Before the fireworks bang bang banged their fire sparks into the black Texas sky, before the final swing and miss by Robinson Chirinos that ended the contest, and before the Gallo walk that infused the final death-gasp of the game with one last spasm of hope, there was a tale of three baseballs, a triad of orbs that split one man into three stories: The Savior, the Similitude, and The Seive.
You always want the bad news to come first in these stories, because that means the good news is on the way, the dark night may be here, but the redemption is nigh. But that is not how this story unfolded. This story picks up in the sixth inning with a glowing ray of pure light.
First, however, some background.
Andrew Cashner had struggled early, but he had overcome. Two walks, a single, and an error in the sixth inning had somehow only amounted to one run allowed. A single in the second was erased on a double play. Another in the third erased when Jose Abreu successfully tagged from first base, but bounced off the bag as Rougned Odor held the tag. A walk in the fourth? Another double play. A clean fifth. Meanwhile, Mike Napoli’s 25th home run of the year had given Texas a 2-1 lead, another comeback, just like each of the five nights prior, all resulting in Ranger wins.
But then came the sixth. A two-run rebuttal from Nicky Delmonico made it 3-2, and after a ball hit off Cashner’s feet resulted in a 1-4-3 groundout, he allowed a walk, an infield single, and–with two on, two outs, and two strikes, he hit Alen Henson with a 96mph fastball. It would be his final pitch of the evening. Enter Tony Barnette, and enter the optimism of hope.
A called strike, a called ball. A flare to centerfield that looked like trouble.
Delino DeShields is fast, even by professional athlete standards. And yet, the converted infielder has gotten criticisms his entire career with the Rangers for his sub-par reads and routes in the outfield. Patrolling center field thanks in part to a cyst on Carlos Gomez’ shoulder, DeShields has been something of a revelation, living on base (but not any one base for too long before his baseball wanderlust demands he seek refuge elsewhere). He sprinted forward, legs pumping at a drumroll’s rhythm. At the last moment, he leaned to his left, then extended his glove as he slid on the smooth green center field grass.
Had the ball skipped past, the speedy Adam Engel would likely have rounded the basepaths for an inside-the-park grand slam to make it 7-3 [narrator: if you're not familiar with foreshadowing, you're going to miss some of the beauty of this particular symmetry]. But the ball landed in DeShields’ glove, mere inches above the ground. The inning was over, and the deficit was just a run. Surmountable.
And soon it was, if not surmounted, at least mounted. Napoli’s leadoff walk in the 7th was followed in short order by a Robinson Chirinos double off the left field wall. With runners at second and third, it was, perhaps fittingly, DeShields who drove in the tying run with a groundout to second base. It was a good result, but not the best result. DeShields mimed another swing at the pitch still fresh in his memory as he returned to the dugout. Chirinos, the go-ahead run, would stay stranded at third as Shin-Soo Choo struck out. The story that had begun with ecstasy was now tied at four apiece.
If there can be only one good, one medium, and one bad, then you know that the time for foreshadowing is over, and the storm has arrived. In the top of the eighth, with Ricky Rodriguez now on the mound in search of his first MLB win and in defense of his sparkling 0.00 career ERA, it was again Delmonico at the plate. He swung, and again connected well. But this ball did not clear the fence…
Nomar Mazara leapt at the last second, but he was unable to catch the ball before it hit the right field wall. Mazara landed awkwardly, and crumpled into a heap of pain on the warning track as the ball caromed back towards home plate and Delmonico raced towards second base. And Delino DeShields? He began his trek towards right field.
Even with DeShields’ speed, he was not the first one to reach the ball. That honor went to Rougned Odor, coming all the way from second base to pick up the rogue baseball. His throw home was accurate, but too late. Delmonico had scored, and it was 4-3 White Sox.
The entirety of the team on the field, save for the pitcher and catcher, congregated around Mazara as the trainers tested his left knee. Remarkably, after he stood, he was able to remain in the game. Dr. Keith Meister examined him after the game and determined that there was no structural damage.
But as for the game, it was lost. With baseball, it’s a fool’s errand to play the “what if” game. Had DeShields backed up the play, Delmonico doesn’t score there, but that doesn’t mean he never would have. Perhaps the game would have evened itself out. Perhaps it would have lasted 17 innings, and the White Sox would still have won this particular game by a 4-3 score.
But whatever would have happened or might have happened… didn’t. Tonight, DeShields saved a game, then evened it up, then was late to the ball that allowed the winning run to score.