Home half of the first: Ian Kinsler grounded out to San Diego starter Chad Gaudin, who came into the game with a 3-6, 5.60 record in 2009 - after being released by the Cubs at the end of spring training - and a career 3-6, 6.08 mark in 19 appearances against Texas (1.748 WHIP, .305/.392/.495 - a better slash line than any Rangers hitter has this season).
David Murphy followed with a base on balls.
Michael Young singled to center.
The rest of the way against Gaudin and one inning of Heath Bell?
The Rangers sent 28 hitters to the plate in 8.2 innings.
No hits, two walks, 10 strikeouts.
Tommy Hunter: 6.1 innings, under 15 pitches per frame, seven hits, no walks, three strikeouts, maybe the best breaking ball command from a starter outside of Kevin Millwood all year.
It didn't matter last night (though it allowed Texas to keep the bullpen in order and makes some bigger questions interesting).
(Footnote: I don't really want Pirates righthander Ian Snell either, but last night, in his first minor league start since 2005, the recently demoted 27-year-old walked the first Toledo batter of the game. He then struck out 13 straight Mud Hens. Would you trade Hunter, if not a more highly estimated prospect, to get Snell? Not me.)
Gaudin - Chad Gaudin - became the first opponent in the 16-season history of Rangers Ballpark to hold Texas to one or zero hits in at least eight innings of work.
So here comes Los Angeles for three (and six of the Rangers' next nine games). The Angels have one more win than Texas, two fewer losses, and a lot more swagger. They've just finished interleague play 14-4, including a weekend sweep of the Diamondbacks, with wins keyed by a bunt that went for four bases and a straight steal of home.
Assume Josh Hamilton hadn't missed more games than he's played. Assume the club's first basemen weren't hitting .213/.270/.434, that its outfielders weren't hitting .256/.315/.459, that its designated hitters weren't hitting .235/.307/.510. Assume more one member of the club's season-opening rotation had managed to avoid the disabled list.
Even without any of the above, before this season, would you have taken 1.5 games out of first heading into six of nine against the front-running Angels at the end of June?
That's not to excuse the way Texas is playing right now, but maybe it's a good time to lean on a little perspective.
Imagine this thing starting from scratch today, with just under 90 games left. From this point forward, are we going to be two games better than the Angels, who have been there over and over and are playing like it?
A whole lot would have to turn around with a whole lot of players on this roster to answer that question affirmatively, but with the team positioned to make more noise over the next few years than it was expected to in 2009, that fact that, so far, every game of the season has meant something in the standings is a good thing, something that ought to benefit the young players in particular as they continue to learn on the job, learning not only to handle big league situations and to make at-bat-to-at-bat and game-to-game and series-to-series adjustments, but also to be winners.
I could name three more young players at Oklahoma City and one at Frisco that might be putting themselves into high-level roster discussions right now, not just because it might be the natural next step for each of them developmentally but also because they might be candidates to make the Rangers better right now.
This next month is going to be fascinating - baseball July's almost always are - starting with a real gut check against the team that, after a two-month run chasing the Rangers, has put itself back in first place with the undeniable message that it's right where it belongs.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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