After the game, the media waited politely a few feet from Adrian Beltre’s locker while he dressed. As he turned around, he seemed surprised. “Are you waiting on me?” he asked. Someone acknowledged that we were “What did *I* do?!” he laughed. And you might see his point if you only looked at the box score: 1-for-4 with a run scored in the first inning. Clearly, Mike Napoli, with his two monster home runs, was a bigger story today. That's true.
But zoom out. It's not simply about a standalone 10-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners, nor is it the fact that it is the second consecutive 10-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners. Is it that the team has won 8 of their last 10? Yes, now you’re getting closer.
But the reason we wanted to talk to Adrian Beltre is that starting yesterday, the Rangers had their entire offense back. Beltre had missed the first 52 games of the season with a calf injury, and by the time he returned, Carlos Gomez was in the midst of missing four weeks with a strained hamstring. Mike Napoli had struggled early, and eventually also found himself on the disabled list with a sore back.
But yesterday, Gomez and Napoli returned. Two games with the whole lineup. Two 10-4 wins. “Look, today we had Lucroy in the eight hole and Gallo in the nine,” Jeff Banister said after the game.”In Lucroy’s case, (he) had been hitting fourth and fifth -- had to be a centerpiece of the lineup (...) To be able to insert Gomez and Nap and have them come back and have them do what they did is crucial for us going forward. We need that lineup to be lengthened out. Look, we sat a guy in Deshields (today) who had been nothing short of a run scorer.”
Speaking of runs, the Rangers got theirs in bunches today; two five-run innings, both of which were capped with Mike Napoli home runs. In the first inning against former Ranger Yovani Gallardo, the Rangers were down two outs after the first two batters of the inning. But Nomar Mazara beat the shift with an opposite-field single, then Beltre looped a single to right field. Rougned Odor laced a double into the right-center gap to score the Rangers’ first run, and Carlos Gomez singled up the middle to drive home two more. Then came Napoli’s first home run to make it 5-0.
But the Mariners continued to try to creep back into the game, pestering Martin Perez all day. Perez allowed a run in a 30-pitch third inning, and was so sweaty afterwards, he changed his pants, jersey, and shoes before coming back out for the fourth inning. In the sixth, Seattle finally broke through when Mike Zunino’s three-run homer made it a one-run game at 5-4. The Rangers were quite nearly out of early-inning laurels upon which they could rest.
So they went and got five more in the bottom of the inning. Odor led off with a home run, and Gomez wore a 97mph fastball to the tricep immediately after. (“I don’t know (if it was on purpose), I don’t pay attention to that,” Gomez said after the game. “I just did this,” he smiled, flexing his arm jokingly.) Napoli then sent his second shot of the day over the left field fence, flipping his bat with dismissive swagger. Later, after Joey Gallo reached via error, Shin-Soo Choo hit the second two-run home run of the inning. It was 10-4, and it would stay that way.
So yes, it was the return of Napoli, tonight. And the return of Gomez, both tonight and last night. But–despite his insistence otherwise–it is also the return of Adrian Beltre, the Captain. The glue. The respected clubhouse leader who not only returned from the calf injury, but was able to stay off the disabled list when he sprained his ankle just before this ten-game stretch of success. The team is playing well, and they should only improve with the return of Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, A.J. Griffin, and Andrew Cashner.
After the game, and after the players took time to talk to us, the team held its annual family day on the field. Face-painting booths, oversized Jenga and Connect-Four games, an inflatable wading pool, and other amenities were provided, and the players and their families played games and played catch. A makeshift infield was set up in the left field grass, and a dozen or so kids took their turns taking hacks and running the bases.
The pitcher? Adrian Beltre.