It was July 29. The Rangers had lost four straight, which would have been bad enough if not for the fact that they’d failed to score in three of those games, a depth of offensive ineptitude to which the franchise had managed to sink only two other times in its 42 years of existence.
Matt Garza was set to get the ball the next night, his second start as a Ranger, and there were already talk show segments wondering aloud whether Texas might consider trading the righthander, just a week after acquiring him for four or five prospects. The Rangers were six games behind Oakland in the West, their greatest deficit in the division since the end of the 2009 season, and hadn’t gained any ground on the A’s in a staggering 31 days.
Garza took the hill opposite Jered Weaver, and the game was playing out seemingly the only way it could: Weaver, coming off two straight scoreless outings, was blanking the hapless Rangers offense on one hit through five innings. Garza matched Weaver through four, before a J.B. Shuck home run (the first of his career), an Erick Aybar walk after an 0-2 count, a Mike Trout double, and a two-run Josh Hamilton single paced Los Angeles to what felt like a completely insurmountable 3-0 lead.
After responding with a three-up-three-down effort in the bottom of the fifth (including two strikeouts), Texas had gone 26 innings without scoring a run, the club’s second-longest drought ever, trailing only a July 1972 skid that lasted 28 frames.
If there was a lower regular season point for this franchise in its current era, I don’t remember it.
Texas scratched out a run in the sixth inning that night — Mitch Moreland popped out (after attempting to bunt on the first pitch of the inning), Leonys Martin bunt-singled, Elvis Andrus bunted Martin to second, and Ian Kinsler refused to be the fourth straight Ranger to square around, singling to center and driving Martin home — but stranded two runners to end the inning, and the Angels and Rangers exchanged zeroes in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Oakland had just put up four runs on Toronto starter Esmil Rogers in the first inning out West.
A friend of mine sent me a text that said: “Unreal the slump the entire team is in. Need a comeback in this game right now. I feel like tonight is the season.”
The invincible Neal Cotts relieved Garza to start the eighth, with Texas still down 3-1. Trout singled. Hamilton singled, sending Trout to third. If you can stretch your brain to recall how anemic the Rangers offense was as of July 29, how snakebit the team seemed to be as a whole, how steady the plummet in the West was at the time, you know how ridiculous the idea was that Texas might claw back from a two-run deficit in the eighth, with opposing runners on the corners and nobody out.
It’s cool: Not every year is going to be your year. I’m pretty sure I had sorted through that thought more than once that week, with increasing frequency.
Then Cotts struck Mark Trumbo out swinging, on eight pitches.
Then Cotts struck Howie Kendrick on three pitches, all swings-and-misses.
An Alberto Callaspo full-count walk followed, loading the bases.
And then Cotts got Hank Conger to ground out to second.
Texas halved the Los Angeles lead with a manufactured run in the bottom of the eighth — Martin grounded out to second, Andrus singled to right and stole second and took third on Conger’s errant throw, and Kinsler sac-flied a shot to right, scoring Andrus — but even the 3-2 deficit felt like a miracle short.
Then the ninth happened.
Jason Frasor was excellent, logging a pop to shortstop and two strikeouts looking, and in from the visitors’ bullpen trotted Ernesto Frieri to shut things down.
A.J. Pierzynski swung through two pitches and watched one miss the strike zone in between, after which he turned on a 94-mph fastball and blasted it over the right field fence, tying the game. Nelson Cruz singled to center on his own 1-2 count, before David Murphy rolled over the first pitch he saw, grounding into a 4-6-3 double play.
And then Geovany Soto crushed a full-count fastball out to left, just inside the foul pole, sending the Angels walking off as he circled the bases with a couple dozen teammates huddled around the plate, waiting to pounce. The outcome itself was as unlikely, given the state of the club at the time, as a team tying and winning a game with homers by two catchers in the same inning.
Texas would walk off the next night too, thanks to Martin.
And the night after that, courtesy of Adrian Beltre.
All told, the Rangers have gone 22-6 (including 20-0 when scoring at least four runs) since Neal Cotts got out of that volcanic jam on July 29.
And gained 9.0 games in the standings in that month and a day.
It’s the best 28-game stretch in club history, matching what Texas did from July 6 (or 7 or 8 or 9) through August 6 (or 7 or 8) in 1977. In this run of 28, the Rangers have scored more than that previous record-setting club did, a fact that must be digested along with the reminder that this offense had just come off that four-game stretch in which it had failed to score three different times. This 22-6 team has allowed fewer runs than that 1997 club did, too, and that’s with Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz, and Nick Tepesch on the disabled list, and Alexi Ogando DL’d for half of it.
Through five innings on July 29, coming off of New York 2, Texas 0, and Cleveland 11, Texas 8, and Cleveland 1, Texas 0, and Cleveland 6, Texas 0, with the Rangers behind the Angels and Weaver, 3-0, the idea that the team was poised to fire off the best 28-game run in its history was no less preposterous than the fact that the streak would start with three straight walkoff home runs and would feature blowout wins over Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, and Felix Hernandez again.
Texas now has the best record in the American League. Unimaginable on July 29.
The club has gone 26 straight games without allowing more than five runs, the longest such streak for an American League club since Oakland in 1972. And the Rangers will get Feliz back on Sunday or Monday, with Ogando and Tepesch presumably not far behind.
Before that, Texas could add a player via trade, as the club did on August 31, 2010 (Joaquin Arias for Jeff Francoeur) and on August 31, 2011 (player to be named Pedro Strop for Mike Gonzalez, and cash for Matt Treanor). It won’t be Josh Willingham or (thankfully) Mike Morse, who were claimed by Baltimore, or Kendrys Morales, who was claimed by some team but pulled back by Seattle. But theoretically, it could be Dan Haren, or Adam Dunn, or Justin Morneau, or Matt Lindstrom, all of whom have reportedly cleared waivers.
As Assistant GM Thad Levine told MLB Network Radio last weekend, “We’ve talked about need and now we’re going to talk about names to go with that need.”
We know the roster will start to expand on Sunday. We don’t know whether the roster will be upgraded beforehand.
But we do know the Rangers will be busy today and tomorrow turning over every rock.
It’s a lot more fun to be the team looking at every single roster spot and imagining how it can be maximized in September — and October — than to be the team trading Eddie Guardado back to Minnesota at the end of August, to boost the Twins’ pennant run.
It’s especially awesome to be in this position considering where this club was on July 29.
No comeback from a 3-1 score should be considered improbable for a contending team, but in the eighth inning of Rangers-Angels on July 29 it felt damn near impossible. That was a very long month and a day ago.
And there’s still right at a month to go on the regular season schedule, with Oakland having the much easier lie than Texas — though the A’s were one pitch away from a four-game sweep in Detroit yesterday, and in the last two weeks have lost home series against Houston and Seattle. You never know.
When Texas was shut out three times in four games just over a month ago, the odds that I’d be writing this article today rather than one comparing Chris Davis’s last 162 games (57 home runs, 44 doubles, 1.058 OPS) to Joey Gallo’s (56 home runs, 35 doubles, .959 OPS), or one featuring the Rangers’ 53-18 Dominican Summer League squad (which beat the Red Sox club, 14-2, to open the playoffs yesterday), or one focusing on the run that righthanders Luke Jackson and Alec Asher and Nick Martinez and Wilmer Font and Lisalverto Bonilla are on, or one about Jose Dariel Abreu or Masahiro Tanaka, or one noting that righthander Johnny Hellweg (part of what the Angels sent the Brewers, along with Jean Segura, for Zack Greinke) was just named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, were longer than Gallo’s swing.
How far ahead or back are the Rangers if Cotts and Pierzynski and Soto don’t come through on July 29?
Maybe Texas is 2.0 games up right now, rather than 3.0.
Maybe the disparity is less mathematical.
Whether you believe in momentum or mojo or Neal Cotts, right now you have to believe in the Texas Rangers. You have to feel good about Darvish-Hendriks tonight and Garza-Pelfrey tomorrow and even Blackley-Correia on Sunday afternoon, as the Twins come to town, and at least reasonably optimistic about Price-Parker, Cobb-Gray, and whoever the Rays are throwing against A.J. Griffin on Sunday as Oakland hosts Tampa Bay.
Not every year is going to be your year, but a couple days before September it’s pretty cool when it still might be, even if a couple days before August things weren’t exactly looking so good, prompting a friend of yours to send a text wondering if an entire season was actually on the line.