There’s bound to be at least one person who clicked on this story because they’re in disbelief. They stopped paying attention to the Rangers months ago, and they’re certain the headline made a mistake. No worries, friend, you’re welcome here, though you’re going to see a few names you don’t recognize. In fact, that might be as accurate a depiction of the season as I could ever hope to give.
Martin Perez you know, sure. But Jason Grilli, Brett Nicholas, Jeremy McCormick, Drew Robinson, and Ricky Rodriguez? Yeah, you missed a lot. In fact, there is no Jeremy McCormick*; no one with that name has ever played in the big leagues. (The rest of you: yeah, I know you caught it, this isn’t about you, scoot over, it’s bandwagon time and that’s okay!)
The Rangers beat the Angels 3-0 on Thursday night, and in doing so, pulled to within one game of the second Wild Card spot, gaining ground on all five teams ahead of them. The Yankees, Twins, and Royals all lost, the Mariners had a day off, and the Angels got to see the upstart Rangers first-hand. Kansas City, Seattle, and Anaheim are all now just a half-game ahead of Texas.
Martin Perez has had three good starts in his last four outings since a dismal 7-run outing in Minnesota in which he thought he might have been tipping his pitches. But equally as important as identifying a tell, Perez tonight did something he has been trying to do for at least the last two seasons: he overcame.
It gets old trying to come up with new ways to say the same thing, so it is with great relish that I write the following paragraphs. In the first inning, the Angels got a leadoff single on the first pitch of the game. That was the only hit Perez allowed in the frame, wrapping it up on six pitches. In the second inning, the Angels got a leadoff single, and one batter later, got another. Perez stayed calm and retired the next two. In the third inning, the Angels got a leadoff single.
But it’s not the hard-hit singles that have unraveled Perez. It always seems to be some weird little thing like an error or a ball that careens off an umpire, or a-- [Cameron Maybin butts in: “Will a bunt single do?”] Oh absolutely, yeah that would normally mess him right up.
Cameron Maybin bunted for a single. I should not have told him the secret.
But in a situation where Perez has often been vulnerable, here is how he responded: He struck out Mike Trout on three pitches, got Albert Pujols to pop out to the catcher, and then won a 7-pitch battle with C.J. Cron, who grounded out.
Oh, and then he also retired the next seven, and nine out of the next ten batters he faced.
By then, the Rangers had the 3-0 lead that would account for the final: in the third inning, Brett Nicholas doubled down the left field line, and Drew Robinson followed that with a 2-run home run to right field. That would have been enough, but just in case, Mike Napoli hit a moonshot to the rocks in centerfield the following inning.
Perez’ night finished after the 7th inning. He finished his night with no runs allowed on 7 hits, striking out three, and walking none.
The same could not be said for the first man out of the bullpen: Jason Grilli announced his presence by walking Maybin, and like a kid who tells an inappropriate joke that gets no laughs at a family dinner, he repeated it, walking Trout. Still no laughs. In fact, there was an awful lot of lip-biting and looking around as everyone tried to decide what to do, especially when Pujols started his at-bat with a 2-0 count. Four pitches later, with the count full, Grilli threw ball four.
But Pujols swung at it, popping out to shortstop.
That’s the thing about jokes and breaking balls; it’s all in the delivery.
Grilli proceeded to get the next two batters as well, leaving Jeff Banister with a decision: Who Is Tonight’s Closer?
Tony Barnette had gotten his first MLB save the previous night (after 97 of them in Japan), and Alex Claudio’s workload had been borderline abusive of late. Ricky Rodriguez has been pretty impressive in his four MLB appearances, but c’mon, he started the season with the Down East Wood Ducks. He’s only pitched four big league inni--okay, that’s Ricky Rodriguez coming in from the bullpen, isn’t it.
But Rodriguez was fine. No, he was better than fine. He was really good and looked completely nonplussed and confident. Caleb Cowart: fly out to center. Kole Calhoun: fly out to center. Luis Valbuena: strikeout swinging at an 85mph slider.
“When everyone is super, no one is,” the villian Syndrome once said in The Incredibles. “When no one is the closer, maybe everyone is,” I replied thirteen years later because I needed a way to wrap up a game story.
The Rangers now move on to Oakland. If you’re just coming back to the fold and want to start watching games this weekend, here’s a heads-up: this weekend is going to be doubly confusing: it’s Players Weekend, and the backs of the jerseys will feature nicknames like El Koja, Sweet Lettuce, and Petey. Just root for the team in blue, and we’ll hold off on the Names Quiz until September, just in time for the 40-man roster expansion.
*Okay, there is a Jeremy McCormick, just not in baseball. Jeremy is a drummer friend of mine from Nashville. Hi, Jeremy!