Doug Collins once was asked what he had in mind for the final play of a Chicago Bulls playoff game when Michael Jordan was the greatest thing on earth.
“Give Michael the ball and get the [flip] out of the way,” Collins responded.
Manager Ron Washington might have been thinking along the same lines early Friday night when the Texas Rangers staked staff ace Yu Darvish, one of the best pitchers in the majors, to a four-run lead.
A four-run lead with Darvish on the mound is a combination that should always lead to a Rangers victory, and it did. But not the way Washington, or Collins for that matter, would have drawn it up.
Michael Choice connected for a solo homer to snap a seventh-inning tie and help lift the Rangers to a 6-4 victory over Cleveland in a game in which Darvish couldn’t hold an early 4-0 lead.
Darvish eventually did his part, logging seven innings and steadying the ship until someone in the lineup could provide the game winner.
Even the Bulls needed John Paxson or Luc Longley to win a game once in a while. On Friday, the Rangers needed Choice, as well as a two-run homer by fellow rookie Rougned Odor.
“Mikey’s starting to swing the bat a little bit and making great contact,” Washington said. “We know he’s a strong kid. He’s capable of hitting the ball hard. Tonight that was a big one he got for us. Odie went up there, set on a first-pitch fastball and got it.
“Each time he and Michael go out there, it’s a new experience for them. They’re battling, man. That’s what I love about them.”
The Rangers started quickly for a second straight game, scoring four times against Trevor Bauer in the second inning. Leonys Martin provide a sacrifice fly for the game’s first run, and Choice followed with a single and Chris Gimenez slid in just ahead of the throw from left fielder Michael Brantley.
Odor was next, and he ripped the first pitch into the upper deck of the home-run porch in right field.
But the Indians countered in the third with a three-run homer off the right-field foul pole by Lonnie Chisenhall, and Brantley tied the game in the fourth with a solo shot just inside the pole.
Both homers came with two outs. They were two of the nine hits the Indians collected against Darvish, who needed 29 pitches in the third inning and wasn’t nearly as effective as he had been Sunday with a quality mix of pitches at Washington.
He allowed more than eight hits for the first time in 42 starts, and Chisenhall’s homer was the first three-run shot allowed by Darvish in his two-plus big-league seasons.
“That’s Major League Baseball,” Washington said. “There’s no guarantees in this game. But I’ll tell you what he did do: He kept us in the game. He’s a battler. He’s a pitcher. Not everything is going to go your way each night.”
Darvish (6-2) responded from the two homers with a perfect fifth inning and by stranding runners at second base in the sixth and the seventh.
Bauer retired the only batter he faced in the seventh before giving way to Marc Rzepczynski, who quickly disposed of Martin. But Choice lined the first pitch he saw to right field, and the ball just cleared the wall.
“I was just hoping it got in the gap,” said Choice, who has lifted his average 31 points after batting .332 (10 for 31) in his past 10 games.
The turnaround started with a few tweaks in his swing and a more aggressive approach at the plate. Choice was trying to feel out pitchers he was seeing for the first time and taking good pitches to hit.
Not any more, and not when there’s a chance to make a difference. Choice has five homers and his 23 RBIs, both third-most on the team despite having only the eighth-most at-bats.
“If it’s a situation where there’s a runner on or the game is closer, it makes me a little more aggressive at the plate and not too picky,” Choice said. “In those situations, the pitcher doesn’t want to walk someone.”
Whatever he did Friday night was a winner for the Rangers, though probably not how Washington, or Collins for that matter, would have drawn it up with Darvish on the mound with a 4-0 lead.