Tyson Ross had spent the afternoon playing the part of a heads-or-tails quarter flipping through the air in slow motion: in the first and third innings, he looked every bit like a heads-up gamble paying off, striking out two Rays per inning with a slider that dove like an improperly-folded paper airplane.
But in the second inning, with Texas already leading 2-0 thanks to Mike Napoli sac-flying home Adrian Beltre after a triple and Rougned Odor homering, Ross hit a batter before Shane Peterson reached on catcher’s interference, then Adeiny Hechavarria plated one with a single before the second run came home on a double play. Not the worst showing of tails. Not yet.
In the fourth, though, the coin landed tails-up and stuck to the floor. Ross got the first out on one pitch, a pop-up he handled himself. But the following sequence went walk-single-walk-double. Jesus Sucre fouled a ball off the ground that bounced back to knock his helmet off, and there was a stadium of held breath, wondering if the Rays’ catcher would have to leave the game.
No, it would be the Rangers’ catcher. Sucre was okay, and he grounded a ball to Rougned Odor, who threw home. The throw pulled Robinson Chirinos up the third base line, and the subsequent collision with Hechevarria at the plate would result in a sprained ankle for Chirinos. With runners now at first and third, Ross proceeded to walk Corey Dickerson and Brad Miller, forcing home the third run of the inning. It was 5-2 Tampa, and Ross’ day was over.
There would be three moments that defined the game from this point forward, and the first one was immediate, as Tony Barnette entered the game with the bases loaded.
Barnette had 15 of 27 inherited runners to score this season. Now here he was, facing Evan Longoria, one of the toughest outs in the game. Barnette threw a ball low and outside, then got a swinging strike. The third pitch was hit high, but not nearly far enough to do any damage. It settled safely in Shin-Soo Choo’s glove, and the nightmare inning was over.
Barnette would go on to pitch 2⅓ innings, allowing only a bunt single, and striking out 4, walking none.
But the Rangers still trailed 5-2, which became 5-3 when Joey Gallo hit his 23rd home run of the year in the top of the fifth; a low screaming line drive to right field.
Then in the top of the eighth…
Rougned Odor had already hit one home run, and now he stood at the plate with one out and MIke Napoli at first, having walked. Odor took three pitches–two balls and a strike–then fouled off another before swinging hard at a pitch well below his knees. He connected, and the subsequent game-tying home run landed in the right-field seats.
The mixed buzz of cheers and groans had hardly begun to subside when Carlos Gomez followed with a home run of his own, swinging so hard that he spun himself into a pretzel that required some great effort to untangle. He lurched forward and backwards, like a horse trying to stand, inelegantly heaving his weight this way and that while the ball soared serenely through the air-conditioned mini-ecosystem inside Tropicana Field.
Jose Leclerc, not Alex Claudio, got the call in the ninth, after scoreless innings by Matt Bush and Jason Grilli. Leclerc has the proverbial “closer’s stuff”, but control has always been his bugaboo, and today was no exception. With a one-run lead, and the weight of not only a season on the brink, but one that has so often been laid to waste by late-inning failures,the 23-year-old right-hander went strikeout-walk-flyout-walk to start the ninth inning. The tying run was on second base, the winning run on first base. The batter was Steven Souza, Jr.
Swinging strike in the dirt at an 82mph changeup.
The Rangers have swept the Rays.
That sentence alone does not preclude this season from being lost, nor does it mean that the Rangers will not be sellers. But it does perhaps mean that the burner under those plans may be turned down to simmer while the front office waits to see the outcome of the next seven games.
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