BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Elvis Andrus was activated for this week’s series against the Kansas City Royals, and he helped lift the Rangers to a series sweep. There is no question that Andrus is one of the outspoken leaders of this Ranger team, and leaders are usually more effective when they play. The Rangers slim hopes of contending this year hung on a solid offense, and with Andrus and Adrian Beltre back and batting third and fourth, the Rangers’ batting order looks much more formidable.
The series started with an emotional win on Monday night. Bartolo Colon was the starting pitcher, and he struggled through six innings. He was knocked around for nine hits, but allowed just three runs to make his outing a quality start. It was also good enough to qualify Colon for the win.
The Rangers’ offense got on the scoreboard quickly with a Shin-Soo Choo home run to start the game. They came back in the third inning for four more runs. Two walks and a single scored the first run, and Beltre homered to score the final three of the inning.
Colon gave back two runs in the Royals’ half of the third inning on a single, double and single. An inning later, the Royals cut the lead to two runs at 5-3 with a single and a triple. That was all the damage Ranger pitching allowed on the night. Colon came back to shutout the Royals in the fifth and sixth innings, while Jake Diekman, Tony Barnette and Keone Kela allowed no base runners in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
The Rangers pushed across another run in the eighth inning to make the final score 6-3.
It was an emotional win for Colon – the 244th in his career. That pulled him one ahead of Hall of Famer Juan Marichal for the most wins by a pitcher born in the Dominican Republic.
Tuesday’s game was overshadowed by strange doings before the game. The clubhouse was closed to the media early when it is usually available for reporters. GM Jon Daniels later announced that there had been some sort of incident – a “violation of team rules” – that was being dealt with.
The focus was on Yohander Mendez, who was the originally announced starting pitcher in Wednesday’s series finale. Mendez was optioned to AAA Round Rock as discipline for his part in whatever happened, and Austin Bibens-Dirkx was brought up from AAA to start Wednesday’s game.
Other players were also said to be involved, but received less harsh discipline. Rougned Odor is generally thought to be one of the “others”, as he was in Tuesday’s original starting lineup, but was omitted from a revised starting lineup that was later posted. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News later wrote that Carlos Tocci and Martin Perez also received fines for their part in the incident.
Odor did not see action in the game, but starting pitcher Cole Hamels was really good. He scattered four hits over seven innings, allowing an unearned run. (Per The Athletic’s Levi Weaver, the error that made the run unearned was likely to be overturned making the run earned.)
Texas scored a pair of runs in the second and third innings. Delino DeShields’ bases loaded double plated the two in the second inning, while runs scored on a double and a fielding error in the third inning.
Diekman and Kela were lights out in the eighth and ninth innings to preserve the 4-1 victory. Hamels is 4-6 with the win, and Kela earned his 17th save.
On Wednesday, Isiah Kiner-Falefa made his Major League catching debut. Kiner-Falefa and Bibens-Dirkx are two of just three Major League players ever to have hyphenated spellings of their last names, so there was much ado that the pair was the battery on this night.
Bibens-Dirkx was excellent. He pitched to contact and threw a preponderance of first pitch strikes. With contact early in the count, he needed just 81 pitches to get through 6-2/3rds innings. 55 (68%) were strikes.
The Rangers supported him with three runs – one run in the first, second and sixth innings. Odor homered in the sixth for the only Ranger round tripper of the game. Bibens-Dirkx gave up just a run for an outstanding start. Alex Claudio finished the seventh inning, and Jose LeClerc polished off K. C. in the eighth inning.
Kela was unavailable after saving the first two games of the series, so Diekman was called upon to pitch the ninth inning. He promptly gave up a lead-off home run to Mike Moustakas that pulled the Royals within a run at 3-2. It began to look shaky for the Rangers when Salvadore Perez followed with a single.
A strikeout and a ground ball force out at second got the Rangers one out away from the win with Hunter Dozier on first base. Amazingly, Dozier tried to steal second base, his first stolen base attempt of the year. It made sense as if successful, it would put the tying run in scoring position. The chances of being successful looked good with a player catching his first Major League game.
Kiner-Falefa foiled the Royals’ plan. He rifled a throw to second that caught Dozier to end the game.
Bibens-Dirkx is 1-1 with the win, and Diekman earned his second save.
Texas leaves Kansas City with a five game winning streak, their longest of the year. They definitely caught the Royals at the right time, as K. C. has now lost nine straight games. Texas picked up a game in the standings to cut first place Houston’s lead to 18 games in the American League West. As for getting out of last place, the Rangers still trail Oakland by seven games, eight in the loss column.
The Rangers are off on Thursday and proceed to Minneapolis for a weekend series with the Twins. The announced starting pitchers for Texas are Mike Minor (Friday), Yovani Gallardo (Saturday) and Bartolo Colon on Sunday.
* Shin-Soo Choo reached base in all three games to extend his streak to 34 games. That’s the second longest streak in Major League Baseball this year trailing Odubel Herrera’s 40 game on-base streak.
* Keone Kela has 17 saves in 17 opportunities, the most by any closer in the Majors without a blown save. The Ranger record for consecutive saves to start a season is 19, done by Francisco Cordero in 2004 and Joe Nathan in 2013. Kela converted his final two save opportunities last season to have 19 consecutive saves overall.