Baseball is a game of inches.
I don’t care that Al Pacino applied that quote to football in literally the worst sports movie I’ve ever seen: every sport can be a game of inches; heck - snail racing is a game of inches, but there’s a lot bigger margin for error at that speed. But baseball? It has perfected the drama of the miniscule by adding triple-digit velocity. A called strike an inch outside, a ball that just misses the good part of the bat and downgrades a would-be home run into a fly-out to the warning track, or a release point an inch too far forward at 100mph.
Or tonight, where the difference between the game-winning walk-off and simply another foul ball was no more than one single inch. Melky Cabrera’s 102mph screamer that appeared to be headed directly into right field, then hooked like a badly-shanked golf ball towards the foul line, and landed–no joke–with the ball half on the chalk and half on the dirt in foul territory.
Half a baseball’s width. Fair ball.
Two runs scored on the play, and–replay confirmation upholding–the game was over, an 8-7 loss that had once been a 7-3 lead. Another blown save. Another late innings loss. Another gut punch. Another inch in the wrong direction.
“Don’t blow the game. Simple as that. It sucks. It’s terrible. I hate it.”
Those were Matt Bush’s words in the locker room afterwards.
“Well, I think we gotta evaluate it and see where we’re at. We’ve gotta be able to close games out.”
Those were Jeff Banister’s words regarding the ninth inning situation moving forward.
I’m not a native speaker, but as best I can interpret Banisterian, that translates roughly to “Yeah, no, Matt Bush isn’t getting another save opportunity for awhile.”
But before there was Bush, there was Beltre and Odor. In the first inning, with the bases loaded and no one out, Beltre struck out, then Odor swung at a pitch a foot outside and grounded into an inning-ending double play. Austin Bibens-Dirkx allowed solo home runs to Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier in the bottom of the frame.
Sometimes the inches come in clusters.
Speaking of that: Joey Gallo hit a ball ~5,448 inches to put Texas on the board in the third inning (I’ll spare you the calculator: that’s 454 feet). Then in the fourth inning, Texas took advantage of a flailing Mike Pelfrey. Beltre and Odor partially redeemed themselves when Beltre walked and Odor hit a go-ahead home run to make it 3-2. Shin-Soo Choo later drove home two more, and by the time he was thrown out between first and second base, two more runs had scored. It was a four-run inning, and it looked like Texas was going to do what you should do to bad teams. It was 5-2.
They weren’t through, either. In the sixth inning–after Frazier’s second solo home run had made it 5-3–Texas loaded the bases again. This time, Elvis Andrus singled home two runners, and it was 7-3.
Then began the slow bleed.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Yolmer Sanchez singled and advanced to second on an error by Shin-Soo Choo, and to third on a wild pitch. After he was singled home by Kevan Smith (I’m not making any of these names up, I promise), he was removed for Jose Leclerc, who retired Adam Engel (and also the three batters he faced in the following inning). 7-4.
In the 8th, after the Rangers again loaded the bases with less than two outs only to come up short when Andrus flied out and Nomar Mazara grounded out, Alex Claudio allowed one more run. 7-5.
Then came the ninth. Engel single. Omar Narvaez flyout. Willy Garcia single. Alen Hanson RBI single (7-6), Melky Cabrera.
As for what comes next in the ninth inning for Texas, Keone Kela seems the obvious choice, but it came to light after the game that he was unavailable tonight due to shoulder soreness. Maybe Jose Leclerc. Or maybe the Rangers set sail into the new world of data and science and render the closer’s role obsolete. After cycling through [counts on fingers: Matt Bush, Sam Dyson, Shawn Tolleson, Neftali Feliz] four closers in the last three seasons, maybe Banister and company decide to base their ninth inning on something other than “who’s the closer?”
Whatever the solution, time is running out; the Rangers season is slipping away, one inch at a time.