It’s a war of attrition, the MLB season. One hundred and sixty-two games played over 181 days has the unstoppable effect of wearing down and breaking even the most elite of athletes. Teams have to deal with injuries, suffer through them, and still find ways to win baseball games. Some teams aren’t able to do that. No one blames them. It’s hard. Some teams are able to fight through injuries and win ball games, and oftentimes that is what makes them the cream amongst the rest of the crop.
The Texas Rangers would have had every right to lose to the Oakland Athletics on Friday night. Only a few hours before the first pitch, it was announced that Mark Lowe would be placed on the 15-day disabled list. That could have been the straw that broke the donkey’s back. Alexi Ogando and Koji Uehara already occupy DL spots from the Rangers bullpen, not to mention Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, and Colby Lewis from the starting rotation. On top of that, Joe Nathan and Mike Adams were ruled unavailable for Friday’s game due to the amount of work they have had to put in because of all of these injuries. That left the Rangers with just four arms available in the bullpen: Robbie Ross, Michael Kirkman, Justin Grimm, and Tanner Scheppers; three rookies, three AAA callups. This came on the eve of the first start of Martin Perez’s career on Saturday, a game in which the Rangers can expect their bullpen to get some work. The odds were stacked against the Rangers pitching staff, to say the least.
However, Matt Harrison delivered the kind of bacon-saving performance the Rangers needed. He powered through eight innings on 121 pitches, shouldering the load for a relief staff that needed the relief. Harrison turned in a quality start, allowing just two runs on eight hits and one walk. He struck out seven, threw 81 strikes, and generated two double play balls. He knew that his team needed him to throw strikes and pitch deep in the ball game, and that is exactly what he did.
It almost went to waste, too. After the top half of the 8th inning, the Rangers trailed 2-0, and had mustered just four baserunners on a couple of bloop hits and two walks. It appeared Texas would go quietly into the night, licking their wounds and saving their energy for another day. It turned out it would become the kind of night where things just end up going their way. On the grace of three walks and one bad defensive misplay by Yoenis Cespedes on a bases loaded triple by Craig Gentry, the Rangers rallied to score four runs in the 8th inning on the Oakland bullpen.
Tanner Scheppers entered in the 9th inning, and with Joe Nathan looking on, recorded his first career save despite giving up a solo home run in the process.
This was one of the more landmark wins for the Texas Rangers this season. Not just because of the dramatic fashion in which they clinched it, but because they entered into battle without their full complement of weapons. The Rangers have now played 17 games in the last 18 days, and have gone 14-3 in that stretch. Despite all of the occupants of the disabled list, they have won 16 of their last 20 games, their best stretch of the year.
Not every team can do this (see: Los Angeles Dodgers). If the Rangers had gone just 11-9 over their last 20 games, it would have been understandable. Instead, they’re finding a way to just win games one at a time, the only way they can be won. In a stretch with the Los Angeles Angels have gone 15-6 and the Rangers have been bitten by the injury bug, this may wind up being the most pivotal stretch of the entire season in the AL West. The Angels have done all they can to make up ground, and their timing was perfect, but the Rangers have refused to bend. This is the kind of performance that justifies #1 spots on power rankings lists, or having 100% playoff odds, or holding the title of “best team in baseball”.
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