara singled home DeShields, then Adrian Beltre sacrificed home Andrus. Do you ever find yourself in a conversation where you’re saying the wrong thing, and you try to make it better by saying an even wronger thing? Fulmer kind of did that here: he went back to walking people, putting Joey Gallo on base. Mike Napoli let him off the hook in the first inning by grounding into an inning-ending double-play, but the Rangers were far from finished.
In the second inning, Rougned Odor singled, and then so did Robinson Chirinos. Odor stole third on what looked like a missed bunt by Robinson, who eventually struck out. James McCann saw Odor too far off of second base and tried to pick him off, but Odor saw that Nicholas Castellanos had broken in on the bunt, and was off of third base. By the time Castellanos and the ball could reconvene at the bag, Odor was safe. With runners now at the corners, DeShields laid down a bunt that he thought would go foul. It did not go foul, and by the time catcher James McCann got far enough away from home plate to field it and throw DeShields out, Odor was jailbreaking it home from third, signaling safe as he crossed the plate to re-take the lead.
Texas would go on to score in the third (Human Potato Gun Joey Gallo blasted his 33rd homer of the year), fourth (Odor double, Drew Robinson single), and sixth (Odor single, steal of second base, advance to third on throwing error on the catcher, Robinson Chirinos bloop single) innings, and Perez eventually gave way to Ricardo “Ricky” Rodriguez, who started this season with the High-A Down East Wood Ducks. Rodriguez struck out the first two batters he saw, then got Jose Iglesias to line out to first base.
If the name Ricardo Rodriguez sounds familiar, it’s because he’s not the first Ricardo Rodriguez to pitch for the Rangers. In 2004-2005, another Ricardo Rodriguez was in a Rangers uniform. This isn’t the first time the Rangers have fielded two players with the same name, either. Going alphabetically, the first two are father-son combos (the Sandy Alomars and the Mike Bacsiks), but there were also two Kevin Browns (P: 1986-94, C: 1996-97), two Doug Davises (C: 1992, P: 1999-2003), and a John Henry (1979-81) and Jonathan (1998-2001) Johnson combo (both pitchers.
If you count the Washington Senators years, there were also two Bob Johnsons (SS: 1961-62, C: 1981-83)
Anyway, Ricardo is going by Ricky now, and if tonight is any indication, he will have better results than the original, who went 5-4 with a 4.41 ERA in his two years with Texas.
Back to this game: let’s go back to the fifth inning. After Perez’ first pitch to Ian Kinsler was called a strike, Kinsler calmly looked back at Angel Hernandez and said (as best I could lip-read) “what’s your problem with me?”. After the second pitch–an obvious ball a foot outside and low–Kinsler turned to say something else. We didn’t get a good camera angle of that one, but my guess is that he sarcastically wondered if that one was a strike, too. Whatever he said, it was enough for the notoriously thin-skinned Hernandez to immediately eject Kinsler.
Kinsler then calmly spent a good minute or so within kissing distance of Hernandez, articulating exactly what he thought of the umpire’s job performance, holding his bat by the barrel and occasionally accentuating a point by bringing it a few inches away from his own face and subtly gensturing with it. It would have been menacing if Kinsler had been more demonstrative, but he never seemed out of control. He told Hernandez that he was terrible at his job and suggested that he should go home and sort himself out. I’m paraphrasing, but only a little, and so that I can keep it PG in this article.
Fast-forward to the ninth inning: the Tigers loaded the bases against Alex Claudio, and Dixon Machado–in the leadoff spot that he had inhabited since taking over for Kinsler mid-at-bat in the fifth–came to bat as the tying run.
He struck out, and the game was over.