Baseball gets special treatment in matters of moral adjudication. After all, there are hits, strikes, and steals, but there are also sacrifices. I won’t even get into the unwritten rules. But with all the ambiguity, who can even say if Envy is still a deadly sin, or just a compliment? I guess the point I’m making is that I really wish Hunter Pence played for the Rangers. Sure, he’s a good player, but as a writer, there is little more that one could ask for than a wild-eyed shaman who plays baseball like a swarm of bees.
Before you get confused: no. Hunter Pence didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy tonight. But unless the Rangers and Giants face each other in the World Series (or a trade happens), this is the last chance I will get to write about Hunter Pence this year, and you don’t pass up the 1811 Chateau d'Yquem just because it doesn’t pair well with the steak.
And make no mistake about it, tonight’s Rangers performance was medium-rare-plus. Yes, I know: “Well-done” would have been a better pun here, but Yu Darvish was not overcooked, terrible and slathered in ketchup, he was perfectly seasoned, tender, and-- I’m sorry, I’m off to a bad start here. The Pence has gone straight to my head.
Let’s start over: if any fanbase had a right to baseball envy Monday night, it was the multitude in black and orange that infiltrated Surprise stadium. Darvish struggled a little to control his fastball in the first inning, walking Denard Span before, oh okay, I’ll have one more, Pence smashed a ball that bounced perilously close to Darvish’s foot and bounced to the left of Doug Bernier. Bernier, trying to reverse his direction, flail-leapt like a cat at a laser pointer, and miraculously got a glove on it, but not the whole glove. The ball found its way into left field in one of the weirdest ways possible, and the Giants had a 1-0 lead. But by the end of the first inning, Darvish would have three strikeouts.
An inning later, he would have five, and also the lead. Elvis Andrus’ chopper over third ended up as a double, then after a Shin-Soo Choo walk, Mike Napoli’s grounder was too much for Jimmy Rollins to handle. With runners now on first and second, Ryan Rua singled to left field. Mac WIlliamson fumbled his first attempt at picking it up, which allowed Choo to score, but also tricked Mike Napoli into thinking he could make it to third (he could not).
In the bottom of the second, a failed bunt set up the game’s biggest moment: with runners on first and second and no outs, Doug Bernier twice failed to get a bunt to stay fair. So, with two strikes, he swung away, and the result was, well, almost like a perfect bunt. Third baseman Gordon Beckham could not field it in time to throw Bernier out, and the bases were loaded.
But only just for a moment.
Carlos Gomez cleared them, then trotted a circle to check in on each base just to make sure they were all clear: an opposite-field grand slam. That would just about do it for the night (though Texas did add one more run later, when Elvis Andrus’ second double of the game scored Gomez from first base when Mac Williamson *again* flubbed the catch.
By the time Darvish’s night was over, his line would look like this: 3⅓ innings, 1 run on 4 hits, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts. That’s just fine for March 13th, I’d say.
Then Austin Bibens-Dirkx came on and whiffed the only two batters he faced.
Next up was Dillon Gee, who is also battling for a roster spot. Gee was impressive as well: he went 3 innings, allowing 2 hits and striking out one. Allen Webster pitched the final two innings (1 hit, one strikeout). Each non-Darvish pitcher that threw for the Rangers tonight has a Spring ERA of under 2.00.
So maybe the Rangers don’t currently employ the straw-haired Tasmanian-Devil of an outfielder who runs like seven Golden Retrievers wrestling over a bouncing orb of Silly Putty. But tonight, they got an opposite field grand slam, a solid start from one of their aces, a continuance of some compelling Spring Stories from the bullpen, and a 7-1 win.
I can live with that.