If you want the short version, here it is: Yu Darvish’s slider is back, and Adrian Beltre continues to make it his personal mission to punish the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for not signing him as a free agent.
Frankly, that sums up Friday night’s game well enough that it could be left there, but as it was such an enjoyable win, let’s roll around in it for awhile, shall we?
So, Yu Darvish... [nods head confidently for about thirty seconds, giving a subtle fist-pump at the end]. That was the good stuff. Darvish hadn't been throwing the slider - his most famous pre-Tommy John pitch - at all this season. But (as reported by Evan Grant) the ace apparently figured it out this week with help from video, his pitching coach, and some release point charts on BrooksBaseball.net. With his new (old) toy again at his disposal, Darvish set to ripping the Angels to shreds. After walking the leadoff hitter, Darvish struck out two in the first inning, two more in the second, and two in the third, including Yunel Escobar, who did this on strike one.
In the 4th inning, the Angels finally got a hit: Kole Calhoun singled. That was all, and Darvish struck out his 7th batter. In the 5th, another single (Jefry Marte) and another strikeout. The 6th started with another Darvish / Escobar gif…
...and ended with Darvish’s 9th strikeout of the night. All told, the strikeouts broke down like this for Darvish:
6 swinging, 3 looking
2 on 4-seam fastballs
5 on sliders
1 on a curveball
1 on a 2-seam fastball.
That's just unfair.
You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned the Ranger offense yet: that’s because Tyler Skaggs was also having a pretty good game. The Angels’ starter had limited the Rangers to 2 hits (Adrian Beltre single, first inning; Mitch Moreland double, 4th inning) and no runs. Unfortunately for the Angels, Skaggs had also walked four. None of them came around to score, but the elevated pitch count mattered. When Moreland led off the 7th inning, it was not Skaggs he faced, but Mike Morin.
Moreland doubled on the first pitch. It wasn’t all Morin’s fault: Marte initially broke in on the hard liner, and was unable to catch up to it before it cleared his head and bounced at the wall. With the score still tied at zero, the next batter, Carlos Gomez, had only to move the runner to third for his at-bat to be successful. He also swung at the first pitch, and his groundout to Andrelton Simmons was just far enough up the middle that Simmons could not justify a throw to third. He dutifully threw the ball to first, and Gomez was out, clapping his hands as he passed the bag.
Elvis Andrus was next, and the #9 hitter did what he has been doing with regularity this season: he brought home the run. His flared single over the shortstop scored Moreland. It was his 61st RBI of the year, and the Rangers had a 1-0 lead. Morin was removed from the game having faced three batters, and having thrown three pitches.
But in the bottom of the 7th, Andrus' counterpart would match Elvis' effort.
With one out,. C.J. Cron stood in front of a breaking pitch that didn’t break, and soon found himself bearing down on Rougned Odor. Marte had grounded hard to Beltre, and the veteran’s throw to second in an attempt to start the double play was a bit too far to the first base side of the bag. Odor leapt to catch the ball, and somehow managed to keep a toe on the base for juuuust long enough to record the force out.
The out would prove to be an important one, because it meant there was only one runner on base when Simmons came to bat, and only one run that scored when he tripled to the wall in right-centerfield to tie the game. Furthermore, it meant that the runner on third was there with two outs, not one. Darvish’s night, however was finished. He gave way to Matt Bush, and the only way to describe what happened next is through the art of theatre.
Matt Bush's 98 MPH Fastball will be playing the part of the most beautiful girl at the bar. Jett Bandy will be Jett Bandy.
[pitch one is a curveball. Bandy is more of a fastball guy. Ball one.]
JB: “Hey, I, uh, Do you… um, hi.”
MB98MPHFB: [looks Bandy up and down, turns completely around, faces the other direction. Strike one.]
JB: [taps MB98MPHFB on the shoulder] I’m sorry, I--
MB98MPHFB: [Without turning around, grabs Bandy’s finger, bends it backwards, and disposes of it. Strike two]
JB: “I’m sorry. I got off on the wrong foot here. I’m a baseball player. I catch, for the Angels. Maybe you’ve heard of me, my name is J--
MB98MPHFB [has already walked past him and is now headed back to the dugout with Jonathan Lucroy] “BOY, BYE”
In the 8th, with the score again knotted, Adrian Beltre kissed a baby, shook hands with a few folks, cut a ribbon on a new children’s hospital and further ensconced himself in the hearts and minds of Hall of Fame voters everywhere. With the count 1-1, he hit a no-doubt solo home run. It was 2-1, and that would be the final score.
The home run, by the way, was Beltre's 440th, putting him into a tie with Jason Giambi for 41st all-time.
Back to this one: Matt Bush and some combination of about 36 different Angels relievers took turns getting everyone out until the bottom of the 9th. With Sam Dyson on for the save, Mike Trout led off by hitting a ball that came in well below his knees for a single. With the speedy Trout as the tying run on first, Albert Pujols hit a high pop-up behind second. Elvis Andrus ranged back, 15-20 feet behind the bag, steadied himself, and..
…let the ball hit the ground.
No, it was not an error; it was planned. He immediately picked it up and threw to second to complete the force play. The result was two-fold. One, it eliminated dangerous base-stealing threat Mike Trout from the basepaths. Subsequently, when Mike Scioscia was forced to remove the concrete-footed Pujols for a pinch runner, it took Pujols’ bat out of the lineup, just in case the Angels did tie the game and send it to extra innings. It was a crafty play, and indicative of the continuing maturity of Elvis Andrus.
A C.J. Cron strikeout later, Sam Dyson did walk Ji-Man Choi, putting the winning run on base. But the panic (both for the week, and for the inning) was put to rest when Simmons bounced a ball back to Dyson. The red-bearded closer trotted halfway to first, underhanded the ball to Mitch Moreland, and ended the game.
With the Astros loss to the Cubs earlier tonight, the Rangers’ lead in the division is back to 9.5 games; their magic number all the way down to 12. With the A’s loss to the Mariners, Oakland is officially eliminated from the division, and Seattle is back to within a game of Houston. With a win tomorrow night, the Rangers could add the Angels to the list of the officially eliminated.
It’s that time of year! Tonight, the Rangers played like it.
Copyright 2016 WFAA