Texas Rangers, Mike Olt Walk-Off on Detroit Tigers

By Peter Ellwood

Yesterday, in this space I wrote to you about the Texas Rangers playing a terrible game of baseball. Reflecting on it 24 hours later, it hasn’t gotten any better. It may have gotten even worse. It was bad. However, it’s 24 hours later, and the Rangers played another baseball game, and this one was on the opposite end of the spectrum from yesterday’s debacle. It was near-perfection.

For starters, the Rangers and Detroit Tigers wore throwback uniforms. The Rangers uniforms were a special treat above and beyond throwback uniforms because they were powder blue. I used to play an MVP Baseball 2004 game on the original Xbox. Once I unlocked the powder blue uniforms, I always chose for my Rangers franchise to wear them. I’m not sure who thought those would be good everyday uniforms, they’d get old after a while, but it was the ‘70s so I guess that wasn’t the strangest decision at the time. I couldn’t watch them every day, but they work perfectly as throwbacks. The belt-free design is highly unstable, but at the same time perfect.

Justin Verlander took the mound on Saturday night and did all kinds of Justin Verlander-y things. He threw 118 pitches, 86 of which were strikes. He threw his second-fastest pitch of the night on pitch number 117 at 97.3 MPH, struck out eight and walked none, giving his team seven innings of one-run ball. He met his match on this occasion in what ended up as more of a serendipitous encounter than an expected one. Derek Holland has not yet morphed into a form of consistency, but on this night he was pitching at the elite level that he is capable of but infrequently delivers. It didn’t look that way from the start, as Holland’s third pitch of the game, an 0-2 offering, was deposited over the left field wall by Austin Jackson, and Omar Infante followed with a single. After that, Holland struck out six of the next seven batters he faced and retired 20 of 22 batters. Holland finished with 7.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, and 9 K.

It looked like Holland was going to finish eight innings, as he was steamrolling through the Tigers lineup, and with two outs in the eighth inning the ninth hitter in the lineup came to the plate. From this point forward, Ron Washington did his best impression of Tony La Russa, using three relievers to get the next four outs of the game. It was not without its hairy moments, including a one out, bases loaded jam in the 9th inning, but in the end, Washington made the right moves, albeit not always the obvious moves.

The cherry on top of this baseball game sundae was the first career walk-off hit, on only his third hit of his career, for Mike Olt. The table was set by consecutive four-pitch walks to Nelson Cruz and Michael Young, and then after two entirely unproductive at-bats by Craig Gentry and Geovany Soto, Olt was the hero. His pinch-hit single to win the game was just the 11th pinch hit for the Rangers in 2012. Rangers pinch hitters entered the game with a .164 batting average, 27th in all of Major League Baseball. Olt got the call to the major leagues two weeks ago because he could be a contributor at the big league level, and while at-bats have been scarce, the rookie stepped up at a time when his team needed it.

Verlander pitching is a thrill to watch. The Jekyll version of Holland is dreamy. Walk-off wins are always exhilarating. This game had it all, to go along with some popping uniforms. If aliens were sent to earth and I were to give them one game of baseball to watch to see the game in its greatest form, this would be one of a handful from this season that I might select. That’s when you know it’s a good game; when you would recommend it to aliens.

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