The Rangers didn’t get a hit until their 20th plate appearance of the game, when Elvis Andrus beat out an infield single. It was ruled a hit, even though the throw slipped wide of Eric Hosmer at first base; the official ruling being that even though Jason Hammel had a no-hitter going in front of the home crowd into the sixth inning, Whit Merrifield would have required an exceptional effort to retire Andrus.
No matter. Even if the no-hitter had made it to batter #21, it most certainly would have ended there, as the held-back tide began to break through. Nomar Mazara singled to left field to put two on base, and with the Rangers trailing 3-0, Adrian Beltre reminded us all why we were so Not-Okay with him missing the first third of the season: he homered to left field to tie the game, a game that up until that point had looked pretty bleak for a Texas team trying to stave off the dreaded "sellers" label as they blitz towards the trade deadline.
Meanwhile, Martin Perez was defying the pesky “there’s always one inning” narrative that has surrounded him the last couple of years. He did allow a two-run home run to Alcides Escobar in the second inning, and–after a lengthy cat-and-mouse game of attempted pickoffs with Merrifield at second base–a third run on a Jorge Bonifacio single in the fifth. But each time, Perez composed himself, returned to the mound, and got outs. By the time he exited the game, he had thrown just 89 pitches, 54 of them for strikes, and given up just the three runs on 8 hits, notching just one each in the walks and strikeouts column.
By that time, of course, Mike Napoli and Carlos Gomez had done their part to ensure a happy return to baseball for Rangers fans. In the sixth inning, Gomez singled to left field, and five pitches later, Napoli, pinch hitting for Joey Gallo, sent a soaring little white globe high into the Kansas City night. He dropped his bat and began his home run trot well in advance of the thing landing 440 feet away in the left-most region of left field.
Of note: the last time the Rangers had a pinch-hit home run, Mike Napoli was also present. Perhaps he said something from his station at first base as his former teammate Leonys Martin–having pinch-hit for Thomas Field–rounded the bases in Boston that Tuesday, May 19th, 2015.
Perhaps not. He doesn’t say much while he’s on defense. And at the plate tonight, his bat spoke loudly enough.
After Perez’ departure, the Rangers bullpen continued its recent string of successes. First up was Matt Bush, who finished a 1-2-3 8th inning with a swinging strikeout of Lorenzo Cain on a 97mph fastball in the uppermost part of the strike zone. Then came the ninth inning, and with it, the least-likely closer in a closer-by-committee situation: Alex Claudio.
Of course, it made sense: Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Mike Moustakas were due up, and two of the three are left-handed. You just don’t often see a closer getting a strikeout swinging on a 78mph slider, as you did tonight when Perez’ at-bat came to a glorious end. Claudio needed just seven pitches to close out the ninth inning, a stark contrast to the half-season of blown saves, bleeders, Texas Leaguers and the occasional mammoth home run we’ve seen from Rangers closers this year. It nearly felt too soon when Rougned Odor scooped up the ground ball and threw it to first base to end the game.
It’s still a by-committee situation, but Claudio handled the evening with aplomb. Much like Perez handled the stressful moments in the previous innings. Much like Napoli handled the pinch-hitting duties. Much like Adrian Beltre handled the weight of being the Captain, the one who hits game-tying home runs when the season is on the brink.
The Rangers can make it back to .500 tomorrow when Cole Hamels faces Danny Duffy.
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