- Regardless of how this season turns out, I think this will end up being one of the most memorable, and one of the most fun, games of the season.
- Mike Minor got the start and, except for a short stretch to start the fourth inning, was terrific. Minor had a no hitter going after three innings, with the only baserunner being Marwin Gonzalez, who reached when Jurickson Profar dropped an easy pop up in shallow center field for an error to start the third. Gonzalez was erased when Max Stassi hit into an inning-ending double play, so Minor had faced the minimum when he began the fourth inning.
- The fourth started, however, with George Springer and Alex Bregman getting on with back-to-back singles, bringing up Jose Altuve. Minor got up 1-2 on Altuve, then froze him on what looked to be a backdoor cutter on the outside corner. Whether the home plate ump felt it was just outside, or was in the zone for a normal sized hitter but was high to the diminutive Altuve, there’s no way to know, but the pitch was called a ball, and then after a foul, Minor badly mis-threw a 2-2 pitch that bounced in and hit Altuve in the foot, loading the bases.
- Carlos Correa broke up the shutout and brought a pair of runs home by dumping a ball down the left field line that ended up going for a double, and then Yuli Gurriel took the first pitch he saw, a high fastball, into the bleachers with a laser shot to make it a 5-0 game.
- Minor settled down after that, striking out the next two batters before popping out Evan Gattis to end the inning, and pitched a scoreless fifth as well, but at that point, it seemed like the game was over. Texas, with its spring training road game lineup and on the road at Houston, seemed to have little chance of getting back into the game.
- Give credit to the bullpen, though, for keeping the Rangers in it. Tony Barnette threw two scoreless innings, striking out three, and Matt Bush pitched a scoreless eighth, which gave the Rangers a chance to tie the game, allowing Keone Kela to pitch in the bottom of the ninth, shutting down the Astros and keeping the game tied, before Chris Martin and Alex Claudio tag-teamed the 10th to lock down the win. Because nothing can be easy, Martin allowed singles to the first two batters he faced, getting us all a bit panicked, but he got Carlos Correa to hit a comebacker that gave him a chance to get the lead runner at third, saw Adrian Beltre snag a line drive from Gurriel for the second out of the inning, and then, with lefty Josh Reddick due up, Claudio was summoned from the pen to induce a grounder for the final out.
- I was a bit surprised that Jeff Banister went with Martin in the 10th — not because Martin hasn’t been good so far this season, but because he has indicated that Kevin Jepsen would close when Kela wasn’t available. To protect a 1 run extra innings lead, and with Kela already having pitched, I’d have guessed Jepsen would get the nod, but I’m not complaining about Martin.
- Profar had an eventful game in the field -- along with the pop fly that he dropped for an error in the third, he also had a foul pop fly down the third base line carom off his glove.
- One of the keys to 2018 is going to be the ongoing Mike Minor as starting pitcher transition. Despite the one disastrous inning, Minor continues to look like he has the stuff to be a solid mid-rotation starting pitcher, and he rebounded well after the Gurriel home run. We will have to continue to watch how he holds up, workload-wise, but the early returns on the transition are very positive.
- Of course, the big story from today’s game wasn’t the pitching or the gloves...it was Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ronald Guzman, each of whom had their first major league home runs. IKF got the team on the board in the fifth, lacing a line drive into the Crawford Boxes to make it a 5-1 game, as seemingly every Ranger game has been this year. There was much discussion about how Kiner-Falefa has had just 5 career home runs as a professional — all of them for Frisco last year — but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Kiner-Falefa had a total of 39 extra base hits of any kind in his first four years as a professional — he’s listed at 5’10”, 176 lbs., and the big question about him as a fourth rounder in 2013 was whether he’d ever be strong enough to be a credible hitter. Him picking up 5 homers last year was a pleasant surprise, and the fact that he homered in his second start at the major league level is one of those weird, unfathomable things that makes baseball so much fun.
- IKF’s homer seemed at the time to be largely inconsequential in terms of how the game was playing out, but in the sixth, Adrian Beltre also homered, making it a 5-2 game. With the bullpen shutting down the Astros, the Rangers had a chance to get back into the game, and with Brad Peacock pitching in relief in the 8th inning, things happened quickly. With one out, Jurickson Profar doubled down the right field line, bringing up Joey Gallo. Gallo had looked helpless against Astros starter Charlie Morton, with his third at bat being a three pitch strikeout that brought back memories of 2016. Against Peacock, though, Gallo was back in his element, and took a 2-2 pitch to right field to make it a 5-4 game.
- And so up came Guzman. The $3.5 million bonus baby from 2011, the guy who looked like a hitting prodigy as a 16 year old, but who struggled early on in his minor league career, grappling with a variety of issues while seeming to be stuck in low-A ball, looking like an expensive bust. In 2015, after starting the season in Hickory for the third straight year, Guzman was sent to high-A High Desert after a month, and despite the extremely hitter-friendly environment there, he underwhelmed, putting up a 752 OPS. He was just 20, still had lots of time, but for someone who we’d been hearing about for a long time, a true first baseman who had to hit, and hit a lot, to be a quality prospect, it seemed like it just wasn’t to be. Compared to his fellow 2011 bonus baby Nomar Mazara, who was blossoming in Frisco in 2015, even earning a late-season promotion to Round Rock, Guzman seemed even more disappointing, and I was ready to write him off at that point. Guzman’s solid 2016 season in Frisco put him back on the map, however, and a nice, if unspectacular, 2017 campaign at Round Rock established him as someone who, at a minimum, was going to be a major leaguer.
- Little did we know that Guzman would be a major leaguer in April, 2018...the plan was for him to spend the bulk of this season repeating in Round Rock, but the barrage of injuries brought him up, and put him in position to be a difference maker in his second major league game. With two outs in the 8th, down one run, Guzman got hold of a 2-2 pitch that was low enough to likely be called a ball, and golfed it down the right field line into the seats. Guzman’s first major league home run — a game-tying late-inning shot on the road against the defending World Series champions in just his second career game.
- What Guzman did for an encore was almost anti-climatic. In the 10th, with one out, Jurickson Profar drew a walk, then went to third on a Joey Gallo double. Astro pitcher Will Harris walked Adrian Beltre intentionally to bring Guzman back up, no doubt in the hopes that a ground ball could be induced from the rookie to set up a double play. Guzman did hit it on the ground, back up the middle, but off of Harris, and by the time the ball was tracked down, it was a run-scoring infield single, making it a 6-5 game, and giving Guzman both the game-tying and game-winning RBIs.
- Guzman and Kiner-Falefa had the most memorable games for the hitters, but several other Rangers did damage as well. Profar got on base four times, with a single, a double and a pair of walks, while Beltre and Gallo each had a pair of hits. And the much-maligned Ryan Rua got in on the action, registering a 2 for 5 line.
- Congrats to IKF and Guzman on their big blasts today, and let’s see if Texas can win Sunday and take the series.
Rangers 6, Astros 5