When we woke up this morning, two things were true: the Rangers had never swept both games of a day/night doubleheader, and no batter (at least as far back as 1913, according to STATS, LLC) had ever hit two pinch-hit triples in one day. One of those things changed.
Will Middlebrooks, who spent most of the 2017 season in Round Rock, had two career big-league triples in 1,199 plate apearances when today’s first game–ultimately a 12-8 Rangers win–began. He tripled while pinch-hitting for starter Miguel Gonzalez in the fourth inning of that game. Then in the nightcap, hitting for Drew Robinson in the sixth inning, he did it again. That’s a remarkable feat that will make for an excruciatingly difficult trivia question in a few years.
And if that question does come up, I hope your memory allows you to enjoy it without remembering how the rest of this game unfolded.
Texas had a chance, with a win tonight, to pull back to within one game of a Wild Card spot. And for seven of the eight innings, their pitching and defense gave them a chance to do that. The problem: the second inning, which was the six-day-old crabmeat sandwich in the backseat of an otherwise perfectly clean rental car. It doesn’t matter if everything else was great, that’s enough to ruin everything, man. No, you don't get your security deposit back, and frankly, it's surprising that you would ask.
That inning started with a leadoff walk, then a hit-by-pitch. Cole Hamels appeared not to be able to control his changeup, a malady that would be no big deal if his job were something other than controlling his changeup. The next batter, Dansby Swanson, singled to drive in the game’s first run, but with a run home and two on, Hamels stiffened his resolve and struck out Johan Camargo. With pitcher Julio Teheran at the plate, all Hamels needed was a double play ball to get out of the inning.
And he got it.
Right to his own glove.
But when he fielded Teheran’s bunt, spun and threw to second, the throw was just a couple inches too far to the third base side. Elvis Andrus, straining to keep his foot on the bag, reached across his body, and did make contact with the throw, but only slowed it down. Instead of two outs, instead of one out, there were no outs on the play, and the Braves led 2-0.
You don’t expect Cole Hamels to buckle under pressure. He’s Hollywood, the ace, the cool, collected veteran who knows how to stay calm and battle. He’s done it before. So what happened next comes as quite a surprise: Hamels allowed three more consecutive hits (single, single, bases-loaded double) before retiring Nick Markakis (the inning’s tenth batter) to end the five-run inning.
Lest you think I’m being unfair to Hamels, here’s his own assessment of what happened tonight:
“I think that’s just been the tough part, where you get behind a guy, you come all the way back, and you kinda know what pitch will really get the job done, and I’m just not able to locate it. And I think that’s becoming the frustrating part to the season is just knowing that I’m very capable of finishing a hitter off, and it’s definitely not happening this year. So I think that’s just the culmination of frustration that is just kind of building and coming out. You can’t really fight yourself when you’re out on the mound during a game, but obviously I do that a lot. That’s something that I always work on every year, but unfortunately I think it’s just coming out a little more. It’s not to the benefit of what we’re trying to accomplish right now, which is to win ballgames, and that’s kind of what I’m supposed to go out there and do is give this team a chance to win. Putting up a five spot is definitely not the right way to go about it. So it’s a tough thing to see from my side, and I’m sure from my teammates and fans, you don’t want to see that from what I know I’m capable of doing.”
But even with the crabmeat sandwich's pungent aroma still filling the stadium, there was still hope: with the way the Rangers have been scoring (and the way the Braves have been allowing it), there was some optimism that if the pitching could somehow staunch the bleeding at the five-run mark, the Rangers just might a shot. And they did. They had a few, in fact.
In the top of the third, Nomar Mazara hit a two-run homer. In the fifth, Mazara singled and scored on a Carlos Gomez double. Barely. Mazara isn’t a speed demon, but he looked extremely slow rounding third, not sliding, and opting instead to run around the catcher and touch home plate with his left hand. He was later removed with quad stiffness. Texas loaded the bases in the fifth when Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor walked, but Robinson Chirinos popped out. It was 5-3.
They’d get as close as 5-4 when Middlebrooks’ history-making pinch-hit triple was followed by a Hamels RBI groundout, and closer yet when Elvis Andrus and Joey Gallo both sent baseballs to the warning track in the ninth inning, but both baseballs landed in gloves, and the Rangers failed to capitalize on an opportunity. They took a step forward this afternoon, then a step back this evening. Meanwhile, the Twins, Royals, and Rays won, The Yankees and Orioles were postponed, and the Angels lost.
Since losing a 2-1 series at home to the Mariners on July 31-Aug.2, Texas has lost only one series (a three-game sweep in Oakland). Two games out on September 7th is not insurmountable.
So, they’ll take a day off tomorrow, then welcome the Yankees for three and the Mariners for four before embarking on their final road trip of the year, a nine-game West Coast run.