Ernesto Frieri pauses in the stretch, then begins his motion, dropping his pitching hand all the way down til it nearly bangs against a right knee that is propelling him towards home plate. The delivery is meant to imply a fastball, but that is deception; it is an 85mph slider that slides only as far as the middle of the plate before it is swatted by the bat of Andrew Benintendi. The contact is bad, and the ball leaves the bat at 56.3 miles per hour. With the bases loaded and just one out, you want something that soft in the air.
This ball was in the air.
It remains there for what seems like an epoch.
By the time Frieri entered the game, Martin Perez had long since made his return from the disabled list and pitched 5⅔ innings of pretty okay baseball. He only worked one 1-2-3 inning, but in the first, third, fourth, and fifth, no one had scored. In the second, he had stumbled into his Perez Pit™ for 36 pitches, but only two runs scored.
When he left the game in the sixth inning, the game was tied at two, and with two outs and the bases loaded, he had induced a Tzu-Wei Lin groundball to second base. But Rougned Odor, after fielding the ball cleanly, couldn’t make the transfer. The ball mischievously dribbled onto the infield grass and the inning continued. Perez walked Mookie Betts, and that was the end of his night.
And still the ball hangs in the humid Texas night.
Tony Barnette’s line looks good, if you didn’t see the game. 1⅓ innings, one hit, no runs, two strikeouts. Except when he came into the game, there were two outs and the bases were loaded. He allowed the go-ahead run on a wild pitch, then Dustin Pedroia singled home the other two runs. It was 5-2.
“Benintendi,” Jeff Banister will say later, before trailing off and starting again. “The likelihood of turning a double play there is… very slim. Obviously, you’re in a tough situation.” It was as if Banister had considered the possiblity of the speedy Benintendi hitting a ball this softly. But it is not bouncing, it is hanging.
The Rangers battled back. In the seventh, Barnette struck out two, then Carlos Gomez homered to center field to make it 5-3. In the eighth, it was Jason Grilli making 2017 Rangers debut, and striking out two in a perfect inning before Shin-Soo Choo doubled, later scoring on a Mazara single. 5-4.
Elvis Andrus turns and runs towards left-centerfield. The ball looks down at him and yawns. “I’m not so fast,” it smiles. “See if you can catch me.” Elvis Andrus is a fast human being, but he, as is the case with all humans, subject the slowing of time. As time slows, so do we. You’ve experienced this in dreams when you are running for your life. Your mind speeds up as your legs and the world grind down like a toy with failing batteries.
Matt Bush pitched a perfect ninth, just like the good old days. And then Mike Napoli hammered a no-doubt home run off Craig Kimbrel on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the ninth.
What transpired next was a strangeness, a circus so confusing that for a moment it appeared the elephants were riding the bikes as the clowns took a bow. Gomez hit a slow groundball that Deven Marrero had to sprint in to field barehanded. Gomez dashed to first, and Marrero’s hurried throw sailed past Mitch Moreland at first base.
Gomez turned for a moment, considering advancing, but the ball bounced off the brick wall and in the general direction of Dustin Pedroia in shallow right field. All three men simultaneously realized what was happening and reversed course in unison: Pedroia to barehand the ball to his right, and Moreland and Gomez to race back to the base before the throw arrived.
But Gomez was further from the base. Pedroia’s throw was true, and Moreland tagged Gomez’ shoulder mid-dive. It was beautiful, frenzied, and preposterous. It was also very bad timing. The game went to extra innings.
Jose Leclerc got the tenth inning, and allowed just one walk. But the Rangers could not muster the walk-off, and so they advanced to the eleventh, where Ernesto Frieri allowed a one out walk to Lin, the number nine hitter in the order who was now on base for the second consecutive time by the graces of the Texas Rangers. Betts doubled, and Banister elected to intentionally walk Pedroia. It was time for Benintendi. It was time for a slider. It was time, slowed down like a stretched rubber band.
One, two steps by Andrus before Benintendi has even left the box. Three, four, five, through the infield dirt, looking up at a smiling taunting yawning baseball. Six, seven, as the ball waves wistfully, then lands on the grass, and stops after three tiny bounces. Andrus picks up the ball and his shoulders slump.
It was another late-innings loss. Another one that looked winnable. Another kick in the guts. It was 7-5, and we’ll do it again tomorrow.
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