For the second consecutive September, Matt Bush is chasing a magic number.
His team, the Texas Rangers, is on the verge of clinching the American League West title. The Rangers’ magic number was two Thursday afternoon as they headed to Oakland.
Bush’s magic number this time a year ago was 39, the number of days he had remaining at Bridges of Jacksonville Work Release Facility.
The anticipation that came with regaining his freedom after serving 39 months of a 51-month sentence for drunken driving with serious bodily injury after a hit-and-run crash can’t compare to counting down to baseball’s postseason.
Bush was about to get his life back after his addiction to alcohol nearly led to a man’s death in 2012.
“Very excited, very anxious, lots of thoughts running through my mind, just what life was going to be like again being free,” he said.
Bush said that he was also looking forward to seeing if there was still an open door to baseball. There was, when the Rangers signed him Dec. 18 after his Oct. 30 release, but not even his wildest dreams had him as a key bullpen piece on the AL’s best team.
Bush is 7-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 55 games since making his MLB debut May 13.
“I was hoping in my mind to possibly have a chance at getting a September call-up or being on the 40-man next year,” Bush said. “It’s been an amazing ride. I knew from the beginning how I was pitching and how the velocity was that I would have a shot. I was hoping to get a chance this year.
“I would have loved to be in this situation, but I definitely couldn’t really see it. Where I’m at now, I would have been thinking really far ahead. I’m just amazed, and I’m just very happy, very fortunate, very blessed to be where I’m at.”
The baseball part of his life, the part everyone who watches Rangers games gets to see, has been remarkable. Having never pitched above Double A and having not pitched since 2011, Bush entered Thursday’s off day at 7-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 55 games since making his MLB debut May 13.
The numbers, which include 58 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings, are impressive, but he has compiled them while working in high-leverage situations. It doesn’t get any more high-leverage than the postseason.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” said Bush, who opened the season at Double A Frisco. “I definitely think there will be a little nerves to finally get into the postseason. Every game now is very important. I’m excited and ready to go.”
The velocity is what catches everyone’s attention. His fastest pitch this season was clocked at 100.9 mph, and his average fastball velocity is 96.9 mph.
When combined with pinpoint command, his heater is tough to hit. When he mixes in a slider that has averaged 91.7 mph and a curveball at 80.7 mph, he’s darn tough to hit.
Since he’s been here, he’s kind of been thrown into the fire. This is the beginning of his major-league career, and he has arguably some of the best stuff in the league if not the best stuff.
Closer Sam Dyson
Bush, 30, credited fellow 30-something rookie Tony Barnette, 32, and closer Sam Dyson for being the most helpful as he broke into baseball while also attempting to stay sober. Dyson said that the others in the bullpen haven’t treated Bush with kid gloves because of his alcoholism.
Players drink alcohol in front of him after games and at team dinners. When the Rangers get to celebrate their second straight West title, players won’t be afraid to celebrate if Bush is in the clubhouse.
Bush said that he hasn’t decided if he will celebrate around alcohol or how long he would stay if he did enter the booze fest. The Rangers have discussed celebrating on the field with ginger ale as they did in the past with Josh Hamilton.
Bush, though, knows that drinking again would jeopardize far too much.
“I just don’t,” Bush said. “Look what I have to lose: my life, my girlfriend, this job, everything.”
Bush lives with his father, Danny, when the Rangers are at home. Rangers special assistant Roy Silver, who started throwing with Bush while he was on work release late in his sentence, travels with Bush on the road. Bush has been spending much of his time away from the field with his girlfriend.
“Day to day staying in touch with myself and my spirit, just remembering where I came from and where I was at a year ago, and trying to stay humble and just trying to remember the mistakes I made,” he said.
Bush’s situation a year ago hasn’t been lost on the Rangers.
“Given where he was at this time last year, I think it’s pretty impressive,” manager Jeff Banister said. “There’s been a lot of help from a lot of people. He’s got to keep it going. On the outside, other than baseball, the dedication to his life and where he wants to be, he knows how grateful he is to be where he is right now.”
Bush’s story also hasn’t been lost on his teammates.
“Ain’t baseball great?” Barnette said. “This game is full of amazing stories. Everybody in every clubhouse has a story. Some stand out more than others, like Matt’s does. Looking back on it, he’s handled it tremendously. He shows up, works hard and throws 100 mph. It’s fun to watch.”