At 5:21 p.m. Tuesday, manager Ron Washington matter-of-factly said that the Texas Rangers would beat the Baltimore Orioles if right-hander Nick Martinez kept the game close.
When it was over at 10:06 p.m. EDT, the Rangers had lost 8-3, and Martinez had issued each run over five innings. But it wasn’t only Martinez who failed to keep the game close even though he allowed three homers.
Two unmade plays that must be made by Elvis Andrus and Shin-Soo Choo, two of the veterans on a roster of youngsters and journeymen, played a bigger role in determining the outcome than anything Martinez did.
“That’s the difference in the game right there,” Washington said.
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Andrus, a sixth-year shortstop, booted a slam-dunk double-play grounder in the fourth inning that opened the door to four Orioles runs as they pulled away to a second straight easy victory over the Rangers.
Choo had Steve Pearce’s first-inning homer hit off his glove before it hit the left-field foul pole for a 1-0 lead.
Had Choo made the catch and had Andrus started the double play, the Orioles would have been limited to three runs against Martinez. Two of those came on another wall-scraping homer at hitter-friendly Camden Yards.
So, yes, despite the pitching line, the Rangers were pleased with what Martinez gave them. Even a lineup mostly comprised of players who should be backups gave the Rangers a chance.
The defense of two veterans, especially the botched grounder by Andrus, didn’t.
“It was an easy ground ball,” Andrus said. “I just took my eyes too quick off the ball, and it hit the end of my glove. There’s no excuse about it. I have to make that play.”
Pearce, Nelson Cruz and Caleb Joseph hit the homers against Martinez. The Pearce homer, a towering drive into the left-field corner, deflected off the top of Choo’s glove as he extended his arm over the short wall and then clanged off the foul pole.
“As soon as it came off the bat, I thought it was a routine fly ball,” Choo said.
Joseph’s homer also just got over the left-field wall, also landing in the first row, and two of the Orioles’ runs in the fourth were unearned because of the Andrus error.
Baltimore had loaded the bases with one out when the slow-footed Joseph sent a broken-bat roller to shortstop. Andrus, though, booted it as he tried to flip to second base to start what should have been an inning-ending double play.
Instead, a run scored, and two more came home as Nick Markakis doubled to right field. Pearce followed with a sacrifice fly for an 8-2 lead.
“After that double, I felt really bad,” Andrus said. “But you have to keep your head up and keep working hard so that doesn’t happen again.”
Choo’s near miss and Andrus’ error as well as a rally-killing double play Andrus bounced into in the fifth underscore how thin the Rangers’ margin for error is and how inconsistent the club is.
The Rangers essentially have one player, third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is performing consistently in all facets. Catcher Robinson Chirinos and second baseman Rougned Odor have been good, especially of late.
But the rest of the lineup has been balky. Choo and Alex Rios are working their way out of slumps. Outfield play has been dicey at times. The No. 3 spot in the lineup has been a wasteland all season mostly because of the neck injury that felled Prince Fielder.
The Rangers’ No. 3 hitters are batting .213 with a .266 on-base percentage and a .315 slugging percentage. All three are the worst in the major leagues.
“My No. 3 hitter is on the DL,” Washington said. “I can only pick from what I have. This is a year when things didn’t fall into place.”
Rios singled twice as the No. 3 hitter as Washington stacked eight right-handed hitters against Orioles spot starter T.J. McFarland, a left-hander. But the Rangers were only 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position with Adam Rosales collecting a second-inning, two-run double to erase the Pearce and Cruz homers in the first.
Joseph spoiled Martinez’s bid for a shutdown inning in the Orioles’ second with a two-run shot with two outs, but the Rangers were still in the game until Joseph’s next at-bat turned into Andrus’ game-changing error.
Martinez was done an inning later, but he and the Rangers saw improvement from his last time out, 21/3 wild innings last week against Detroit.
“I thought I pitched better than what the line shows,” Martinez said. “Those things happen.”
So do errors. But when a team is struggling like the Rangers are, they can’t afford to have them happen.