With the All Star Game tonight, we are capping off our all-time All Star Game Ranger performances with the #1 Ranger All Star performance of all time.
So today, we celebrate #1, Hank Blalock in 2003.
The 2003 All Star Game was played at U.S. Cellular Field on July 15, 2003. 2003 was a bad year for the Rangers, but they still had two players named to the All Star team -- Alex Rodriguez, the starting shortstop, and Hank Blalock, as a reserve third baseman, along with Carl Everett, who was a Ranger until July 1 of that year.
The 22 year old Blalock posted a .323/.375/.524 first half, justifying the comparisons to George Brett that he had generated in his breakout 2001 minor league season.
A.L. manager Mike Scioscia only had two third basemen on the roster, and so it seemed certain that Blalock would get significant playing time. Nevertheless, Scioscia left starter Troy Glaus (his guy from the Angels) in for most of the game, leaving Rangers fans to wonder if Blalock would even get into the game.
The N.L. touched up Angel reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa for 4 runs as part of a 5 run fifth that gave the National League a 5-1 lead, and by the bottom of the 8th, down 6-4, the A.L.'s prospects were looking bleak.
N.L. manager Dusty Baker brought Eric Gagne into the game to pitch the 8th. 2003 was the best of Gagne's incredible 3 year run as the Dodgers' closer -- he posted a 1.20 ERA, a 0.86 FIP, and a 1.18 xFIP, striking out 15 batters per 9 and allowing 2 home runs in the regular season in 82 1/3 IP.*
* Gagne pitched 82 1/3 innings in 2002, 2003, and 2004. That's weird.
Gagne got Nomar Garciaparra on a grounder to short before allowing a double to Garret Anderson. Pinch hitter Carl Everett grounded out, moving pinch runner Melvin Mora to third, before Vernon Wells doubled Mora home.
Glaus was due up, but Scioscia opted to send up Blalock as the go-ahead run. With two outs, Blalock worked the count on Gagne to 3-1 before blasting a Gagne fastball to right-center field for a home run.
That one swing was good for a .56 WPA and provided the winning margin for the A.L., with Keith Foulke coming in for the 9th and retiring the side in order.
This is a bittersweet memory for Rangers fans, of course...for whatever reason, Blalock never seemed to be the same hitter after that home run. The line drive hitting guy with gap power and the potential to win batting titles turned into an uppercutting, all-or-nothing guy swinging for the fences. We have to beware the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, of course, but the armchair psychologists among us tend to point to that as a turning point for Blalock, when hitting a huge home run on a national stage seemed to lead to a change in mindset and approach.
That said, it was an incredible moment, and well deserving of the #1 spot among the all time Ranger All Star performances.