The above is clipped from an extraordinary picture that was taken by local photographer Albert Peña (Cal Sport Media) on May 15, 2016.
It was taken a few minutes after Matt Bush, making his second big league appearance, committed his lone hit-by-pitch of the season. Bush would be credited with the win that day, having entered the prior frame before Texas put up four seventh-inning runs, but in the scheme of things he was credited with a whole lot more.
One year later, on May 15, 2017, coming off a season-high six straight victories — an 11–0 blowout followed by five straight comeback wins — the Rangers did not play.
They play tonight, hosting Philadelphia, with a chance, for the first time this entire season, to have something other than a losing record.
As a result of that May 15 game a year ago, the Rangers’ seventh win out of nine, they moved back into the top perch in the AL West (22–16) — with a run differential of +11.
Today, Texas is 19–20 — with a run differential of +12.
The Rangers are back in second place in the West, 2.0 games back in the Wild Card race.
Before this six-game run, they were last among the five clubs in the West, 5.0 games out of the Wild Card Game.
The other team in that May 15 game a year ago, you might recall, was the Toronto Blue Jays. A split second before the above photo was taken, the head you see was inside one of their helmets.
Did the instant that Peña captured in the above photographic fragment, which caused a 12-minute game delay (six minutes shorter than the delay seven months and one day earlier when Toronto fans threw beer bottles and beer cans onto their home field, other than the one that hit a baby) while players stormed convergently from their respective bunkers and pitchers swung and batters threw and chaos prevailed, provide one of those galvanizing moments that we all like to earmark in sports, a jumping point from which two clubs would come together so invincibly that they couldn’t lose?
Texas dropped its next three games, visiting fourth-place Oakland, and fell out of first.
Toronto lost its next three, too, hosting fourth-place Tampa Bay, dropping to what would turn out to be a season-worst seven games back in the East.
Both teams, of course, righted things fairly promptly, earning post-season berths and facing off for a second straight ALDS, and we won’t go down that part of the storyline any further.
Texas played on May 15 last year, memorably, but didn’t play this May 15, and that’s not the only difference.
Today, for example, the Rangers (six straight wins) and Jays (five straight wins) were the hottest teams in the Major Leagues until Toronto fell to Atlanta last night. That wasn’t the case a year ago, as long as the term refers to wins and not tempers.
Last year Bush appeared in his second big league game on May 15.
This year Bush has won or saved half of the Rangers’ last dozen wins and is, by a dozen miles, the club’s best reliever.
Last year through May 15, Rougned Odor was OPS’ing .813. This year: .613.
Last year, Prince Fielder (158) and Adrian Beltre (157) had more plate appearances than any Ranger besides Odor. This year . . . they don’t.
Last year, Yu Darvish was still two weeks short of returning from his Tommy John rehab. This year, he’s had six outstanding starts out of eight, is in baseball’s top 10 in hits per nine and innings pitched and fanning a batter per inning, holding opponents to a .204/.284/.359 slash line.
Last year on May 15, Sam Dyson was holding opponents to a .231/.315/.323 slash, with an ERA of 1.89. This year: .386/.462/.649 and 10.66.
Last year, Carlos Gomez was 14 weeks away from arriving. This year, he’s 4-to-6 weeks away from returning. (Dammit.)
Last year, Elvis Andrus had almost the exact same batting average and on-base percentage as he has now — but the slugging percentage has jumped 72 points.
Speaking of slugging percentage and the above photo, well, you can supply your own punchline. #punchline
Here’s hoping there’s another difference between May 15, 2016 and May 15, 2017 with respect to the days that immediately follow, starting tonight with a set looming against what is at least objectively an inferior club.
I wish that for Texas, that is, but I’m fine with Toronto playing better some post-May 15 ball this time around as well, at least until Rougie and Bush and their teammates visit Joey and his, in the land of flying Labatts, 10 days from now.