Call it the Bartolo Colon effect: there is a certain joy in rooting for a player like Bobby Wilson, the career .206 batter with the stocky frame and the ruddy complexion. When you root for the underdog, you are not particularly disappointed when they do things like strike out; it’s the expected outcome. But once in awhile, as he did this afternoon in Detroit, Bobby Wilson will stride to the plate, tap his bat on home plate, and (while the entire internet takes to Twitter to ask “why isn’t Ryan Rua pinch-hitting?!”) crack a tie-breaking grand slam, carbonating your lungs with a laughter that begins as effervescence and finishes as a boisterous and borderline-sinister cackle, knowing that something impossible, wonderful, and undeserved has happened to your team.
This game contained multitudes. Martin Perez and Justin Verlander would have, save for the third inning, combined for a double no-hitter through the sixth inning. Home plate umpire Chris Guccione’s strike zone occasionally more resembled a Tampa Bay Rays hat than a square. And of course, there was Martin and the no-good, very bad inning. It takes a special finish to relegate each of those things to a combined one paragraph. But that’s exactly what we got.
Let’s start in the top of the 8th inning. It was 2-0 Detroit, and the Rangers had a mere three hits. Justin Verlander (who had struck out nine) was freshly removed from the game, having thrown his 111th pitch - a 96-mph fastball to strike out Delino DeShields to end the 7th inning - and Rougned Odor stood in against Justin Wilson.
Odor singled to greet Wilson. Then Nomar Mazara singled to bid him adieu.
With two runners on, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus called for Mark Lowe (who needs no introduction to the discerning Rangers fan) to face Adrian Beltre. Beltre singled, scoring Odor and advancing Mazara to second base. Trailing by a run, Jeff Banister had a decision to make. Would he leave one of his best hitters in the game, in case his spot in the lineup came up again in a tie game? Or would he remove him for the newly-re-acquired speedster Drew Stubbs, making every effort to ensure the game would get to that tied status? Banister chose the latter.
Prince Fielder has struggled lately; that much is no secret. So when he grounded out to first base, there was perhaps a sense of relief that it was a productive out; both runners advanced into scoring position. Ian Desmond then lofted a fly ball into right field - a ball that certainly would not have been deep enough to score Mazara. In fact, it might not have been deep enough to score any of the Rangers, save for (perhaps) three: DeShields, maybe Desmond himself, and the third: the man who was tagging up at third base. J.D. Martinez steadied himself in right field, caught the ball, and man and baseball raced towards the white pentagon.
Man won this one, by a hair’s breadth. The game was tied at two.
With Beltre still on second base, the Tigers opted to walk Mitch Moreland, who had homered against them yesterday. But the move backfired: Lowe’s next pitch was a 92-mph fastball that ricocheted off the left elbow of Elvis Andrus. As Andrus’ glove arm dangled at his side, his throwing arm attempted to wave off the training staff. But the trainers, ignoring his wave-off, emerged from the dugout to meet, examine, and eventually declare Andrus fit to stay in the game. Wilson, meanwhile had time to think about the man on the mound who, briefly but recently, had been his teammate.
“I knew he was going to throw me a slider; I haven’t handled sliders this series very well,” Wilson would say later. “So, that’s kinda what I was sitting on; I know he’s a high-percentage slider guy, and I just got the barrel on the ball.”
Yes, yes he did. It was a line drive that did not, at first, appear to have the distance to clear the left field wall. But as Justin Upton ranged back to make the play, he first hit the warning track, and then placed a foot on the wall and began to climb. But the ball cleared both short wall and tall man, hitting the back of the bullpen and giving the Rangers a 6-2 lead. It was Wilson’s first career grand slam, coming in his eighth season and his 548th career at-bat.
Maybe more unlikely still, the slam was the first for the Rangers in their last 166 bases-loaded at-bats, a stretch that dates back to August 27th, 2014, when Rougned Odor accomplished the feat against Erasmo Ramirez in Seattle. But perhaps the unlikeliest of all? There was yet one more home run to come. Wilson’s slam quickly became part of a back-to-back, as Delino DeShields hit the next pitch 5 feet further, and about 20 feet to the right. It was 7-2 Texas, and Tigers fans began to boo as they trudged to the exits.
The Rangers and Tigers traded unremarkable runs in the 9th to put the final details on the 8-3 score, but the eighth inning was today’s storybook, and Bobby Wilson was its unexpected underdog hero, at least for as long as such a title can be applied… since his return to the Rangers, Wilson is hitting .545 with a Herculean 1.433 OPS.
NOTES & QUOTES
“It’s crazy how the business of this game works, but we’re both (he and Wilson) happy to be back here. We’re happy in this clubhouse, love the guys around us, and the way this team plays” - Drew Stubbs, on his return to the Rangers
“You know, we got a couple guys on base, and things happen when we get on base - we have the ability to have those breakout innings. Against any team. To have that, and finish the series that way, is pretty fun.” - Delino DeShields
A.J. Griffin’s sore shoulder has landed him on the disabled list, but Jeff Banister has indicated that the team doesn’t think it’s a serious injury. According to Banister, Griffin was going to miss a start with the off-day anyway, so based on his injury history, they are choosing to proceed with an “abundance of caution”. We’ll keep you posted as we hear any developments.
Banister also, on the pre-game show with Eric Nadel, discussed what he called the “three pitch” approach. The meaning: they want Perez to get the batter to engage sometime within the first three pitches. Perez did induce a swing within the first three pitches to all but six of the 26 batters he faced. Of those six, three came in his 37-pitch third inning, resulting in a ground out and two walks. The other three? Ground out, strikeout, fly out. Perez walked five on the day, but only allowed two hits, and struck out seven.
The Rangers had not swept the Detroit Tigers since 2005. They had swept every other American league in at least one 3+ game series since.
The Rangers return home to start a six-game homestand against the White Sox and Blue Jays. Colby Lewis (2-0, 3.32) matches wits with Miguel Gonzalez (0-0, 8.44) in the 7:05pm tilt against the pale hose tomorrow night at Globe Life Park.