Here we go. The Rangers pulled off the sweep of the Rays to turn in a 5-5 road trip to start the second half. It took some of the sting out of the five-game losing streak. But there is much more work to be done. They begin a nine-game homestand Monday against the Marlins. As manager Jeff Banister put it after the game, they need to start “stacking wins” together to really assert themselves in the wild card race. They’re still 2 1/2 games back of the second wild card spot and have four teams ahead of them, including the Rays, who are tied with the Royals in that second spot.
Among the teams sitting between them and a postseason berth are the Mariners and Twins. Texas has three with Seattle to close out the homestand (July 31-Aug. 2). From there they play four in Minnesota.
Perhaps by then, with the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, the Rangers’ fate will have been decided.
“We’re in the hunt,” Banister said. “It’s time to get home and play in our house where we know we have success. You have to stack some wins together. We came back and stacked some wins after losing five in a row.”
Here’s the Rangers reaction after a Sunday sweep in St. Pete:
1. God Bless Beltre — Adrian Beltre, all 38-years of him, was in an all-out sprint deep into foul territory down the left-field line but had no shot at wrangling a foul ball early in Sunday’s game. The young buck Nomar Mazara, all of 22, scampered in from left field after the ball had hit the ground. Before heading back to third base, Beltre playfully chastised Mazara for letting him outrun to the foul ball. Mazara took his medicine from the veteran and smiled back. It was good-natured and funny and the Fox Sports Southwest crew picked up on it at the time. But a lesson, or maybe a subtle message, was delivered, and perhaps paid off at a crucial moment in the game. In the ninth, with the Rangers clinging to a 6-5 lead, the Rays had the tying run on and one out with Evan Longoria at the plate with rookie Jose Leclerc on the mound. Longoria hit long, low fly down the left-field line that seemed destined to go foul. It did, but Mazara was there to make the catch just outside the line after a long run from left. It was a huge out to retire Longoria.
Beltre didn’t take any credit for the catch.
“It was closer to him,” said Beltre, who watched Mazara run it down. “It was a long run but he was closer.”
Yes, Mazara made himself closer.
2. The Ross Conundrum — Tyson Ross struggled again Sunday. In his seven starts, three have been decent. The other four his command lagged as you’d expect with a pitcher coming back after missing more than a year. So the inconsistencies are understandable. When Ross is repeating his delivery appropriately, which has been toughest for him to regain since returning, he is very effective. But here’s the rub: the Rangers are trying to win and earn a wild card spot. At least, as of Sunday night, they are. If they lay a big egg on this homestand then that could go out the window.
With Ross still trying to find a consistent rhythm, perhaps Austin Bibens-Dirkx or Nick Martinez will take a turn in the rotation. Both pitched well when they were given chances to start. Also, A.J. Griffin, who is eligible to come off the disabled list on Wednesday, makes a rehab start Monday for Double A Frisco. He’ll be an option soon.
3. Beltre’s quest for 3,000 — Are you hoping to be there to see Beltre collect hit No. 3,000? You should. It’s only happened 30 times. He’ll be the first ever to do it in a Rangers’ uniform. It could happen on the club’s nine-game homestand which begins Monday night against the Marlins. He has 2,989 after adding his first triple of the season in the second and a single in the ninth on Sunday. He needs only one more extra-base hit to tie Dave Winfield for 21st all-time at 1,093. He needs one more double to tie Cal Ripken for 15th all-time at 603. So he needs 11 hits in nine games if he’s going to do it on the homestand. He had 10 hits on the 10-game road trip, so he’ll need to pick up the pace a tad to do it. But it’s certainly possible, especially if he has an especially big night with multiple hits.
4. Wall of managers — Tropicana Field may not look that nice from the outside but the interior environment was much better than I’d been led to believe. Perhaps my history of growing up going to the Astrodome makes me partial to domed stadiums. But more than the field, even, the facilities for the team are some of the best in the league. The visitor’s clubhouse is big and spacious includes a cool row of snacks and candy for the players. Most clubhouses includes the snacks but Tropicana Field had a nice selection.
In the visiting manager’s office one of the walls is covered with framed 8x10s of the league’s 30 managers arguing with umpires. Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister is shown clapping his hands in the face of umpire Alfonso Marquez after being ejected on April 24. Yes, the Rays’ clubhouse attendants aren’t messing around with up to date action photos. The photo looks like Banister is clapping his hands in Marquez’s face.
“I was because I got thrown out for clapping,” said Banister, who was asking Marquez how he toss him for clapping.
In case you were wondering (and I know you were), Joe West was featured in two of the photos.
5. Nice touch — The coolest photo in the room for Banister, however, was an old shot of him and Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle arm and arm during Banister’s first season working for Hurdle on the Pirates’ staff at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. in 2011. The Pirates’ spring training facility, by the way, is just 20 miles south across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
“It was our first year together,” Banister recalled. “First opportunity to really get to know each other, working day to day. First big brother moment, I guess.”
It’s a favorite photo of Banister’s, who has it framed in his office at home in Texas.
It was a nice touch by the Rays’ staff.
Stefan Stevenson: 817-390-7760, @StevensonFWST