This era of the Texas Rangers under the leadership of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien is mostly known for playing a professional brand of baseball. They do not dance in the dugout after home runs, they are not yelling at opposing pitchers, and they keep their emotions in check. That is what made what happened on Wednesday night so stunning. The Astros have owned this rivalry against Texas since 2017. This summer they have continued that dominance in the two series these teams have played. Prior to Wednesday night's game the Astros had won five of the last six games played between these two teams. The Rangers on Wednesday followed the emotional example set by Marcus Semien. The reaction by Semien after getting hit, likely intentionally, by Framber Valdez and then the home run he hit the next inning spurred the team to play with a controlled rage.
Texas stands up to the bully and fights back
Houston must have thought that if they plunked Semien that nothing would happen and Texas would not respond. They probably were not wrong to think that. Texas has been taking it from Houston for the last six years. That completely changed on Wednesday as the Rangers finally stood up and the Astros stood down.
It started with Andrew Heaney hitting Yordan Alvarez in the first inning following a three-run home run by Alex Bregman. Heaney hit Alvarez on an 0-2 count with a fastball that tailed inside and hit him in the shoulder. Alvarez was not happy as he took first base. Wednesday was the first game back off of the IL for Alvarez after missing time with an oblique injury. In the third inning Valdez faced Semien and on the first pitch nailed him in the back. It was clear retaliation for Heaney accidentally hitting Alvarez. Semien took it as such and stared down Valdez on his way to first. Then in the ultimate act of vengeance for his teammate Lowe took Valdez deep to get Texas on the board and Semien had more words for Maldonado as he crossed home plate.
Semien's reputation is that of being a level-headed player who goes out and does his job every day. He plays with the same emotion in clutch situations as he does with a first-inning at-bat. That is who he is and as team leader the team follows his example. That happened on Wednesday as well as the team took on the anger that Semien was feeling. The anger exploded in the fourth when Semien in his next at-bat following the hit-by-pitch hit a home run to left center field that scored Leody Taveras and extended the Rangers' lead to 6-3.
Semien stared Valdez down nearly the entire way around the bases and then told Maldonado to quiet down. That caused Valdez to unravel from there. He walked Ezequiel Duran, threw a wild pitch allowing Duran to take second, and then walked Lowe. He did not just walk Lowe he threw one high and tight around Lowe's head and was not ejected despite both benches receiving a warning following the Semien HBP earlier in the game. Astros manager Dusty Baker removed him from the game following that pitch.
Rangers and Astros' simmering tension comes to a head
The anger was still present in both teams. The Astros with the win would have forged a tie for first place. They could sense the momentum in the division heading their direction and activated both Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez prior to the game and inserted both into the starting lineup. Houston knew that if they could tie Texas that the momentum created by the sweep and the lost division lead might cause Texas to stumble even further.
Texas would not be denied in this game. Sam Huff had come in for Jonah Heim in the fourth inning after Heim left with what was diagnosed as left wrist soreness. Huff had his first full-at bat in the fifth and he took advantage by crushing a solo home run off the facade of the train tracks to increase the lead to 7-3. That would not be it for Texas. There were two outs in the inning when the offensive outburst took place. Five hitters came up and all five reached. The rally led to Adolis Garcia hitting and then admiring a massive grand slam that was reminiscent of Albert Pujols hitting a go-ahead home run in the 2005 NLCS.
The grand slam by Garcia put Texas up 13-3. Maldonado and the Astros let the emotions get the best of them. Benches and bullpens cleared as Semien and Maldonado were both chirping at each other and then it escalated when Garcia crossed home and went face-to-face with Maldonado. For some reason following this exchange of no punches Semien and catcher Maldonado were both ejected from the game for I guess jawing at each other both in the fourth inning following Semien's home run and then again after Garcia's grand slam.
In the end though the Rangers win 13-5 and maintain sole possession of first place as they now head west to play the underachieving San Diego Padres. Texas with just one win this weekend will be in first place at the trade deadline. That is not something that fans would have expected prior to the season. It is setting up to be a highly emotional and tense last two months of the season. Wednesday night's game showed that this team can use that emotion of controlled rage to their benefit.