Not many players personify the 1990's-era Texas Rangers more than outfielder Juan González. Don't get me wrong, though. Rusty Greer still stands as my all-time favorite, and Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez might be the greatest player this franchise has ever produced, but few could match the way "Igor" played the game and the excitement he brought to every at-bat. The Rangers honored Gonzalez prior to Friday night's win over the Seattle Mariners, so what better time than now to look back at the highlights from his career with Texas?
For the sake of simplicity, these are listed in chronological order. However, feel free to debate with your friends about the order or even insert other favorite moments.
#10 -- September 14, 1989: Juan's first multi-hit (and multi-RBI) game
The date was September 14, 1989. Believe it or not, Juan had already played in 11 games prior to this one, and had started in seven of them. He'd begun his MLB career by going 0/9 with a walk, four strikeouts and a GIDP over four games before earning his first big league hit. Despite the talk about his potential coming into the big leagues, González struggled upon his arrival to "The Show."
But on this Thursday evening at Kauffman Stadium (known then as "Royals Stadium" and covered with AstroTurf instead of real grass), Juan showed just what his bat could do. Starting in center field and batting eighth ... yes, eighth ... remember, he struggled for a bit and this particular roster already featured the heavy bats of Rubén Sierra, Rafael Palmeiro, Pete Incaviglia and Julio Franco. Entering play that night, González had a batting average of just .154 and a slugging percentage of .192.
He led off the top of the second by striking out and would come to bat again in the third with runners at the corners and one out. Texas had already jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the Kansas City Royals that night and had just chased the starter from the game after 54 pitches in just two innings. Jumping all over the second pitch, he lined a single into left field to drive in Franco.
He would return to the dish again in the fourth. By this point, the Texas offense had extended the lead to 8-0 and now González stepped in with runners on first and second with two outs. On the fourth pitch of the at bat, he roped a 1-2 offering into the left field gap for a double, driving in Incaviglia for this second RBI of the game, and his second hit. The Rangers cruised to a 10-4 victory that night, and Juan had played his part with two hits, driving in two runs and also scoring once.
#9 -- September 18, 1989: Juan's first career home run
So, this moment did take a while for Igor. Although he was regarded as one of the team's top prospects prior to his arrival, it took until his 16th big league game and his 11th MLB start before he launched the first bomb of his career. Timing is everything, however.
Hosting the Seattle Mariners in the first game of a four game homestand, the legendary Nolan Ryan would toe the rubber for Texas. The interesting thing about this ballgame, is that it was actually a makeup of a rained-out meeting from July 2, earlier in the season. Because of the scheduling change, the game took place at Arlington Stadium in front of a meager 4,654 fans. It was by far the least-attended home game for the Rangers that season.
Although they sat 13 games out of first place when play started, the Rangers were still fighting to earn just the seventh .500+ season in team history since moving to Arlington 17 years earlier. While the powerhouse Oakland Athletics would go on to win the West and the World Series with ease, each September game still carried a lot of weight for the Rangers.
In the top of the fourth, superstar and future Hall of Fame outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. gave the M's a 2-0 lead with a double off Ryan. In the next half inning, shortstop Jeff Kunkel got on base with a one out single. Hopping into the box as the tying run at the age of 19 years and 333 days, González put the ball into the aluminum bleachers in Arlington Stadium for his first big league big fly, making him the youngest Ranger at the time to hit a home run. Just two years later, Pudge would break that record. But at the time, it was a pretty big deal. Texas would go on to win the game 5-2 and they would finish with a respectable 83-79 record.
For Juan, it was the only homer he would hit that year, but it certainly wouldn't be his last career highlight. In fact, it was simply a foreshadowing of an entertaining tenure with the Rangers.