About fifteen minutes before first pitch, the Astros got some news that seemed to be good: they would not, as we had all been told, face Cole Hamels tonight. He was scratched with tightness in his right oblique muscle. They would instead be facing Alex Claudio.
The phrase “seemed to be” is apropos there because–and at some point, this will cease to be a surprise to everyone–Claudio was really good for precisely three innings. He threw first-pitch strikes to the first eight batters, he didn’t allow a hit until there were two outs in the third (and he immediately escaped that inning) and he was cruising right along. Meanwhile, the Rangers got solo home runs from Delino DeShields and Joey Gallo, and led 2-0 after three.
In the fourth inning, Texas started to pile on a bit: Elvis Andrus homered, and after a Nomar Mazara single, so did Jonathan Lucroy. It was 5-0, and it’s time to close this window and go on with your life, because it only gets harrowing from here.
Alex Claudio is a relief pitcher, so maybe it should come as no surprise that he allowed a single and an Altuve home run to lead off the fourth inning. It’s okay, Alex. These things happen to starting pitchers sometimes. But then Marwin Gonzalez home run to lead off the fifth inning. Of course he did: it’s Marwin Gonzalez, destroyer of Ranger dreams. But a leadoff home run to make it 5-3 is not the end of the world.
Translation: it was not the end of Marwin’s night.
It was here that the game hit a lull. No one scored for awhile. The Rangers continued their trend of only scoring early and then striking out a bunch for the rest of the game (they ended up with 16 on the night) and Jose Leclerc, Sam Dyson (!!) and Dario Alvarez came into the game and got some guys out.
Then came the fateful eighth inning.
With Keone Kela on the mound, Carlos Beltran led off with a double. Then Kela couldn’t walked Altuve. He followed that with a strikeout of Carlos Correa, but Evan Gattis singled to load the bases with just one out. Kela battled. He got Yulieski Gurriel to pop out on one pitch, meaning the double play was no longer required to escape the inning scoreless.
Sometimes it helps to just rip off the band-aid, or at least that’s what they tell us.
Marwin Gonzalez hit a grand slam. There.
Now that I’ve done that, maybe it’s time for a conversation on the truth of that statement. Do you feel better? No. I don’t either. It’s bleeding again. Why didn’t we just leave the band-aid on? Leave-- look, it will fall off when the wound is healed, right? Why did we commit further violence on an area that was already vulnerable?
Elvis Andrus and Nomar Mazara tried to make this whole article better in the ninth inning. Andrus walked and Mazara homered. And that would have tied the game at 7, except once Jeremy Jeffress replaced Keone Kela in the 8th inning, he also gave up a run. So it was 8-7.
Then Jonathan Lucroy singled. Pete Kozma made his Rangers debut as a pinch-runner.
Ryan Rua, in the game for Delino DeShields for defensive purposes, worked a full count from the leadoff spot, but (after Kozma advanced to second on a wild pitch) Rua swung at ball four (and missed). Shin-Soo Choo grounded out, advancing Kozma to third base, and it came down to Carlos Gomez. If there is one person who could play Marwin Gonzalez and flip the script, it would be Gomez, who the Astros released last season before he came to Texas and thrived.
Let’s try a new strategy. No more band-aid rip-offs. That was a bad idea. Kozma (the tying run) was at third, and...
Carlos Gomez fouled off a ball…
I’m giving you some space.
You can close the window right now and walk away.
Hey, so uh what’s going on in the NBA playoffs tonight, huh?
You know what’s coming.
Every Ranger fan watching the game went through whatever rituals they have. Just a single. Just another wild pitch. And you know what, this was a really good baseball game if you judge these sorts of things not by "HOW did it make me feel" but "DID it make me feel". It did that, right? That's the point of sports? Right?
Curveball strike three. 8-7 Astros.