The narrative surrounding the 2017 Rangers coming into Spring Training was that this season is the closing of a window. And yet, in the bottom of the ninth inning, the team pulled to within a run when a 21-year old right fielder (Nomar Mazara) led off the inning with a double and scored when Mike Napoli’s subsequent double bounced off the bottom of the wall in left-center field. And far be it from me to claim to know how windows open or close, but the next three batters profiled as such:
23-year-old second baseman who hit 33 home runs last season (plus two in the first game of this season).
24-year-old super-utility player who was once the #1 rated prospect in all of baseball, and starred in the World Baseball Classic this Spring
23-year-old He-Man who Please Please MLB Please put him in the Home Run Derby this season.
It is here, of course, that we must pause and admit: all three of those guys struck out, and the Rangers lost the game 4-3. But still, it matters that they are getting high-leverage at-bats, and we need a little optimism because the Rangers are 0-2 and it’s mathematically possible that they could go 0-162, so let’s look on the bright side, shall we?
First! Martin Perez’ outing was better than it looked! Kind of! Okay, the first run was bad. Carlos Santana led off the game with a home run. No real way to spin that to the positive. In the second inning, however, both Cleveland runs scored on grounders that just so happened to be directed at the empty parts of the infield. It was 3-0 by then, and Martin Perez had thrown 46 pitches. I expected to see Mike Hauschild.
Second! We did not see Mike Hauschild! No offense to Mike. It will be a great day for him when he makes his MLB debut. But Perez settled right in and needed only another 46 pitches to get through the next 4 innings.
Third! Joey Gallo hit his first home run of 2017 and it was pure visceral beauty; the sort of sensation you get when you see a nature film and a shark jumps out of the water and eats a fish, except this fish went 443 feet long and 134 feet high, and did so at 115.6 miles per hour. It was the weirdest tallest home run I’ve ever seen, and it took Statcast until after the game to figure out what exactly this thing was that we had all beheld.
If you saw the game, you may be thinking “Hang on: how did that only go 443, especially if Nomar Mazara’s went 491 last season, and this one went higher up in the upper deck?
That’s a good question, and I’ll tell you the answer: Nomar Mazara’s ball was on a mission to get to the seats as fast as possible. It was hit at a 27-degree angle, which means that if the stands hadn’t been there, it would have just kept on going for quite some time. Gallo’s shot? It was returning from the scene of a crime: space. Joey’s ball went to space, made an attempt on the life of the moon, and then tried to hide in the right field bleachers on its way back to Earth.
Fourth! Jose Leclerc looked great! Leclerc is also just 23, and had a grand total of 15 MLB innings pitched coming into tonight. He pitched two innings, striking out three, and allowing zero baserunners.
Maybe this optimism feels false to you. Yeah, the Rangers are walking too many batters and Nomar Mazara definitely shouldn’t have tried for second base in the third inning. That was a big play and you could argue it cost the team a chance to take the lead. But last season, the Rangers won 95 games–ninety five games!–and it felt like all anyone could talk about was how it was smoke and mirrors and cluster luck and one-run games. So it feels like we’re entitled to one night where the team loses and all we talk about is the hopeful stuff, as an act of rebellion.
Perhaps tomorrow, the team will win, and we can get back to being grumpy about it.
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