The food doesn't ever taste as good to the rich.
There was never any real danger they would starve.
There's a reason that Rocky wasn't an undefeated Adonis. The story was much more compelling when he was a past-his-prime underdog in real danger of losing his eyesight. Lord of the Rings just doesn't work if Sauron is the good guy.
It wasn’t pleasant getting there, but the Rangers have somehow–after winning the division each of the last two seasons–firmly established themselves as underdogs. That's not to say it isn't fun when your team wins the division by a double-digit lead, following through on their pre-season promise to dominate all season long.
But while you’d never ask for the early season hardships, you have to admit:
the food tastes a little better down here, doesn’t it?
Five games ago, the Rangers were 15 games back in the division and facing down a six-game road trip against the best team in the NL followed by the best team in the AL. It was dire. After Tuesday night’s 4-2 win, they’re just 11 back, and try as you might, you can’t get the Rocky theme out of your head.
I’m not sure there’s a player that better embodies The Underdog than Rougned Odor. Undersized and Over-competitive, the hard-swinging Tempest in a Spittoon has not an ounce of chill, not a modicum of laziness, nor any subtlety in his game. When he slumps, he slumps by trying to change weather patterns with a single swing. But when he is not slumping… Ho boy.
Rougned Odor is not slumping right now.
In the top of the fifth inning, after Jonathan Lucroy broke up Brad Peacock’s no-hitter with a single to centerfield, Odor also singled, putting runners on first and second. After Joey Gallo struck out, Jurickson Profar bounded a ball to shortstop Carlos Correa towards the middle of the infield. But not only would Correa be unable to complete the double play, he was unable to complete the single play: Odor out-hustled him to second base, and his hard slide impacted Correa’s throw to first. Everyone was safe. Lucroy later scored on a two-out walk to pull the Rangers to within 2-1.
It should be noted: the Astros only had two runs, which is no small feat for any pitcher in baseball this year, much less one who is unlikely to remain in the Rangers’ rotation after this week, and almost impossible for a pitcher who to that point had allowed more home runs (2) than swinging strikes (1). But Martinez pitched with moxie, and after the latter of the home runs (Correa, with one out in the 4th) Martinez did not allow another ball to leave the infield (8 batters, 7 outs, one infield single). He left the game after 6 innings with the game tied 2-2.
That tying run? It was Odor’s doing. His tenth home run of the year came in the top of the 7th, and 2-2 is where it would stay for precisely one inning while Jose Leclerc gave the offense a break by working a scoreless 7th inning.
In the eighth, the dramatic music began, and wouldn’t stop for the whole inning. With two outs, Jonathan Lucroy again singled, and again scored a run, this time closely trailed by Odor.
Well, not that closely. Odor took his sweet time rounding the bases after his second home run of the game made it 4-2.
In the bottom of the inning, Keone Kela allowed a leadoff infield single to Bregman, struck out Nori Aoki, walked George Springer, and got Marwin Gonzalez to fly out to right field.
Two outs. Two on. Two run game.
And lo, Jeff Banister did something he is not known for doing: he called upon his closer in the 8th inning, when the situation called for it. Banister would say later that Kela was dealing with a “little bit of a finger issue,” but didn’t pull his punches: “The Bush / Altuve matchup was a better matchup for us at that point.”
Called strike (1-1)
Foul ball (1-2)
Foul ball (2-2)
And then a luxurious 81mph curveball that Altuve swung at and missed.
There was also a ninth inning, but it was a little anticlimactic, save for Brian McCann bunting to beat the shift for a single. The Rangers went in order, and McCann’s one-out bunt was but a brief break in Matt Bush’s slow-mo victory montage. The last out of the game came on a grounder to Jurickson Profar at third.
The Rangers have a chance to sweep the Astros tomorrow. Doing so would only pull them to within ten games. But did you ever imagine that being ten games back would feel so good?
Enjoy the food. There is no guarantee that there will be any more tomorrow.