It’s impossible to predict baseball, but there are a few times in any season where you look at a game as a snapshot and perhaps wish that you could somehow show it to yourself way back on April 1st. Not just because of Opening Day, but so you could experience the joy of trying to explain that it wasn't an April Fool's prank.
For example: On the first half of a September 6th day/night doubleheader in Atlanta, Miguel Gonzalez started for the Rangers, eventually giving way to Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Nick Gardewine, Jason Grilli, and–pitching out of the bullpen–Tyson Ross before handing it over to now-closer Alex Claudio. Brett Nicholas made a case for offensive player of the game, and the Rangers struck out 12 times.
April you, so sweet and naive, would look at the names and the narrative and presume that the Rangers not only lost badly, but that the season had long since been written off.
“No, no,” You could then explain. “You see, Elvis Andrus hit his 20th home run, and Will Middlebrooks hit a go-ahead triple, and the Rangers moved to within a game and a half of the second Wild Card spot.”
But you cannot predict baseball. And you cannot time travel. And you cannot control what comes next. You can only sit back and marvel that a centuries-old game still has the ability to surprise you.
Here are some more things that happened in this game, inspiring varying degrees of incredulity:
The Rangers faced a pitcher making his MLB debut and his day was over after four innings. Andrus’ 1st-inning home run (coming against the team that drafted him) gave him 20 for the season, a mark he has never even come close to approaching in his career (previous high: 8, last season). Gonzalez didn’t fare well in his first inning of work, going walk-homer-walk to Freddie Freeman-Matt Kemp-Nick Markakis and the lead became a deficit.
Texas tied it in the top of the third when Miguel Gonzalez (aided by the home plate umpire) got on base for the first time in his career. Delino DeShields bunted him over, and he advanced to third on a Shin-Soo Choo flyout, diving awkwardly to avoid the tag by third baseman Rio Ruiz. Andrus got his second RBI of the day with a single to tie it.
But perhaps all the running wasn’t the best idea for Gonzalez. His first three pitches when he returned to the mound went homer-triple-single to Ender Enciarte-Ozzie Albies-Freeman, and it was 4-2 Atlanta.
But in the fourth, the Rangers offense went bonkers. Back-to-back walks by Joey Gallo and MIke Napoli started a four-run inning when Brett Nicholas singled and Will Middlebrooks–pinch-hitting for Gonzalez–tripled under the glove of a ...diving? Rolling? Let’s go with falling down. Under the glove of a falling-down Justin Upton. Middlebrooks later scored on a wild pitch.
Texas added runs in the fifth (three, two of which came on a Napoli home run), sixth (two), and eighth (one) inning to run the score up to 12 for the good guys.
In the meantime, Austin Bibens-Dirkx picked up the win by going three scoreless innings. Nick Gardewine allowed one run in his inning of work, as did Jason Grilli, before handing the ball off to Tyson Ross to pitch the ninth. Ross got two quick outs, but then allowed two runs on three consecutive hits, meaning that with the score 12-8, Jeff Banister would have to call on his closer Claudio to come on for one out.
Claudio took care of his business on three pitches, and the Rangers now have a couple of hours to try to get a nap or some food before Cole Hamels and Julio Teheran face off in game two, which starts at 6:30pm central.