As the game was about to begin, Rangers Executive Vice-President of Communications John Blake stepped to the press box microphone. “Attention, media… Round Rock Manager Jason Wood will be filling in as the third base coach tonight. Tony Beasley is off; he is tending to a personal matter.” As he walked away, he realized the awkward silence that had fallen over the press box. Beasley, of course, missed the 2016 season undergoing chemotherapy, and has been in full remission for the entirety of the 2017 season.
“It’s not health-related,” Blake assured us.
The tap-tap-tapping of hard plastic laptop keys resumed.
There’s an old adage in baseball when a player is playing at an unfamiliar position: “The ball will find you.” That is probably confirmation bias, of course. If you’re nervous about, say, Mike Napoli: 2015 left fielder or Jurickson Profar: 2016 first baseman, you’ll be more likely to notice if they make a mistake, or at very least, when a difficult play is unfolding. It’s the same heightened sense of awareness as you might have when Joe West or Laz Diaz are behind the plate. Or when Jason Wood is the third base coach pro tem.
When the Rangers scored two runs in the first inning, no one thought too much about Jason Wood. Shin-Soo Choo singled, Elvis Andrus walked, and they both scored when Nomar Mazara juuuuust missed hitting a three-run home run, instead settling for a two-run double off the wall. The decision to send Elvis wasn’t a particularly difficult one, so most Ranger fans were probably just celebrating the early lead, or that Mazara’s quad didn’t have to strain too much to get him to second.
But an inning later, after Kyle Seager’s solo home run (because of course Kyle Seager hit a home run against the Rangers) cut the Rangers’ lead in half at 2-1…the ball found Jason Wood.
After a Ryan Rua walk, Delino DeShields beat out a bunt back to starting pitcher Ariel Miranda. He was initially called out, but a two-minute replay review revealed that DeShields had, in fact, beaten the throw by the narrowest of margins. Three pitches later, Shin-Soo Choo hit a gapper to left-center field. At second base, Rua went halfway, then hesitated to see if the ball would be caught. DeShields, running from first, did not hesitate.
“For me, if I hit a ball in the gap, or down the line, or if someone behind me hits a ball down the line or in the gap, I’m thinking three bags every time,” DeShields explained later. “I knew that was kind of an in-between, Rua was halfway. But as soon as the ball hit the ground, I just took off.”
Ryan Rua is not a slow baserunner, but by the time he rounded third, DeShields was not far behind him. Woods tried to wave Rua home and stop DeShields, standing tall with both hands above his head once the first runner had passed. That pose soon gave way to a duck-and-avoid maneuver, as he realized that he was about to be trucked. “I saw (Woods) waving (Rua), so I just figured he was gonna send me too,” DeShields chuckled after the game. “When I was rounding third, my head was down, making sure I touched the bag, then as soon as I looked up, he was giving me the stop sign, but... there was no stopping that. I was full-throttle right there,” the speedster laughed.
Jeff Banister employed similar verbiage, joking “It’s hard to stop a racecar,”
Usually when “the ball finds you”, the result is bad. An error, a bone-headed mistake. That was not the case tonight. In fact, if we want to be technical about it, the ball never came close to Jason Wood. The ball instead found the glove of catcher Mike Zunino.
And when it did, it found that Delino DeShields had beaten it to home plate.
If this sounds like a lot of detail for one little play, you’re probably right. Frankly, the rest of the game’s big moments can be summed up thusly: everyone did their job.
With the score 4-1, Hamels walked Jean Segura and allowed a home run to Zunino, but finished the inning with a 4-3 lead, and didn’t allow another until the fifth inning. That was a single, and there would be one more single in the fifth, but nothing else. Hamels finished the night with 7 strikeouts and just the one walk.
Meanwhile, DeShields wasn’t done contributing: his fourth-inning solo home run made it 5-3, and it was the only hit allowed by Seattle long-reliever Andrew Moore in his six innings of work. Moore struck out seven, walked one, and saved the Mariners bullpen on a night when the starter went just 1⅔ innings.
Speaking of bullpens: Matt Bush made his first appearance since returning from the bullpen, striking out one in a perfect seventh inning. Jake Diekman continued his dominant return, striking out two, maybe three guys in the eighth inning, depending on if you recognize Laz Diaz’ ball four count on Diekman’s full-count all-the-way-in-the-zone pitch to Danny Valencia as being legitimate (I choose not to, but the record books disagree). By the time pinch-hitter Carlos Ruiz corkscrewed himself into the ground swinging at a 77mph slider from Alex Claudio, the game was over: it was a drama-free 1-2-3 ninth inning for Claudio.
With the loss by the Mariners, and losses by the Royals, Orioles, and Rays, the Rangers gained ground on every other Wild Card contender tonight (the Twins and Angels had the night off). They are two games back in the hunt for that elusive final playoff spot, and there are nineteen games left.