On May 2nd, Alex Claudio was called upon at the last minute to start a game in Cole Hamels’ place. Hamels was placed on the disabled list with an oblique strain the next day, expected to miss roughly eight weeks. Adrian Beltre had already missed the entire season thus far, and was not even with the team on the road trip. The team fell to 11-16 in that Claudio start, eventually making their way to 13-20 after a two-loss stroll through Seattle and a 5-1 loss to San Diego.
No Adrian Beltre. No Cole Hamels. No Jake Diekman. No Tyson Ross.
And for all intents and purposes, no Mike Napoli, who was hitting .164 after that final loss to San Diego. Nomar Mazara, too, was mired in a terrible slump after his blazing hot player-of-the-week start to the season.
Since then, they have beaten San Diego (3x), beaten Oakland (3x) and beaten Philadelphia (tonight, by that same 5-1 score). Hamels, Beltre, Diekman, and Ross are still all on the disabled list, joined there by Carlos Gomez, whose hamstring injury is expected to keep him on the sidelines for 4-6 week. But in the most improbable of circumstances, the team has begun to win again. Seven straight, in fact, to get their record back to .500 at 20-20.
“We had a meeting in San Diego, I think,” Robinson Chirinos said tonight. “It was like-- ‘Don’t panic. Just try to go out and win every pitch,’ and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Napoli has hit four home runs, including 2 (one of which was a walk-off) on May 11th, and one tonight. Nomar Mazara also homered tonight, and is hitting over .400 for the last week. The defense, which had been borderline abysmal, had an eight-game errorless streak coming into the evening.
They are back to .500, despite losing arguably their best defensive player (Carlos Gomez) in the meantime, and while this is supposed to be a game story, the big picture is every bit as important as the little one tonight.
But this is a game story, so let’s tell you how it happened.
Former Ranger prospect Jared Eickhoff, who was sent to the Phillies in the 2015 trade for Cole Hamels, was the starter for Philadelphia tonight, and performed admirably in pursuit of his first win of the season. He pitched six innings, allowing seven hits, three runs (all earned), walked just two, and struck out eight.
He just had the bad fortune of going up against a man who might well be working his way into Cy Young conversations. Yu Darvish was utterly brilliant through the first five innings, and still not bad in the sixth and seventh. When the fifth inning was over, Darvish had thrown just 51 pitches, facing just one over the minimum. Of those 51 pitches, a mere ten were called balls. By the time his evening was finished, his line looked like this: seven innings, four hits, one run, two walks, and nine strikeouts. He was one pitch from keeping the Phils scoreless, but Freddie Galvis hit an 0-2 bouncer that found a hole between Odor and Andrus.
Ah, but that run wouldn’t matter much. Nomar Mazara had equalled that total before the bottom of the first was over, homering to right field off his old teammate Eickhoff. Texas added another in the fourth, when a Rougned Odor double was converted–via an errant pickoff throw from Phils catcher Cameron Rupp and a groundout by Robinson Chirinos–into a run.
In the fifth, they added another: Delino DeShields walked, and Eickhoff might as well have turned ninety degrees to the left to (not) face the next batter. He attempted ten pickoff throws before the inning was over. One of them was temporarily successful: DeShields was called out, but replay would overturn the call. While the replay was happening, DeShields had a teachable moment with his manager. He stood on the outside of the dugout railing, and Banister, from the inside, put hands on either side of DeShields’ torso as he looked him in the eye.
“Just reminding him that there is no pickoff that needs to happen in a hit & run situation. I told him to be patient. Make sure that he got a jump (but) it didn’t have to be a steal jump.”
After a few more throws over, Eickhoff pitched to Lucroy. DeShields was running. Lucroy hit the ball into the right field corner, and it was 3-0.
After the Phillies’ lone run, with Matt Bush warming in the bullpen, Mike Napoli put the finishing touches on the game: his 2-run homer made it 5-1. Bush pitched the ninth without incident.
Yes, you can make the argument that the Padres, Athletics, and Phillies could combine their best players and still struggle to compete for a Wild-Card position. But a seven-game winning streak against any combination of MLB teams is significant. It beats losing to bad teams, and you can't negate the confidence it breeds in the players. It has been a fun week. Who knows how much more fun it could get when the Rangers get their #2 and #3 starters, their Hall-of-Fame third baseman, their fire-slinging set-up man, and their spark plug center fielder back.
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