It says something about a baseball game when it can break an MLB record for the longest eight-and-a-half-inning game in history (non-rain delay division), feature fifteen pitchers, three replay reviews, fourteen walks, and a ball stuck under a fence, and still be riveting from start to finish. That was the case tonight, as the Rangers defeated the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim by a 10-9 tally.
Of course, any time a game lasts this long, there’s going to be a lot that gets left out. It’s like trying to recap the plot of Forrest Gump in around 1,000 words. You’ll hear about some football, the horrific scene in Vietnam (and the subsequent miraculous rescue of Bubba), Lieutenant Dan’s legs, the emotional Jenny storyline, and the [Extremely Forrest Gump Voice] run-ning, but you’ll probably miss the part about when he mooned the President, and that’s okay. It’s a moment, but it’s not the moment.
First, the football: the Rangers were on FSSW+ tonight, which is a premium channel for a lot of you cable subscribers. Much like Forrest Gump, there will probably be a re-run tomorrow, but it’s unfortunate that Fox Sports Southwest made the decision to bump Major League Baseball for High School Football.
That said, let’s get to the battle: Cole Hamels didn’t have his best command tonight, and walked the first two batters of the game. Next up was New Angel Justin Upton, who smashed a ball down the third base line. But Joey Gallo made a miraculous save, sliding through the chalk and into foul territory, picking the ball cleanly, and making an impossible throw across the diamond to get Upton. The rescue was temporary, however: Lieutenant Albert Pujols hit a ball into the right field corner, and in an act of sheer willpower, forced his body to carry him all the way to second base.
But the Rangers’ deficit was short-lived. Delino DeShields began his stellar night by beating out an infield single to Other New Angel Brandon Phillips, then Shin-Soo Choo walked. They would both later score, and the game was tied… for an inning.
In the bottom of the third, with the bases loaded, Justin Upton dropped a fly ball, then with the bases still loaded, Elvis Andrus hit a 2-run bloop single. In the fourth, Joey Gallo hit his 37th home run of the year (tying him for the league lead) and then everything settled down for a bit until the fifth, when Pujols drove home two more runs on a single to make it 6-4. Pujols would end his night with four hits. He may not be able to run for much anymore, but the man can still hit a baseball.
In the bottom of the sixth, more home runs! DeShields tripled in front of Choo’s 447-foot monster, then Carlos Gomez hit his 16th of the year, and it was 9-4 Rangers. But then came the plot twist: Ricky Rodriguez had his first bad MLB outing. Single, infield single, walk. Then a two-run double (which would have been three, had the ball not gotten lodged under the wall). With runners at second and third and the score now 9-6, it was time to introduce the tear-jerker part of the story.
Jake Diekman’s story is well-documented, but still amazing every time it is told. He is, as far as I know, the first player to have his colon removed and then come back to play Major League Baseball. The last time he was on a big-league mound in a game was on October 9th, 2016 in Game Three of the ALDS.
Usually, when a pitcher is making his first appearance back after an extended absence, he’ll get an inning in a 9-2 blowout, just to give him a chance to work out the nerves.
Not so with Diekman.
With the tying run at the plate, in a playoff chase, playing one of the teams the Rangers are trying to catch, it was time for his return. The crowd, most of them aware of his story, gave him a standing ovation as he entered to the sounds of Five Finger Death Punch’s cover of “House of the Rising Sun”. His teammates lined the railing in front of the dugout. His manager waited until he arrived at the mound, handed him the ball, and wished him well. Now, after nearly eleven months, Diekman was alone on the mound, and Martin Maldonado was at the plate.
82mph slider. Low and in. Ball one.
“I was too excited on the mound, I could feel my mechanics (were) pretty quick,” Diekman admitted later.
95mph two-seamer in the zone. Foul ball. Strike one.
Then another, and another.
Ball two was so high that Robinson Chirinos had to leap up to grab it.
Another foul, then another ball.
Then an 84mph slider that darted down and out of the zone…
...and Maldonado swung and missed. Diekman's first batter back was a strikeout.
The runner on third would eventually score on a sacrifice fly, but Diekman retired each of the three batters he faced in his return. As he walked off the mound, the crowd stood again. His catcher gave a gloved fist-bump. His manager shook his hand.
What was running through Diekman’s mind as he left the mound? “Not much, I didn’t know if I was going to go another inning, or come out to face another hitter or two. I was just happy we kept the lead. Once I sat down and was actually by myself, I got pretty emotional. I tried to hide it; I used a towel.”
Some of the rest of us used our sleeves.
Alright, let's see, Where are we... We’ve gotten through the football, the war, the rescue, Lieutenant Dan, and Jenny. Ahh right. It’s time to run.
The Angels had tied the game in the top of the eighth inning. (I told you we’d skip some parts). But in the bottom of the eighth, Carlos Gomez walked. Then on the sixth pitch of a seven-pitch walk by Joey Gallo, Gomez stole second, popping up and swiping third as well, because Maldonado’s throw was so bad that not even Andrelton Simmons could catch it. With the game tied, a five-run lead blown, and Mike Napoli at the plate, it felt like Six Flags had expanded to include this game for the “it’s my adrenaline and I want it now!” crowd.
It would be a popular ride if it always finished this way: with the count 2-2 on Napoli, Cam Bedrosian spiked a slider that skittered about 25 feet up the third baseline. Run, Carlos, run! The race was a math problem: if Martin Maldonado leaves home plate from a crouch at 7mph, chasing a ball that crossed the plate at 87mph, and Carlos Gomez leaves third base at 17mph, will the catcher arrive at the ball in time to pick it up and tag Gomez before he passes him en route to scoring the go-ahead run?
The answer is no.
Gomez slid headfirst into home, letting his tongue hang out of his mouth as he smiled broadly at the home dugout. He had given the Rangers a 10-9 lead without so much as a hit.
It wouldn’t have been an epic story without at least one too many endings, so in the ninth, Alex Claudio gave up two one-out singles that were just orphaned ground balls that couldn’t find a home. With runners on first and second, Joey Gallo bobbled what might have been an inning-ending double play, but recovered in time to throw out Phillips by the slimmest of margins at second base. He looked safe to the naked eye, but replay review showed it to be a lot closer than initially thought. The ruling stood, and after an eventually-intentional walk to Upton, the bases were loaded for Eric Young, Jr. (who–fortunately for the Rangers–had entered the game as an 8th inning pinch-runner for Lieutenant Pujols)
Young hit a ball up the middle.
As the would-be tying run screamed towards home, Elvis Andrus snagged the ball on its second bounce, took a couple of steps and planted a foot on second base ahead of the rapidly-closing Upton. He jumped–half to avoid the runner, and half out of excitement that the win had been sealed–and the fireworks fired.
Somewhere, a feather floated up and out of the stadium.
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