Now that we’re in the final month of the season, it doesn’t take fantastic leaps of hyperbole to create storylines. With an impending matchup with the playoff-hopeful Rays commencing over the weekend, conflated by a collective 13 games down the stretch with hard-charging Oakland and the trying-to-become-relevant-again Angels, the battle lines are already drawn; the story speaks for itself. However, when it comes to currency, the present, there isn’t a whole lot of sexy to be found with the third-place Royals of Kansas City (60-74). Their Labor Day starter, Bruce Chen (10-11, 5.28 ERA), didn’t exactly extract adrenaline, or strike fear in the hearts of the ever expanding Rangers fan base. Basically, the narrative couldn’t be constructed before the first pitch, but more created with everything that happened after.
Rangers starter Yu Darvish (14-9, 4.29 ERA) looked to build off his last, perhaps finest performance, where he went 7 innings and hurled his Major League-best 8th start striking out the opposition in double figures (10). The Rangers kick-started the offensive onslaught in the 2nd when Geovany Soto launched his 3rd American League home run over the left-center field wall, giving Texas a 3-0 lead. An inning later Josh Hamilton blasted his 38th of the season to right, and at the time it seemed more than enough for Darvish, who possessed arguably his best combination of stuff and command that we’ve seen all year.
He went the first three innings unscathed, going through the lineup mixing and matching his fastball to the tune of 97 at times, juxtaposing it with a looping 11-5 curveball which went as low as 70. The disparity in velocity and location was mesmerizing from my television screen, so I can do nothing but pity the hitters that actually had to step in the batter’s box to solve the growing puzzle Darvish has turned into of late.
The Rangers tacked on two runs in the 5th, first a souring homer off the bat of Adrian Beltre, who’s piling on his gaudy August statistics (.333/.384/.622, 162 wRC+/1.6 fWAR) with a hot start to September (4-9, 2 HR’s). He’s been so stellar of late that he’s no-so-subtly tossed his name in the MVP race, along with names like Mike Trout, Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera. The second run didn’t take long: After Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz hit an even more mammoth shot that landed about 20 feet beyond the Royals bullpen in left, further exacerbating the Royals deficit to 6-0. The Rangers wouldn’t score again till the 9th.
When the bottom of the 6th rolled around, Yu Darvish had already gone clean through Kansas City’s lineup nearly twice. 17 up, 17 down. After inducing a groundout to Mike Olt and flyout to Nelson Cruz, the Royals #9 hitter, Johnny Giavotella, worked the count to 3-2. Who knows if the pitch was actually a ball (for what it’s worth the Pitch Tracker on the Rangers broadcast had it nipping the far side of the strike zone), but the umpire ended up issuing a walk to the batter. Perfect game: Over. The next hitter, David Lough, then looped a ball just out of the reach of Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus. No-hitter: Over. Then Tony Abreu punched a ball to the right-center field gap for a triple, knocking in two runs and ending Yu Darvish’s shutout. Just like that. Three hitters successively turned a potentially historic performance into a brilliant one, and then into just another line in the box score. I’m not sure if the Yu’s outcome would have been any different had the ump rung up KC’s #9 hitter, but I sure would have liked to see the top of their order in the 7th as compared to what actually transpired. Just poor luck, I guess. Darvish ceded another run in the inning, and the lead went down to 6-3.
There wasn’t a lot of action until the top of the 9th*. On the first pitch of the inning, Royals reliever Louis Coleman threw a fastball aimed at the small of Nelson Cruz’s back, scoring a direct hit where the spinal cord intersects with Cruz’s belt buckle. Now, blame it on Fox Sports Southwest’s production team or what have you, but I didn’t see Nelson Cruz taking a long time coming out of the box or hot-dogging a slow jog around the bases when he crushed his 22nd home run in the 6th. But there was no mistaking his reaction after being hit in the 9th. He took a handful of steps out towards the mound, apparently saying something to Coleman, and was then restrained by Royals catcher Brayan Pena. A benches-clearing, bullpen-clearing stand-around then ensued, and all appeared to be well. Though, on the very next pitch, Rangers great and perpetual leader and Face Of The Franchise, Michael Young, destroyed a fastball some 427 feet over the wall in left-center, staring down the Royals pitcher halfway to first as he went into his half-sprint around the bases. Despite my inclination to rag whole-heartedly on Young for how indescribably God-awful he’s been this year, I can fully admit it was one of the most bitchin’ moments of the entire season. The Rangers lead stretched out to 8-4, and we looked poised to win our 80th game of the season.
Joe Nathan came on in the 9th, and although he got in some 1st-and-3rd, one-out trouble, he got out of it by way of a game-ending 6-4-3 double play. I don’t mean to downplay the 9th inning, but the fireworks had already transpired.
Along with the Athletics losing to the third-place Angels, the Rangers AL West lead effectively rose to a full 4.0 games, lowering the team’s magic number to 25. I know, I know, it’s too soon to be talking about magic numbers, but I don’t care. We all know the Rangers are going to the playoffs. We all know they’re going to win the West. If I’m wrong, shoot me. Better yet, I’ll shoot myself.
* Mike Adams gave up a run in the 8th inning by way of a Tony Abreu single, but he was thrown out trying to get to 2nd, ending the 8th. So, really, the scare of the game came up at the same time that the scare was put out by the fire extinguisher. I didn’t think this was necessary to mention.