An Historic Homecoming

A 1-0 win in 13 innings. You won’t see many like that one.

Coming off that road trip, following its most complete loss, and missing Captain Clutch (Adrian Beltre), the Rangers did the improbable to make history.

In the 23 years the Rangers have called Globe Life Park home, the old Ballpark had never seen such a game. The Rangers had only seen it once in their 45 years of existence. They’d only been in two such games since the franchise came into existence in Washington in 1961.

The last time it happened, in 1990, Nolan Ryan started for the Rangers and went 10 innings; he struck out White Sox rookie Frank Thomas four times, and 15 overall, while walking none and giving up just 3 hits. (Ryan’s Game Score of 101 was the highest he’d ever achieved to that point. He tied it once, the next year, on May 1, 1991—his 7th no-hitter.)

On that day in 1990, neither of tonight’s heroes at the plate had been born.

And even that doesn’t begin to tell the story.

First to break, loses

 

I don’t believe all wins are the same. I do know they all count the same in the standings, but there are character-building wins, just like there are soul-crushing defeats. There are wins that stay with you. I think this was one of those.

The line score says a lot by itself:

Of those 4 Kansas City hits, 3 came off a very strong Andrew Cashner. For the night, he was everything that he showed in Seattle last week and then some. He had movement and velocity; the only struggle, early, was with command, but every time trouble reared its head, something happened. A single turned into a pickoff. A walk turned into a caught-stealing on a delayed steal. He’d neutralize a walk with a strikeout, or fight back from a 2-0 count to get a grounder or pop-up.

Through the first 3 innings, he was at 59 pitches, and it was almost a 50/50 ball-to-strike mix; by the time he retired the final Kansas City batter in the 6th, he’d thrown only 36 more and had allowed only 7 men to reach base in the game.

Danny Duffy was just a bit better than Cashner, due mostly to superior command. He worried me from the start. In the first inning, my notes said, “Duffy looks sharp, efficient, and using the low zone and taking advantage of umpire’s zone for the corners.” I could have hit Control-C and pasted that on to each of the coming 6 innings.

Duffy went away from his usual even mix of fastballs, sliders, and changeups. He threw predominantly fastballs and sliders, cutting way back on the changeup; by using the slider as such an effective change-of-speeds, he didn’t need the changeup. He was getting by with two good pitches (2-seam fastball and slider); why muddle things up with a third-best pitch? In all, Duffy threw only 14% changeups, compared to 53% fastballs and 33% sliders.

It wasn’t until the 7th that pitches started to drift above the waist more consistently, and by then, the bullpen was ready. Duffy’s night ended right at 100 pitches; he threw 62 strikes, 38 balls. The Rangers reached base 7 times on him; every runner they stranded this game came against Duffy, as he left on all 7 Rangers to reach base against him. His five strikeouts were two more than Cashner, but his efficiency allowed him to go a full inning and a third more.

From the first inning, this felt like a “first man to break, loses” game. They’re not always like that. Sometimes, the teams are on the verge of scoring so often, that it’s not a matter of who breaks through, but who breaks loose.

This wasn’t that. This was something else. This was special, indeed, from the start.

Jeff Banister wasn’t about to split hairs. Asked if he got what he wanted from his pitching staff tonight, the Rangers manager said, “Absolutely. I mean, there’s a lot of things to talk about. And you start with Cash, and the 6 ground ball outs. 11 with 3 pitches or less. Did have the 4 walks, but was able to manage through the walks. 11 of 23 first pitch strikes, 3 strikeouts, helped himself with a pickoff and we had a caught stealing.”

Banister continued, “Really, I think it was the offspeed that allowed the fastball to play up, and made quality pitches when he had to.” The consistent execution on the mound, top to bottom, was crucial, according to the Rangers’ skipper.

“Cash seemed to be in pretty good control tonight, even with the four walks. The stuff was sharp. This is a guy that’s, he’s been through the battles before.”

Bullpen redemption

But the story of this game was the bullpen work. It was like the Rangers all of a sudden remembered what they were in 2016, and wanted to remind us all, as well.

Mission accomplished.

The effectiveness that started with Cashner extended throughout the game, according to Banister. “I mean, we didn’t have an inning where they were able to send more than four hitters to the plate,” he said, “That’s crucial. Nobody reached third.”

Don’t get me wrong; the Royals were strong. Mike Minor had set himself up to be the reliever of the game, on sheer volume. He went 3 innings of no-hit baseball. He walked one, struck out two, and threw every last pitch with the game on the line (bottom of 9 through bottom of 11).

But as good as he was, he wasn’t the Rangers’ triple-headed monster of Matt Bush, Keone Kela, and Dario Alvarez. But before we get to them, realize that, adding in the work of Tony Barnette, Alex Claudio, and Jeremy Jeffress, the bullpen threw a 7-inning shutout, gave up just two baserunners, and struck out 11. They had an 11:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Jeffress’s moment

Jeffress, in fact, got just one out—but it may have been the out of the game.

With a runner on first and two outs in the 8th, he came in to relieve Claudio, who’d sandwiched a walk between two strikeouts. With the heart of the Royals order waiting in the wings, he faced Lorenzo Cain. After jumping ahead 0-2, Cain fought back to 2-2, and on the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Jeffress threw a great off-speed pitch that Cain hit off his hands. It dribbled over the mound to Rougned Odor; he stabbed it and stepped on 2nd for the force and the end of the inning. Momentum stalled.

Asked whether he feels tonight meant more because, in the bullpen, everyone feeds off everyone else, Banister was clear. “Absolutely,” he agreed, and continued, “I think we had 21 three-pitch-or-less situations tonight. We know that those guys down in the bullpen are quality pitchers. When they do get in a rhythm, they feed off each other. It’s about coming in and putting up zeroes. You saw that.”

Banister stressed situational execution by his pen, saying, “You saw Jeffress come in in a big situation and get a key out for us. You saw Claudio continue to dial it up. Barnette, early, I think set the tone for the bullpen, with how he pitched coming in, at the time, with as high a leverage situation as we had on the night.”

“So, they made quality pitches. That’s who those guys are. They’re not always overpowering.”

Where there’s smoke…

Bush came on and gave the Rangers a dominant 9th inning, sitting at 98 MPH with every fastball and throwing 12 of 15 pitches for strikes. He fanned two and got one out on a fly to right.

If you had to draw up a closer, he’d look a lot like Bush, and act a lot like him, too. Just for future reference.

Kela was to efficiency what Bush was to dominance, retiring the Royals on just 6 pitches (three groundouts) to wrap the 10th. Alvarez walked the first man he faced, then never allowed another Royal to reach base across two scoreless innings.

From the 9th through the 12th—the definition of “high-leverage situation”—neither bullpen allowed a hit.

Banister acknowledged that Bush and Kela are cut from a different cloth than the rest of the pen, in terms of gas.

“We do have some guys out there who can get the ball by you,” the manager said, “Bush and Key (Keone Kela). I mean, Key was tremendous tonight. Went and gave us two innings, facing both right and left-handed hitters, just continued to pour the fastball through and throw quality breaking balls.”

The Rangers skipper had praise for the entire pen on the night.

“Tremendous job by the bullpen tonight. Obviously, there’s been some rhetoric about the bullpen, but tremendous job by everybody. None more than by Alvarez there late. Got behind some guys, but was able to come back, made some pitches, and seemed to be in a really good rhythm.”

The 13th

In the decisive 13th, Alvarez fanned the bottom two hitters in the Royals order, Paulo Orlando and Raul Mondesi. Then, as if to remind us he does more than carry the slumping heart of the offense in his spare time, Elvis Andrus made like Derek Jeter on an Alex Gordon shot up the middle.

Shifted over to the second-base side of the bag, Andrus ranged to his right, fielded the ball going away, and threw a leaping, one-hop strike to Mike Napoli’s outstretched glove to nip Gordon for the third out.

After a Jonathan Lucroy groundout, the owner of the only highlight from Wednesday’s debacle in Oakland—Joey Gallo—stepped up.

Working the count to 2 and 2, the man who used to be a coin-flip bet for a strikeout fouled back a 2-2 pitch up, then turned on a fastball that got too much of the inside corner. If he’d elevated at all, he’d have gotten to trot home. As it was, he got topspin, and the ball darted into the right-field corner. Hustling out of the box, Gallo slid into second with a one-out double.

Up stepped the man who, as much as anyone, had to win his place on the roster this spring: Delino Deshields. He did the job, hitting.323 in Arizona, with patience (.442 OBP) and hustle, after a winter spent de-bulking and streamlining himself into the player he’d been in 2015.

Coming into play on Thursday, he was 1-for-10 for the season, having played in only 7 games (mostly off the bench).

So, of course, he had to be the hero.

On a night when Mr. Strikeout hit a clutch two-strike double and a guy who hadn’t been healthy in two years pitch six innings of pure-guts baseball, Deshields seemingly had to come through.

The character of a ballclub

“These are the type of games that, when you have a gritty ballclub that really pays attention to the simple things…” Banister said, trying to summarize what he’d seen on the night.

He continued, “You saw some good baserunning tonight, you saw some quality at-bats, you saw everybody continue to stay engaged. There was not a player in the clubhouse. Everybody was out in the dugout. There was great energy throughout. This is who we are. When we have games like this, we find a way to grind them out. Epitome of (that is) the at-bat by Deshields.”

And what an at-bat. Here was the sequence:

  1. Ball 1 looking
  2. Strike 1 swinging
  3. Foul back, Strike 2
  4. Inside pitch, Ball 2, nearly hitting him in the leg (still not sure how he avoided the pitch; not sure how happy he was that he did)
  5. Fastball fouled off to the right
  6. Fastball fouled back
  7. Lined shot down the right field line—just foul
  8. Fastball fouled back
  9. Ball 3 taken, to fill the count

“I felt like I was on everything,” Deshields said, “If anything, he (Travis Wood) probably just didn’t know what to throw. He probably just thought he’d get lucky or something, I don’t know.”

He continued, “But I was locked in, I wanted to be the one to come through right there. I kept telling myself that there was going to be a chance, you know, and it just happened to be me up there.”

On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Deshields lined a shot between the line and the left fielder. Gordon, as good a glove or arm as you’ll find out there, charged in at an angle, but the ball hit and ran from him, and as he cut it off, the best he could do was flip it quickly towards home plate.

Gallo crossed with feet to spare, and pandemonium ensued.

“It was a long game, but to be able to come through, it was definitely fun,” said Deshields afterward. “Back and forth battle. Our pitchers did a great job, their pitchers did a great job. Joey had a good at-bat, got a pitch he could handle, and the pitcher made a mistake, and I was able to be the one to get the job done.”

Not soon to be forgotten

Yeah, that’s April baseball for you. Just your typical coming-off-a-disastrous-end-to-a-rotten-road-trip, 13-inning, 1-0-in-a-hitter’s-park, walk-off win.

Asked if it feels like vindication, Deshields said, “Yeah, for sure. I mean, in the role that I’m in, not getting the chance to play every day, and getting the start. As a young guy, I’m sure anybody can say they kind of would put pressure on themselves. But I just step back, and just trust what I do, trust my work, and just prepare for moments like that, because any time, it could happen.”

So, mark April 20, 2017 down in your Ranger memory banks, friends. To paraphrase Cormac McCarthy, if that’s not drama, it’ll do until the drama gets here.

Chris Connor
As a lifelong DFW resident, Chris Connor is a diehard Rangers fan, and worships at the altar of Arlington. Along with John Manaloor, he co-owns Shutdown Inning, and serves as Editor in Chief for SDI.
He holds a Bachelors of Science in Management and an MBA, both from UT-Dallas.
As a writer, he acknowledges that he’s never had a brilliance for brevity, but tries to meander to a meaningful point as he channels Faulkner. He believes the only things more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing are Yosemite Valley at sunrise and his wife.
He lives with the latter, along with their beloved dog and quite tolerable cat, in Allen, Texas.

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