Mike Napoli, for all the euphoria he had just inspired, seemed a little subdued at his locker. He had just hit not one but two home runs in the last two innings, the second one a walk-off job that set fireworks to exploding, speakers to I-Love-Texas-ing, the crowd to roaring, and Napoli’s chain to jangling this way and that as he trotted around the bases, arriving to a congregation of white jerseys and red hats and water bottles in various states of spray.
“It was fun; it was nice to contribute,” Napoli said in his soft-spoken tone “especially the way I’ve been going lately. The at-bat before felt pretty good; it was a feeling I’ve been looking for for a long time, and in that last at-bat, I was just trying to repeat it.”
This, of course, was only after he spent a few minutes praising the job that Martin Perez had done.
Jonathan Lucroy is not soft-spoken, nor is he boisterous and loud. He is ...certain. His answers often come in steady waves out of a face that is nodding, confident that what he is saying is correct. He is not much for shrugging.
“Before the game we were on the bench,” Lucroy would later say. “I told him ‘you’re going to have a big game today, I can feel it.’ I just felt it and it ended up working out.”
Before the 8th inning, you would not have been wrong to say that Lucroy had the right idea, but the wrong bearded right-hander. As late as the middle of the 8th, Lucroy was the only Ranger to have hit a base hit that had left the infield. He had two of them, in fact: a line drive to right field and a bloop to center. Rougned Odor had the team’s only other hit: an infield single in the 5th. Padres left-handed starter Clayton Richard had utterly flummoxed the Rangers’ offense.
Meanwhile, Martin Perez had done a similar job against the Padres. In the first inning, Matt Szcur singled on a ball that bounced bizarrely off second base, and later scored on a Ryan Schimpf single. But Perez bore down after that, living his best life with ground ball after ground ball. He only had three strikeouts, but also only had two walks (“one on me, one on him,” Jeff Banister would joke later, having called for an intentional walk of Hunter Renfroe in the 7th inning).
Perez left the game with the bases loaded and the score 1-0 in the 7th inning, but it was almost much worse. With runners on first and second, third baseman Pete Kozma made an impossible play, diving toward the foul line and–taking on the form of a stretched gob of Silly Putty–robbing Luis Sardiñas of extra bases and at least one RBI. He hopped up and sprinted towards third base. He lost the race to a headfirst-sliding Austin Hedges, and stepped squarely on Hedges’ right hand in the process, but he had saved at least one run.
Tony Barnette entered and allowed a long sacrifice fly to make it 2-0, but otherwise pitched well, finishing the 7th inning and retiring the Padres in order on 8 pitches in the 8th. The first pitch of the bottom of the 8th inning was launched to the upper right corner of the lower deck. Napoli circled the bases, and it was 2-1.
It is important to note that in the top of the 9th, Sam Dyson pitched well. Yes, he allowed two singles, but both of them were bouncing ground balls that were aimed well. Dyson got two groundouts, and Lucroy threw out Eric Aybar trying to steal second, and we were on to the 9th inning.
The rally began with one out. With Padres closer Brandon Maurer on the mound, Elvis Andrus singled to center field. Then it was Lucroy’s turn again. He blooped a ball to short center field and Andrus took off as Manuel Margot sprinted in. Margot dove and touched the ball, but was unable to haul it in. By then, Andrus was nearly standing on third base.
“I saw them playing the no double in that situation, and he got jammed. Actually… the ball got a little… floating in the air a little bit there. I thought it was going to be an easy first and third, but… I think all those guys, they’re too young, and they’re super fast. I don’t know what they eat or drink, but everyone on that team is super fast. I was glad it actually fell.”
It did, and now there was blood in the water.
“I just tried to stay in the middle (of the field),” Rougned Odor said later. Odor has been in situations like this before this year, and too often it has seemed that he has tried to stay in the middle (of the right field stands). Tonight, however, he swatted a ball to the opposite field for a game-tying RBI single.
Once again, it was Napoli's turn.
And once again, he found the seats.
His no-doubt game-winning home run sounded like a gunshot. Not a single Padre took a step towards the left field bleachers in pursuit. They all just started walking in. It was over as soon as the bat met the ball. By the time it landed, the ball was in the second deck, the fireworks were boom-pop-booming their best impression of the bat-crack, and the chain was jingle-jangle bouncing around Napoli’s torso. The Rangers had won their third game in a row, sweeping the short two-game series against the Padres. The score was 5-2.
“Well, that’s the thing about this team: we have each others’ back, we root for each other, we want everyone to do good, so in tough times, it’s nice to be able to lean on your teammates for their support," Napoli concluded at night's end."It’s great to have teammates that have your back, not just when you’re going good, but through the tough times. It makes it easier to get through the times you’re going through (...) when you have teammates like that.”
- on Napoli - " I just have confidence in him, the guy can hit. Sooner or later the guy is going to break out. He’s really good."
- on Martin Perez - "He was throwing strikes today. When you have him down in the zone, throwing strikes and mixing his pitches he’s pretty effective. I’m definitely happy for him. Building momentum is a huge thing and obviously we have a division series here and have a chance to make up some ground so hopefully we can flip this over to tomorrow and keep it going.
"I think it's been a little longer than the last couple of games. I really believe just the at-bats and the work that he's been putting in, the timing has gotten much better. Looked like (he's) getting that foot down in time, and the barrel in good position. He's a guy that right now they all gravitate towards, talk to, listen to, about their swings. I think more than anything else, he's poured himself into his work. He's been out early pretty much every day with a lot of these young guys, and just grinding through at-bats.
"It was an amazing win, especially the way it ended with Lucroy, Odor and Napoli. Those are the guys we want to get hot and carry the team. Me and Choo are just trying to get on and let them drive us in. It was a really good team win."
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