The count is two balls and no strikes, and there are runners on second and first. The game is tied at three runs apiece, and Matt Bush is standing on the mound, sweating. The runner at second is Matt Reynolds, a career .218 hitter who did not earn his way to second base, not in the immediate sense, though his dedication to speed earned him the right to be the runner called upon to replace Lucas Duda; Duda’s one out double down the right field line was the genesis of the problem at hand.
The Rangers, as they have so often done this year, scored the first run of the game; Delino DeShields’ leadoff single up the middle was followed by a Shin-Soo Choo walk and an Elvis Andrus single into the fiery blinding sunosphere in left field. Everyone had paused to see if Michael Conforto would overcome the corneal furnace and see the ball well enough to catch it. He did not, and it dropped in front of him, but the hesitation meant that DeShields would have to wait: the bases were loaded.
What followed was a double play that wasn’t: Nomar Mazara was safe by a full step and perhaps the sun was also in Dana DeMuth’s eyes, because he called Mazara out. The run scored, and once the call was overturned, the cleanup hitter had–for the second consecutive night–logged the night’s first RBI via the fielder’s choice.
Bush’s pitch is a slider at 91 mph. It is high in the zone, higher than he hoped. Reyes swats at it and the ball goes bounding up the middle, just to the right of second base. Curtis Granderson is quickly making his way towards second base from first. He is there because with two outs–while Bush got a called strike and a foul to start the at-bat 0-2–he walked. Rougned Odor is sprinting towards the ball, Granderson is sprinting towards the base, Reynolds is sprinting towards third, and Jose Reyes, the fastest of the runners, is sprinting towards first.
Yu Darvish was as good tonight as he has been all year. He allowed just two hits through his first seven innings of work, and allowed just one more single in his eighth. The problem was that the first hit came after a fourth-inning hit-by-pitch that ruined a perfect game, and the hit was a Jay Bruce 2-run home run. The other problem was that the second hit was also a Jay Bruce home run. That’s how the Mets scored three runs on two hits against Darvish, who finished the game with just one walk and nine strikeouts.
Odor’s break towards the ball is good, and he backhands it on a bounce. Reyes is fast, and the ball took three bounces to get to Odor. He looks up and he sees that Andrus is closer to second base than Granderson, so he makes an awkward throw; an inverted Jeter. He leaves his feet and throws the ball to Andrus. It is somewhat remarkable that it goes where he aims. But it does bounce.
Zach Wheeler stymied the Rangers’ offense after the first inning. His final line: seven innings, six hits, one run, three walks, and five strikeouts. Not as dominant as Darvish, but none of the hits were home runs, so he left with a lead.
A lead, it so happened, that reliever Jerry Blevins was unable to hold. In the 8th inning, Nomar Mazara singled up the middle, and Robinson Chirinos blasted a home run to left field, his sixth of the year. The game was tied, and that old comeback feeling began to creep in.
In the heat of the moment, time slows. The moment between impact and when your car finally screeches to a halt is usually about a second, but it feels like the car is gliding on ice, or a soaped-up slip-and-slide. The half-second between the jump from the high-dive and impact into the water feels long enough to hear both sides of the argument as to why this was a bad idea. And the fraction of a second between when the ball bounces into a three-way argument between Elvis Andrus’ glove, right hand, and stomach feels like...
“I held it the whole time, for like three or four seconds,” Andrus will say later of the ball. “He (second base umpire Chris Guccione) said that he couldn’t see the ball, but I saw the video and clearly, you can see that I held it. It wasn’t in my glove, but I held it the whole time, because I never heard him signal out.” As Andrus looks up to get confirmation from Guccione that the inning is over, Reynolds streaks home, and the ball falls to the ground. Granderson is called safe, and review is not convincing enough to overturn it.
The Rangers have lost, 4-3, splitting the series with the Mets, and they now start a road trip that pits them against the best team in the National League (Washington) followed by the best team in the American League (Houston).