It seems like it’s been a lifetime since I’ve felt such immense passion during a regular season baseball game. When Oakland captured a 6-3 lead in the 4th inning, even I — who often downplays the significance of “critical” June matchups — had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that maybe, possibly, arguably, I’ve been wrong about this Rangers’ team from the get.
I haven’t been concerned this season with the (lack of) offensive output because, to be honest, I wasn’t anticipating anything special from the lineup in the first place. What I care more about is what Jason Parks describes as #want. The Rangers led 3-0 after three innings, then trailed 6-3;
I wanted to see that they gave a shit. Even if they didn’t win, I needed to know that they (still) care;
In the bottom of the 4th, Nelson Cruz hit one of his patented solo shots to center field to cut the lead to 6-4;
In the bottom of the 5th, A.J. Pierzynski rocketed a two-out, run-scoring double onto the warning track in right field, which was only slightly beyond the outstretched reach of Josh Reddick‘s glove. BABIP. The lead was down to 1 run;
Then, the following hitter, Nelson Cruz, went all Nelson Cruz on everyone, again. The homer was his 2nd of the game and 18th of the season, and was good for a +25.9% spike in Texas’s WPA — increasing the odds of a Ranger victory from 40.2% to 66.1%. Basically, he is clutch as fuck and furthermore….
Until the 9th inning, the Ranger bullpen was perfect. Starter Nick Tepesch went only 3.2 IP, which was followed by Neal Cotts (2.1 IP), Robbie Ross (1.0 IP) and Tanner Scheppers, who were each flawless. (Not flawless as in they didn’t allow any runs; flawless like they didn’t allow any base runners.)
Leading 8-6, closer Joe Nathan — who has drawn the ire of some Rangers’ fans for how shaky he’s been in the 9th inning — didn’t disappoint, keeping things interesting by allowing 2 hits and a walk, but only one of the runners ended up scoring.
It wasn’t the prettiest win, but it certainly carries an impact: The Rangers are now only 2.0 games back in the AL West instead of 4, and if you pay attention to the loss column, Oakland is only 1 game better than Texas.
After needing 5.1 innings of relief on Monday night, it would be welcomed if Yu Darvish came out firing on all cylinders on Tuesday evening. From my vantage point, Texas could use a series split at the bare minimum; if they can sneak out a win in the first two games, it will really alleviate some of the tension that’s been brewing during this recent stint in the doldrums.
Though, one can’t forget, while Oakland has spent the better part of the last month ripping the faces off every opposition they’ve shared the field with, the Rangers have been playing their worst baseball in roughly a half-decade.
All that, and the A’s are only leading the division by 2 games. Just 2 games. They’ve gotten exceptionally hot and capitalized on a putrid stretch of Ranger baseball — the variance has been in their favor. That’s to their credit.
We’ll see how game two winds up.