A.J. Griffin was annoyed.
To celebrate the return of football, the team is planning on doing a themed travel day when they depart for Atlanta on Sunday afternoon. The theme: jerseys. Jake Diekman’s Nebraska jersey was already hanging at his locker a day early, but Griffin didn’t have one, and had spent more time shopping for one than he was comfortable with. “I don’t even like football,” the normally-affable Griffin groused. Tony Barnette piped up: “They said you could also do ‘Futbol’,” he offered. Griffin admitted that was his original plan, but even the lowest-priced jerseys were more than he wanted to pay, and plus, he already had one jersey: a LaDanian Tomlinson Chargers jersey he had bought at a discount price when Tomlinson signed with the Jets in 2010. Why would he need another one?
Eventually the point was dropped after Barnette pointed out that the whole thing was optional anyway, and Griffin could wear whatever he wanted.
That anecdote has nothing to do with tonight’s game, but I wanted to start you off with something entertaining and amusing, because HO BOY was this game ever the baseball equivalent of... Well, it was like having your long-time crush smile furtively at you, lean in slowly, so closely that her lips graze the fine hairs of your ear and whisper “I want to tell you a secret.” “Please do,” you think. "It can’t be anything bad, people don’t whisper in each other’s ears if it’s bad, right? This is probably going to be--" “I want to eat a live skunk,” she whispers, before morphing into a werewolf and screeching the forbidden name of a forest goblin into your brain.
The Rangers were one strike away, the sweet kiss of victory so close that the fans stood tall like the hairs on the back of the stadium’s neck in anticipation of strike three. Instead, with the score 4-2, they got a Luis Valbuena double. Then C.J. Cron live skunked a ball over the left field wall and before you could catch your breath (to hold it), it was the tenth inning.
Let’s back up to happier times, because this sort of loss doesn’t have the full devastating impact unless it rides in on the coattails of false hope and near-elation. A.J. Griffin bounced back from his last outing, a rough start in Oakland, to work into the sixth inning. In a weird parallel, I can tell you about the fourth and sixth innings at the same time:
Brandon Phillips led off with an infield pop-up, but with one out, Mike Trout doubled. Griffin battled back to retire Justin Upton, but with two outs, Albert Pujols engaged in an eight-pitch battle with Griffin, eventually singling to score Trout. Griffin then walked Cron. ALL THESE THINGS happened in both the fourth and sixth innings before the storylines diverged. In the fourth, Griffin struck out Andrelton Simmons, and in the sixth, he was removed from the game and Paolo Espino got Simmons to fly out to left field.
Meanwhile, the Rangers’ runs scored one at a time as well. In the first, it was Delino DeShields, again leading off by getting on base (this time it was a walk). After a Choo double, DeShields scored on an Elvis Andrus groundout. In the second inning, Carlos Gomez led off with a no-doubt home run to center field, and in the bottom of the fourth, his leadoff double turned into a run when Joey Gallo singled through the shift. In the seventh inning, the Rangers’ fourth and final run came when Robinson Chirinos’ leadoff walk found him at second base after a DeShields bunt single, then at third one out later when Andrus walked to load the bases. He scored when Nomar Mazara beat out the relay throw on a double play, but with two on and two outs, Carlos Gomez was called out on strikes. The official call was that he swung, and while it’s true that his bat cleared the path, it’s also true that he was leaning backwards to try to avoid getting hit by the pitch.
No matter though, right? Jake Diekman worked a clean seventh, save for a Gallo error at third. Tony Barnette threw a 1-2-3 the hard way in the 8th, getting an immaculate double play behind him to end the inning: Elvis Andrus dove to his left, catching the ball in his glove and–while still on his stomach–shoveling it to Rougned Odor, who barehanded the thing and threw it to first.
The bottom of the eighth provided a bit of an eye-roll moment: after Joey Gallo’s walk, Mike Napoli grounded to third base. But Cron couldn’t handle the short-hop throw from Luis Valbuena. Gallo, who had been running on the play, saw the ball scamper away from Cron and took off for third. He was safe, and called safe, but on review, his foot had come–and this is no exaggeration–approximately one inch off the third base bag. The call was overturned and he was ruled out.
In the ninth, with Alex Claudio unavailable due to his recent workload, Jeff Banister called on Ricky Rodriguez in hopes that the rookie would lock down his second career save. After two quick outs on just four pitches, it looked like that might be the fate of the game. But then came the double. Then came the skunk.
After that, the screech: in the tenth inning, it was Jose Leclerc’s game. He walked one batter, then another. Robinson Chirinos didn’t do him any favors on the second walk, getting crossed up and allowing a passed ball on ball two, then lurching to his right on ball three. Both pitches were in the strike zone. But the third consecutive walk? That was all on Leclerc.
Austin Bibens-Dirkx came on to try to hold the door, but it was a tied game with the bases loaded and no outs.
All three of Leclerc’s runners scored, and 7-4 was the final.
Go howl at the moon, get it out of your system, and we’ll see you back here at 2pm on Sunday afternoon for the rubber match of the three-game series.