I am sitting here on a random December Tuesday, thinking about Mitch Garver.
Specifically, I’m thinking of Mitch Garver in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, and how he seemingly turned the entire postseason around for the Texas Rangers with one swing of the bat.
You may recall that, prior to Game 3 of the ALCS, the Rangers hadn’t trailed all postseason. They lost Game 3 and Game 4 of the ALCS, at home, in ignominious fashion, were up late in Game 5, and then...
Game 5 was on a Friday night. Game 6 was on Sunday night. There was almost 48 hours between games, and friends, the mood among Rangers fans for those two days was dark. Things were bleak. There was bitterness. Recriminations. The comments here, the stuff on Twitter, it was, dare I say...a nadir?
There was a sense of impending doom, almost a resignation to the inevitability of the Astros winning and advancing to the World Series, a winter of regret, looking at that Game 5 meltdown and wondering what might have been.
It was a dark, dark time among Rangers fans.
And when Game 6 started, it only got worse. A Marcus Semien walk to start the game went for naught, as Corey Seager popped out and Robbie Grossman and Adolis Garcia fanned against Framber Valdez. In the bottom of the first, the redoubtable Nathan Eovaldi appeared to have finally hit a wall, giving up a single, a stolen base, a walk, a deep fly out, and then a single to begin the bottom of the first.
The game had barely started, and it already felt like it was slipping away. Four batters in and the Astros had a lead, as well as two runners on base. The Juice Box was rocking. Elimination appeared nigh. Rangers fans everywhere were angry, hostile, shivving each other, insulting each others mothers, gearing up to burn shit down.
Eovaldi escaped the inning, of course, with a line out and a K, but the anger was still there. The haplessness of the top of the Ranger lineup in the first seemed to bode ill. Given how the offense had tended to disappear at times during the season, that one Astro run loomed large, seemed potentially insurmountable.
Thus was the mood, the setting, when Fox returned from commercial and Mitch Garver came to the plate to start the top of the second. We got settled in, waiting to see what sort of disheartening result we would seem from this at bat.
What we got was this:
First pitch, a fastball in the middle-arm side part of the plate. Garver went with it, lofting the ball into the second row of the right field seats.
Tie game. Mitch Garver celebrating with the dugout as he rounded the bases. Fans in the Juice Box silenced.
And a dramatic change in the mood of Rangers fans. It was like in the Wizard of Oz, when the film goes from black and white to color. There was life for the Rangers. An Astros win no longer seemed like a fait accompli.
I remember sitting at home, jumping up and clapping when the ball left the park, and at that point, I felt it. I felt good. I felt confident. I felt like the Rangers had this game, had this series, would finish off the Astros and advance.
The Rangers didn’t trail for the rest of the series. Game 6 was a nailbiter for a while, the Astros getting to within one before the Rangers blew up the Houston pen at the end, capped off by the Adolis Garcia grand slam to make it a blow out. Texas jumped up early in Game 7 and never really looked back, then dominated the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series.
And to me, at least, the pivot point was the Mitch Garver Game 6 home run. It wasn’t the most memorable play of the postseason, isn’t the home run we immediately think of when reminiscing about the 2023 playoff run. And it isn’t as if the team would have rolled over and given up but for that Garver bomb.
But when I think about the 2023 playoffs, that home run, to me, was the tipping point. And I will never forget that feeling, watching the ball going over the fence, feeling like the Rangers had been pulled back from the precipice.