ARLINGTON, Texas — A slider away. A high fastball. Another high fastball. A fastball up-and-away.
Strike three, strike three, strike three, strike three.
You’re looking at Adolis García’s first four at-bats vs. the Minnesota Twins on Sunday at Globe Life Field. A bunch of strikeouts. Four of them, actually, largely because his monthlong quarrel with fastballs hadn’t yet relented. He left five of his teammates on base over the course of them in a tightly contested game with some postseason implications. Every game has those now, from here on out, and we’ll get to why what followed García’s fourth strikeout matters so much for Texas’ remaining schedule.
Enough talking, here’s what happened: García, in the bottom of the ninth inning in a tied game vs. Minnesota, fought off four pitches (three fastballs) from Josh Winder before he belted a 2-2 fastball — one that ran inside and belt-high — 430 feet into the second level in left field for his third career walk-off home run and a 6-5 Rangers win.
Relief to the highest degree.
He stopped and paused at home plate. He didn’t even watch the ball leave the yard. He already knew where it was headed. Then the 30-year-old unleashed as much emotion as he’s shown all season, tugging on the front of his powder blue jersey and yelling as he began to trot up the first baseline.
“He’s not feeling good about his day at that point,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “And he got ahold of one. Good for him, good for us.”
García declined to speak with reporters in the clubhouse afterward. His teammate Mitch Garver — who hit a pair of home runs — nailed the sentiment, though: “For him to come out there, stay with it and just keep going forward and get the result that he did, couldn’t be happier for him.”
Bingo. Therein lies what the Rangers need to do next.
Stay with it. Keep going forward. And, maybe most important, forget the recent struggles, because a defining month — and, possibly, a defining next series — lies ahead.
The Rangers were nearly swept by the AL Central-leading Twins this weekend at Globe Life Field. They’ve tumbled out of first place in the AL West, have lost 13 of their last 18 games, and are now suddenly fighting for a chance to even make the playoffs.
There’s been some rough baseball played. A sketchy bullpen has blown its fair share of wins (it tried on Sunday, even). A dormant offense has kept the Rangers out of others (a 5 for 32 line with runners in scoring position this series reflects that). García’s own struggles have been central to that, capped off by Sunday’s golden sombrero.
And yet, the four strikeouts don’t feel as crushing considering his fifth at-bat ended with what Bochy called “one of the biggest home runs we’ve had all year.”
And if the Rangers take care of business in the season’s final month, starting Monday vs. the second-place Houston Astros, the last month of Texas baseball may be looked upon a whole lot differently in the history books, too.
“They’ve had a tough last couple of weeks, last couple of games here at home,” Bochy said. “To win this one, it’s a good way to end this series here and go into a big series. It’s going to be a really exciting series, we’re looking forward to it.”
Big may be an understatement. It’s arguably the biggest September series that the Rangers have played in eight years. Look back at 2015, the second-to-last year that the Rangers won the AL West. They began September four games behind Houston in the standings but swept the Astros in a four-game series from Sept. 14-17 to overtake them for first place. Texas never let it go after that.
Sure, it’s a little different this season with a third contender in the mix; the Rangers and Astros are currently looking upward at the Seattle Mariners, who lead Houston by a half-game and the Rangers by a full game.
But here’s the gist of it: If the Rangers can win this upcoming series vs. the Astros, they’d leapfrog them in the standings at the very least. Depending on how the Mariners fare against the Cincinnati Reds, Texas could wake up Thursday back atop the AL West.
If they handle their business, that is. If they don’t, it’ll create an even larger uphill climb toward postseason security. The Toronto Blue Jays are just two games back of the Rangers for the final Wild Card spot in the AL, and they’ve got three games against the last-place Oakland Athletics starting Monday.
Sunday started things off on the right foot. The Rangers needed one like this; a mob at home plate, a Gatorade bath and vivacious music pumping through the clubhouse postgame.
Relief? Undoubtedly, for both García and his teammates.
Positive momentum? Absolutely.
“You come in the next day with an extra skip in your step,” Rangers starter Jon Gray said. “I think it can definitely be a spark for something big.”
And, maybe most important, García provided a road map to success when his cathartic blast sent Globe Life Field into a frenzy: look forward, not backward.
Monday vs. the Astros is the best time to try that out.
“Hopefully it carries us,” Garver said. “Hopefully we ride that wave, hopefully we keep that energy high. Everybody knows the intensity is going to be here for these next three games at least. Hopefully we can bring our best baseball here in September.”