I miss doubleheaders.
Last night’s brutal second inning notwithstanding, Wednesday was a really good baseball day, and not just because of Elvis Andrus and Will Middlebrooks and a series win at a stage of the playoff chase when nothing less will do.
It was a really good baseball day because my team played two, like it used to — by design, and not due to weather — when I was a kid.
The last time Texas played a doubleheader before yesterday was on Memorial Day four years and four months ago. Our high school senior daughter was playing Nitro volleyball and wasn’t yet a theater kid. Our junior high son was in second grade, with a couple months left of coach pitch before transitioning to the real thing. I wrote about Roger Federer and Yu Darvish and David Foster Wallace the next morning.
It was May 27, 2013, and the Rangers visited Arizona twice. The Diamondbacks — who are currently riding a 13-game win streak, including six over the Dodgers — won two straight that day, 5–3 and 5–4, cutting the Rangers’ division lead from 4.5 games to 3.0 games in a season that eventually had the club playing, and losing, a Game 163 against the Rays to earn the second Wild Card spot.
Game 1 that day wasn’t as close as the score suggests. Tyler Skaggs, who has been largely terrible against the Rangers in eight career starts (6.57 ERA, .815 OPS) dominated that afternoon game, which was his first big league appearance that year. Martin Perez, like Skaggs a second-year rookie, struggled, and Ross Wolf and Joe Ortiz mopped up.
Arizona took a 5–0 lead to the ninth, when second baseman Jurickson Profar (who’d doubled earlier in the game) drove Geovany Soto home with a single. Adrian Beltre singled in David Murphy and Andrus to pull Texas to within two runs. But Arizona closer Heath Bell then punched out Nelson Cruz, the potential lead run, and got Mitch Moreland to ground out, ending the game.
That same day, Myrtle Beach Pelicans second baseman Rougned Odor walked, was hit by two pitches, and went 0 for 1.
He was also picked off first base. Twice.
In the nightcap of the Rangers’ and Diamondbacks’ split doubleheader on May 27, 2013, Arizona jumped out to a 2–0 lead early, but Texas scored the game’s next four runs. Darvish pitched into the eighth, going 7.2 with 14 strikeouts and zero walks.
But before getting that 23rd out, Darvish surrendered a two-run, game-tying Didi Gregorius home run — you might remember that one — and in the ninth, Robbie Ross relieved Jason Frasor with a man on second, intentionally walked Martin Prado (not sure why Ron Washington didn’t have Frasor issue the free pass), and served up a walkoff base hit to Cliff Pennington, whose habit of coming up big late against Texas is getting irritating.
Andrus, who led off both games for the Rangers, ended the day hitting .271/.322/.329. He had nine extra-base hits for the season, none of which were home runs.
This year, on the same date, Andrus was hitting .269/.314/.425, with 17 extra-base hits, six of which left the yard.
Today: .304/.345/.494. With 62 extra-base hits. Including 20 bombs.
Elvis Andrus has gotten better.
A lot better.
Without looking, I’m betting Odor hasn’t had too many games — in High A or AA or AAA or Texas — in which he reached base three times on plate appearances that wouldn’t be logged as at-bats, as he did on May 27, 2013.
He got better.
A lot better.
From 2013 to 2014 to 2015 to 2016.
He hasn’t gotten better this year.
With his approach at the plate and his reliability in the field and his ability to adjust.
One year after that Class A game between Myrtle Beach and the hated Lynchburg Hillcats, Odor was a Major League ballplayer — and he rewarded the organization’s faith in a big way, hitting (as of that date) .298/.313/.489 (.802 OPS), with as many extra-base hits (5) as strikeouts in 50 plate appearances.
Today, his strikeout rate (137 in 541 trips this season) is nearly three times worse.
Fast-forward to yesterday’s twinbill.
In Game 1, Andrus homered to put Texas on the board in the first. In doing so, he joined Mike Trout and Jose Altuve as baseball’s only 20/20 men in 2017.
Andrus singled in a run with two outs to tie the game in the third.
He grounded out to third in the fifth, because baseball is a game of failure.
He singled with a man on in the sixth.
He doubled in the Rangers’ final run in the eighth.
In the same game, a 12–8 Texas win, Odor struck out swinging after a Mike Napoli walk in the second.
He fouled out to first in the fourth — swinging at the first pitch (a slider middle-in, where Odor is a .093 hitter this year) after a 21-year-old lefty making his big league debut had just walked two Rangers in a row, with Texas down two runs.
He doubled and scored in the fifth, and was hit by a pitch in the seventh.
In the ninth, he struck out swinging after working a 3–1 count.
In Game 2, Andrus singled, walked, stole a base, and scored.
In the third inning, with Texas down, 5–0, Braves ace Julio Teheran got Delino DeShields to ground out. This is the sequence that followed:
Nomar Mazara homered.
Carlos Gomez was hit by a pitch.
Joey Gallo walked.
Odor stepped up as the potential tying run, and we all know what he was thinking.
Ball one to Odor.
Ball two to Odor.
Fastball in the zone, but low and away, where Odor is a sub-.200 hitter. A good pitch to lay off of, especially ahead in the count, 2–0.
Odor offered, and grounded into an inning-ending 5–4–3 double play.
Rougned Odor wasn’t trying to do too much as a wide-eyed rookie in 2014.
I’d rather not be thinking about Hank Blalock right now.
Or about how last night goes if Blalock’s fellow Rancho Bernardo High School alum Cole Hamels (31–9, 3.60 as a Ranger but 1–3, 7.23 in nine starts from his final August appearance on in 2016–2017) doesn’t go four-pitch walk, 1–2 hit batsman, 2–0 RBI single, strikeout, run-scoring E-1, RBI single, single, two-run double before recording the second out of the second inning.
I still love doubleheaders.
And I still believe in Rougie.
He’s got a very big off-season ahead of him, mentally.
Elvis had one himself, after Game Five in Toronto in 2015.
It’s probably hyperbolic to suggest that, one season after Andrus’s huge contract extension, his career — solid but in some ways considered lacking — was at a crossroads. But what he has done since then — improving his OPS from .666 (2015) to .801 (2016) to .839 (today), and becoming significantly more reliable defensively — gives me hope that Odor (.665 OPS), who cares a lot, will take from Andrus and Beltre and Tony Beasley and Anthony Iapoce and Jeff Banister what they’re offering and will take a longer look in the mirror than he’s ever taken as a baseball player.
It’s in there, and it can resurface, with a return to what’s adrenalizing and good.
Like a couple big league ballclubs playing two.