Only In Baseball
Over the weekend, the Texas Rangers took two out of three against the Yankees in the Bronx. In reality, the Rangers probably should have won all three games, but a series win on the road against one of the surprise teams in baseball this year will always go down as a positive.
Especially when that surprise team is a Yankees squad.
Over the course of the weekend, there were three players who had a tremendous impact on the three outcomes, and their stories are part of the unique landscape that makes baseball the greatest game on earth.
Only in baseball can Matt Bush do what he has over the last season and a half. Bush’s story is well-chronicled, so we won’t rehash it here. It is easy to forget, though, that Bush has barely over a year of Major League service under his belt—and just 89.1 innings pitched during that time span. That’s not a lot of innings.
Why is this important? It’s important because perspective is necessary when evaluating Bush.
It’s rare for a player with less than 90 innings pitched in the Major Leagues to step into the closer’s role and succeed without some hiccups along the way.
When Bush came up last year and had instant success, it was easy to envision him in the closer’s role. When Sam Dyson would struggle, everyone wanted Bush to take the job from him and save the day. Bush wasn’t ready, though, and Dyson had a great year saving games for the Rangers.
That plan was supposed to continue in 2017 but, due to Dyson’s unforeseen struggles, Bush was forced into a role that he is certainly capable of succeeding in—yet, maybe not quite ready for.
The results, as should be expected, have been mixed. Bush has been dominant at times, while at others it has seemed that he’s still trying to figure out how to not only close games, but simply get Major League hitters out.
Bush has great stuff and he is still learning how and when to vary it to keep hitters off-balance. It’s a process, and it’s not always going to be pretty. Over the weekend, that much was clear, as Bush blew a save on Friday night before giving up a walk-off hit in the 10th inning.
It was his third blown save in his previous six chances; that result had Rangers Twitter flying off the handle calling for his head.
Here’s the thing with Bush, though: it’s not as much about his stuff failing him as it is him learning how to trust his stuff—and have the confidence that he can win the battle in front of him.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon; Bush was given a chance to redeem himself after Friday night’s failure. The Rangers, who once lead 7-0, were clinging to a 7-6 lead—and the Yankees had the top of the order coming up. It doesn’t get bigger than that.
The first batter Bush faced was Brett Gardner, whose home run off Bush on Friday night had tied the game for the Yankees; Bush struck him out on three pitches. After getting Austin Romine to pop-out, Aaron Judge stepped up to the plate for a battle that was worth the price of admission itself. Judge battled well, though, and was able to hit a soft single into left field. Gary Sanchez was next up; again, Bush won the battle, striking him out to end the game.
When asked about the save and the enormity of the situation, Bush had this to say:
“If you look outside the box, yeah it was a huge situation, but (I was) just trying to calm my mind out there and remind myself to breathe. Look these hitters in the eye, let them know that I am coming right after them—and they’re not going to beat me. That’s my whole mindset, doing whatever I can for us to win games. Pitching in the ninth, or pitching wherever, but doing my job.”
You have to love the attitude from Bush. You have to love how Bush responded over the weekend. This is a guy whose situation is far bigger than baseball. He has to work hard every day—not just to be a great Major League pitcher, but also just to live life in as normal a way possible.
Regardless of his story, there is always going to be accountability on the baseball field. If you can’t do the job you will eventually be replaced. Bush took a big step forward, though, on Sunday—and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Matt Bush we see going forward looks a lot different from the one who blew a save on Friday night.
Only in baseball can Austin Bibens-Dirkx continue his magical carpet ride to a Cinemark Theater near you. Bibens-Dirkx, too, has a well-chronicled story—and continues to write new chapters with each spot start.
It was a little over two weeks ago that Bibens-Dirkx shut down the Washington Nationals with seven strong innings in which he out-dueled Max Scherzer and led the Rangers to a big road victory in the nation’s capital.
Bibens-Dirkx was not as successful in his next start against the Toronto Blue Jays last week, allowing five runs in just five innings. At that point, you couldn’t help but think that the story may be nearing its end.
Then, just when you think it couldn’t possible get any better, Bibens-Dirkx goes into Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon and shuts down the Bronx Bombers with seven innings of one-run ball. It just doesn’t get better than that.
Who knows how long the magic will last? Even if it has completely run out at this point, it was all worth it. Bibens-Dirkx has been the story of the year in my opinion and only in baseball can that happen: A 32-year-old rookie, with a 3-0 record and a 3.68 ERA. He cheers like he’s an 18-year-old kid in the dugout; he’s legitimately having the time of his life.
Finally, only in baseball can Drew Robinson start his first game ever at the Major League level, in Yankee Stadium no less. Only in baseball would his first Major League hit be a home run that ends up as the game-winning run. Pretty cool stuff.
Regardless of their struggles, the Rangers have certainly provided us with stories and moments this year that we will never forget as fans.
In the meantime, they haven’t lost a series since they were swept by the Astros in the first week of June. Overall, in that span, they’ve gone 12-6 and have kept themselves in the Wild Card race—despite a rash of injuries to their pitching staff.
The pitching staff gets a bit healthier tonight, though, as Cole Hamels make his return in Cleveland after two months on the disabled list.
The Rangers will play four in Cleveland this week—and have an opportunity to avenge their season-opening series sweep at the hands of the Indians.
The Rangers are almost through with their toughest stretch of the season—and they are somehow still alive. They are getting healthier, and becoming formidable on the offensive side of things. Hardly anything has gone right for this team in 2017—and, yet, somehow, everything is still right in front of them.
Only in baseball.