There’s no telling why Alexander Cartwright (or Abner Doubleday, if you’re into that theory) and the 19th-century pioneers of baseball chose nine as the number of innings in a ballgame.
As arbitrary as it may have been, it’s been a good thing for the 2014 Texas Rangers.
In nine home games this season, the Rangers have tallied four walk-off wins. The latest, of course, coming on Leonys Martin’s late-inning heroics Wednesday. Four consecutive Rangers reached base with two outs in the ninth, with the help of two Seattle blunders, to score the final two runs of the game, making Felix Hernandez's dominance a distant memory.
With Wednesday’s walk-off, the Rangers have now scored more runs in the eighth and ninth innings (nine in each) than in any other inning this season. Nineteen of their 54 runs this season (35 percent) have come in the eighth inning or later.
They’re no strangers to late-inning magic.
“When you play a certain amount of those games, you realize you’ve been there before,” Ranger designated hitter Mitch Moreland said. “It gives you a little bit of confidence when those situations come. Everybody would like to win by four or five runs, but it’s not always going to happen like that.”
Seven of the Rangers’ eight wins have been by three runs or fewer, in fact. Manager Ron Washington said the down-to-the-wire games are a positive for his club.
“Those kind of wins build character,” he said. “We’ve got a new group going out there but they’re learning how to pull together and play until the third out is made.”
This Ranger squad would’ve been a “new” group if the starting lineup looked how it was supposed to. But it’s especially “new” when the likes of Josh Wilson, Donnie Murphy, Robinson Chirinos and Kevin Kouzmanoff are occupying regular starting roles.
Nine innings have to be played every day, though, no matter who is in the lineup. On Wednesday, it was Kouzmanoff and Murphy (who was pinch-hitting for Wilson) who were pivotal in keeping the ninth-inning rally alive.
“You play nine innings and good things usually happen,” Washington said. “I wish it was that simple where you can pull that kind of stuff off and it would just happen, but you’ve got to make it happen.”
Well, they’ve made it happen four times now. And for a team that went from stalwart to survivor with an onslaught of injuries during the spring, showing that late-inning fire is a good omen moving forward.
“It just shows that we’re not going to give up and we’re going to fight until the end, and that’s a great sign, especially this early in the season,” Moreland said.
Slumps will end, and injuries will heal. That’s just the cyclical nature of sports. But in the meantime, the Rangers need to keep finding ways to win. Early in the season, their formula has been to do it in the late innings.
Maybe no one can put it as simply as Wednesday’s walk-off hero.
“We stay in the game,” Martin said. “The game is 27 outs.”