Yu Darvish entered the game with a 7-2, 3.03 record in 10 starts, facing Kansas City starter Ervin Santana, whose career ERA in Rangers Ballpark was an appropriate 7.47, with an opponents’ OPS hovering around 1.000.
Darvish set the Royals down in order in the first, and Texas put a run on the board in the bottom of the inning, in a way that was just as old-school Rangers as it was old-school Royals: Elvis Andrus hit a ground ball to short and ended up on second base when Alcides Escobar threw wildly, took third on a David Murphy fly to center, and scored on a feeble Lance Berkman grounder between the mound and the plate.
Then Darvish and Santana matched zeroes under sunny afternoon skies and 80 Arlington degrees in the second inning. And the third. And the fourth and the fifth and the sixth and the seventh.
And then something that just doesn’t happen happened. Neal Cotts allowed a run. It had happened to him once in the minor leagues in 2013, and hadn’t happened at all in the big leagues. Alex Gordon rifled a broken-bat double down the right field line, Escobar bunted him to third, and Eric Hosmer hit a bounder to third base, where Jeff Baker gathered it in and threw home high and late. Tie game.
Tanner Scheppers replaced Cotts and got out of the inning, and Kansas City then called it a day for Santana, who was at 108 pitches, replacing him with journeyman reliever J.C. Gutierrez, who is now blowing games for the Angels. And Texas then did something to J.C. Gutierrez that teams do to J.C. Gutierrez.
Five pitches into the inning, Gutierrez had recorded two outs, and he then had Jurickson Profar down 0-2 before the 20-year-old watched a pitch sail out of the strike zone and fouled another off.
And then Jurickson Profar homered to right.
An Andrus single and stolen base and a Murphy single extended the Texas lead to 3-1, and Joe Nathan retired the Royals in order in the ninth to seal the June 2 victory.
The win allowed Texas to maintain a 2.0-game lead on Oakland, the tightest the gap had been in a month.
It’s also the last time the Rangers were as many as two games up on the A’s. Until last night, two-and-a-half months later.
On June 2, Cubs righthander Matt Garza was between starts, having just appeared for the third time all season and recording his first 2013 win, a 7-2 Chicago victory over Arizona in which the veteran righthander went a strong seven.
The day before the Diamondbacks fell to Garza’s Cubs, the Diamondbacks fell to the Rangers and Justin Grimm, who improved to 5-3, 3.93 with a strong six frames of his own.
The day Garza downed the Diamondbacks, Mike Olt returned to minor league action after a five-week layoff due to vision problems. Olt homered off a AA relief pitcher that day, helping to seal a 7-4 Frisco win over Tulsa for rehabbing starter Alexi Ogando, on the disabled list at the time with biceps tendinitis.
On June 2, Hickory righthander C.J. Edwards was in the midst of a brief DL stint of his own, nursing a 5-2, 2.22 record in 11 Crawdads starts. The South Atlantic League was hitting .189/.276/.229 off the 21-year-old.
So much has changed since June 2. Edwards got even stronger. Olt reestablished his health and his power stroke, even if other parts of his game lagged.
Grimm posted a 9.73 ERA (.351/.410/.656) from that point until a brutal July 12 start against Detroit, the day after which Garza completed a six-game run in which he went 5-0, 1.24 (.210/.264/.302) and established himself as the top available pitcher on the trade market.
It was Garza’s final start before the All-Star Break, and his final start before he was traded to Texas on July 22, for Edwards and Olt and Grimm and either Neil Ramirez or two minor league pitchers of reportedly lesser repute.
Since the trade, Edwards has pitched three times for the Cubs’ High A affiliate in Daytona, yielding three runs in a combined 9.2 innings, punching out a Darvish-like 17.
Grimm has a 6.52 ERA (.316/.391/.408) in four starts for AAA Iowa.
His teammate Olt is hitting .133/.188/.267 in 80 plate appearances, fanning 20 times against Pacific Coast League pitchers.
And Garza? He’s 2-1, 3.86 for the Rangers, who are 4-1 in his five starts.
Even in his two no-decisions, he’s kept his team in the game, and they’ve won.
If Grimm, who isn’t getting AAA hitters out right now, had made those five Garza starts, or if Josh Lindblom or Ross Wolf or Jake Brigham or Evan Meek or someone else had made those five starts, where are the Rangers right now?
Probably not two games up, where they are this morning and where they were last on June 2.
Since that time, the lead disappeared and the deficit grew to an ominous six games and then the Rangers rattled off five straight, and 14 of 16, and here they are, two games up again on the A’s, who have lost 9 of 13, including the last two nights at home, against the Astros, who immediately before that had lost all four to the Rangers in Minute Maid Park.
Sometimes you have to take a chance. You dash home on a grounder to Jeff Baker, you give Ervin Santana that one extra inning, you run on Leonys Martin.
And you trade key pieces for Matt Garza, even though he may be holding up someone else’s jersey in a press conference four months from now.