It was one of the most satisfying innings of the season, the top of the second in Anaheim on July 21st. After Texas had put up a run on Ervin Santana in the first, and after Yu Darvish set the Angels down in order in their half, the Rangers’ bats erupted in the second frame.
Mike Napoli homered on the first pitch of the inning.
Yorvit Torrealba homered two pitches later.
Craig Gentry doubled, and so did Ian Kinsler.
Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton (who had each singled in the first to set up Michael Young’s RBI single) both grounded out, but then up stepped Adrian Beltre, who worked the count to 2-1 and then deposited a breaking ball into the rocks in left center, extending the Texas lead to 6-0 and chasing Santana just an inning and two-thirds into a game that the Rangers would eventually win, 9-2.
Over the next four weeks, a stretch in which Texas won 14 games and lost 13, Beltre hit a punchless .236/.206/.311 in 121 plate appearances, which included just one home run (a meaningless solo shot in the ninth inning of a 9-2 loss in Boston) and five doubles.
The final of those 121 trips to the plate came in the first inning Monday night. Kinsler kicked up chalk with a double into the left field corner, Andrus hit an infield single, and Hamilton lofted a ball deep to left center, allowing Kinsler to tag up and take third, putting runners on the corners with one out. With Texas down, 1-0, Beltre stepped up with a chance to do some early damage.
He watched Miguel Gonzalez’s first offering, a four-seam fastball, go by for strike one.
He swung through the second pitch, another four-seamer, and was in a hole.
Gonzalez came back with another four-seam fastball, and Beltre hit it on the screws – but right at shortstop Omar Quintanilla for out number two. Before Nelson Cruz flew out to right to end the inning, stranding Kinsler and Andrus, I tweeted this:
Adrian’s gonna break out of it this series. Squared up big on that L-6.
So much of hitting is timing, and so much of timing is comfort at the plate, and confidence feeds it all. The ball Beltre hammered to short on Monday didn’t move the runners or boost the slash line, but it seemed suggestive of a hitter possibly locking back into rhythm.
Following that at-bat, Beltre went 6 for 12 (.500/.500/1.333) for the rest of the series, with a double and last night’s cutter-gone/slider-gone/four-seamer-gone progression, the latter two punctuating a nine-run fourth inning, not quite as rewarding as that July 21st second frame, in a game not nearly as extraordinary as the 30-3 pasting of the same Orioles five years to the day earlier, part of an individual power performance less supernatural than the night Hamilton had against Baltimore 106 nights before, but it was an awesome display, putting a three-inch headline on what just might be the igniting of a breakout tear for my favorite Texas Ranger ever.
It’s a small sample. But a really big small sample.
The last time I got to write about a Beltre hat trick was 10 months ago, an effort that led to a series win for Texas just as last night’s outburst did. Only that game was quite different from last night’s, as each one of Beltre’s three solo blasts in Tampa Bay were critical to what was a narrow 4-3 victory, and that series wasn’t really like this one, because it extended a season, not just past 162 but in that case past 166, and now “Written in the Stars” is stuck in my head again.
Every night we’re treated to the glove artistry, and the quiet explosiveness of the arm. Every night.
On some nights there’s magic in the bat, too, and occasionally there are long stretches during which Adrian Beltre sends signals to the rest of the lineup that he’s got this. As great as Wednesday night was, if we’re able to look back on his series as the emergence from slump into tear, that’s going to mean a whole lot more as this club heads methodically toward another dose of 162-plus.
Hats off, man.