Mike Napoli’s eyes, trained by a lifetime of baseball to recognize what is a hittable pitch, and what is not, registered to the affirmative and mashed the big red button marked “SWING”. His brain received the message and relayed it at lightning speed to his legs, surgically-repaired hips, and arms, all of which responded in an instant. He swung his bat, the same make and model that had, on 27 different occasions this season, connected with enough power and accuracy to send a ball over a wall in fair territory. This one surely felt like #28.
At the instant that the ball left the bat at 104mph, the Rangers had runners on each base, and trailed the game just 4-3, despite inning after inning of what seemed like a bludgeoning by the A’s. Texas had taken a lead in the top of the first when, with Adrian Beltre on third base, Jed Lowrie had dropped a pop-up. But later in the inning, with two runners on, Drew Robinson flew out. The A’s responded with back-to-back home runs by Matts Olson and Chapman to take a 3-1 lead.
The rest of A.J. Griffin’s afternoon felt a lot like an exercise in self-defense, as the A’s walked twice in the fourth before Griffin escaped, then thwacked two singles in the fifth, leading to Griffin’s early exit. Austin Bibens-Dirkx walked Marcus Semien to load the bases, but got Lowrie to ground out to end another scoreless inning. Shin-Soo Choo’s solo home run in the fifth made it a one-run game, where it would stay until the bottom of the sixth. With runners on first and third and one out, Marcus Semien grounded to third base. Drew Robinson opted to try for the inning-ending double play, but the relay throw arrived a half-step too late. It was 4-2.
But in the eighth, Carlos Gomez singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch, scoring an out later when Elvis Andrus singled. Adrian Beltre followed with a sun-aided double, which might have scored the tying run had Andrus been able to predict that the ball would fall. But with Andrus lacking Nostradamus’ powers, he was only able to land at third base. The A’s intentionally walked Nomar Mazara to load the bases, and now we’re caught up.
104 miles per hour.
A step to the right of where third baseman Matt Chapman was waiting.
Chapman caught the screaming line drive and his momentum led him to the third base bag. By the time Elvis Andrus was able to reverse course and return, he was doubled off by mere inches. Napoli threw his head back and skip-stepped in crestfallen frustration back to the dugout. The inning was over and the Rangers still trailed.
With the glut of baserunners by Oakland, the game hadn’t felt as close as it was. In the bottom of the 8th, the game calibrated itself, and perhaps ironically, did so on what could have been another inning-ending double play. With one out and runners on first and second, Rougned Odor caught a Boog Powell bouncer and turned to second base, throwing the ball just high enough that it skiffed off the top of Elvis Andrus’ glove and into left field.
By the time the Rangers got to bat in the top of the 9th, what they had left as a one-run game was now 8-3. A Drew Robinson single was the only glimmer of hope before the final out.
The loss meant a sweep in Oakland at the hands of the last-place Athletics. For a team that entered the series just a game out of a playoff spot, it’s certainly not what you hope for.
They were scheduled to fly to Houston tonight for a day off tomorrow before a three-game series with the Astros, but with Hurricane Harvey wreaking an unthinkable amount of havoc in south Texas, both the Rangers and the Astros are now flying to DFW to figure out what the next step is.