clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jonah Heim dropped the ball but the Rangers are World Champions

They didn’t let it get away

World Series - Texas Rangers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Five Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I remember when the 2004 Boston Red Sox finally broke the curse. That moment. When Keith Foulke corralled a comebacker and flipped the ball to Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out. I wanted that moment for me and the Texas Rangers too when the best the team had offered us for years was a double by David Dellucci in a third-place finish that same season.

The ball for that historic final out? That golden egg. It was the holy grail for anyone in New England and Mientkiewicz stuffed it into his wife’s purse and held it hostage for two years.

A significant amount of time during my life has been spent daydreaming about what the final out of the World Series would look like when the Texas Rangers finally won it.

God, would it be Tom Henke pushing up his glasses after staring down a strike to Pudge Rodriguez? Could it be a running stab by Rusty Greer? Maybe Ian Kinsler would make a nifty play on a one-hopper and send it over to Mitch Moreland. Neftali Feliz getting that swing and a miss into World Series MVP Mike Napoli’s mitt. A lazy foul ball popup to the right of third base squeezed by Adrian Beltre with Elvis Andrus waiting to hug him like his fate-sewn kid brother.

It never even had to be a special moment outside of it being the most special moment. I once said how cool it would be to see a clincher with Keone Kela getting a hellacious K framed perfectly by Jose Trevino when they were both minor leaguers to dream upon. No matter how you get to the dogpile, as long as you get to the dogpile.

Here I sit today. And it was Josh Sborz throwing that dragon of a curveball Pt. 2 to a gazing Ketel Marte. Who would have thought it? It was so perfectly Texas Rangers. It wasn’t Nolan Ryan or Juan Gonzalez or Ruben Sierra or Yu Darvish or even Corey Seager or Marcus Semien. It was Josh Sborz to Jonah Heim.

No matter how you get to the dogpile, as long as you get to the dogpile, right?

Sborz, by the way, the little gum-chewing maniac, wasn’t without tested mettle. The new author of my dream moment was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player following Virginia’s 2015 championship run. While winning three games and saving another in four games, Sborz’s Cavaliers beat Dane Dunning’s Florida Gators in the semi-finals on their way to beating Vanderbilt in the finals.

But we could have pointed at any media guide randomly and you wouldn’t have stumbled upon a more esoteric person to finish this off (and I mean this as no slight to Sborz, he’s a legend forever now). That’s what it takes to do this, I reckon.

Sborz was a Dodgers castoff. He came over to Texas in a trade for Jhan Zambrano back on Feb. 16 2021. Zambrano has a nice 3.38 ERA in the Venezuelan Winter League. That’s nice for him. How about this twist from AJM’s writeup on the move: “He has an option remaining, and was designated for assignment when the Dodgers needed to clear a roster spot for Trevor Bauer.”

From there, Sborz became a volatile whipping boy of sorts, both for the organization and those eternally frustrated with the pitching that had caused almost nothing but suffering in the 52 years here. Though he had a 3.97 ERA in 59 innings in Texas’ 102-loss 2021 season where no one was really happy to see anyone on the mound for Texas, he followed that up with a 6.45 ERA in 22 13 innings last year.

By 2023, he felt like the 20th best option out of 19 other tenuous arms for the Texas bullpen and indeed didn’t even make the Opening Day roster. It wasn’t an easy season again for the 29-year-old, as the Rangers continued to try to make it work with him because it was obvious that the talent was there, even if the command almost never was. Sborz has struck out nearly 11 batters per nine in his career which now spans 137 games. He’s also walked four per nine.

At some point though, with everyone else failing and Bruce Bochy trying his darndest to make do with this cast of weirdos, Sborz was 2015 Cavaliers locked in again. Despite a 5.50 season ERA, and injuries that derailed his breakout, Sborz had a sensational, perhaps season-saving month of June after Texas had been bleeding blown saves.

Sborz allowed a single run that month — a Spencer Torkelson home run in his final appearance of June — but otherwise threw 16 13 innings and went 3-0 with 22 Ks and just two walks. For that month, he was perhaps the best reliever in baseball. That was a feat he would replicate three months later.

Before then, however, with Bochy riding the hot hand a little too much, Sborz would suffer injuries that cratered his effectiveness as Texas continued to search for relief answers. In the season’s second half, Sborz tossed only 14 23 innings and had a ghastly 7.98 ERA. It honestly wouldn’t have come as much of a surprise if he wasn’t even on the postseason roster. He didn’t even return from a hamstring injury until Sept. 27. Christmas doesn’t come in July but June Sborz came to October.

In 12 innings, spanning 10 games, Sborz again allowed just one run — an inherited run scoring on a hit by Yordan Alvarez given up by Aroldis Chapman in Game 7 of the ALCS with Texas leading 10-2 in the bottom of the 7th — but otherwise threw like it was June with 13 Ks and just four walks.

The rewarmed hand got the ball in Game 5. He entered with Texas leading 1-0 and attempted to do what we would have believed less than 24 hours ago to be impossible.

By the time the bottom of the 9th came, with closer Jose Leclerc warming, but having been used exorbitantly during the postseason, and with Bochy afraid to find out what an appearance in a third consecutive day for the first time since 2019 would look like, Sborz was asked to finish off the gilded inning after the Rangers did what they did best and better than anyone in 2023, put up a crooked number in the top of the frame to make it a 5-0 game.

The man behind the plate guiding Sborz to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was Heim. The literal payment for the end of the Elvis Andrus era. A difficult era for us to let go of, but Heim was always an under-sung backstop who eventually made great.

On Feb. 6, 2021, just ten days before Sborz was serendipitously added, Heim was the sneaky prize of a deal that sent Andrus to Oakland for brief Rangers killer Khris Davis. To make the money work and make it worth the trouble, Heim was included. In him, the Rangers had a catcher with the reputation for being a stellar defender and game caller but someone who was a late bloomer with the bat.

The Rangers also kind of already had a guy with that profile in Trevino. A year into his tenure with Texas, and after splitting duties with Trevino, Heim produced a slash line of .196/.239/.358 in 82 games. In the offseason following that year, the Rangers sent Trevino to the New York Yankees to make Heim their starting catcher.

Or, well, maybe that job was supposed to be Mitch Garver’s, as he was brought in via a trade that same winter. Heim, however, proved too valuable behind the plate and Garver proved too brittle when he tried to wear the tools of ignorance. In his second season with Texas, Heim perked up with an .781 OPS in the first half, acting as a bit of a revelation.

However, worn down by playing every day at the big league level for the first time in his career, as Garver was unable to spell him behind the plate due to an injury that eventually ended his season, Heim produced a .589 second half OPS casting concerns that he was truly the answer behind the dish for the acrobatic rebuild Texas was attempting.

But that first half was no fluke. By July of this season, Heim was the starting catcher at the All-Star Game. In a league with Adley Rutschman rising and Salvador Perez as the statesman at the position, that means something. He did again prove to be a bit of a first half performer (.823 first half OPS, .689 second half OPS) but with a thumb injury in late July pointed to as a culprit.

This franchise has been rich in standout catchers from time to time with the likes of Jim Sundberg, Pudge, Bengie Molina, NAP-O-LI! and even the underrated Robinson Chirinos suiting up for them. It’s a marvel then that a moment like last night hadn’t happened before considering how critical catching is to a team’s success. With Heim, it felt like even when he wasn’t hitting, he was contributing as much or more as anyone just from his role as sheep dog for the unruly pitching staff.

By the 9th inning on Wednesday night, he had caught every inning of this postseason run aside from three frames in Game 1 of the World Series when he was replaced for a pinch runner in the 8th inning as Texas tried to find a rally following a Heim walk.

The rally eventually came via a bolt of lightning from Corey Seager but by then Heim was on the bench for the first time all October. Austin Hedges finished the job with the number 4 scrawled on his ass in eye black.

By Game 5, that number was 1 and Heim had homered in the series the night before and had contributed the 9th inning single that turned into a two-base error and two franchise-altering insurance runs.

Now he was calling for that dragon in the last frame from Sborz. As it caught Marte watching at the top of the zone, he did the thing my eyes always wished to see. The thing my soul yearned for. The catcher leaping in the air, running to the pitcher for an embrace that explodes in a sea of jubilant humanity.

Funny thing though, and maybe the thing I will remember most, and maybe the thing that makes this perfectly the Texas Rangers version of this kind of moment I’ve always dreamed of, Heim, in his out of body experience, threw his hand skyward which detached his glove and sent the ball flying toward the heavens. Our own golden egg. Our own holy grail, just cast into the night.

This is the franchise that always dropped the ball. This is our team, and we love them, but they always made us doubt, refused to let us believe. On this night, however, as the ball found plastic earth, a relic desperate to be treasured but perhaps destined to be lost in some forgotten purse, Heim turned around — guided, of course, by Hedges — and he picked it up, delaying his gratification for a few more moments.

“That ball,” Heim said, “means something to the state of Texas and to Rangers fans. I wasn’t going to let it get away.”

The Rangers didn’t let it get away this time.