A September baseball game played in under three hours is a rarity, like a losing Denver Broncos season, a good umpire or a bad taco.
They just don’t come along very often.
But the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners opened their four-game series Monday night the right way, quickly. It required no offense after the fourth inning, but only the Mariners were complaining about that.
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 5-3 victory.
1. Cole Hamels wasn’t as good as he was the first four weeks of August, or as good as he was in the 2015 season finale, but he was good relative to his past three starts.
He managed to allow three runs in six innings, the minimum requirement for a quality start, but it was a lot better than where he’d been — fighting himself, failing to put away hitters and giving up too much hard contact and too many runs for a staff’s No. 1 starter.
He actually put away hitters, using improved mechanics to add depth to a curveball that he said has been in hiding.
“I finally struck a guy out with it,” said Hamels, who had seven strikeouts. “I think it’s been six months.”
Suddenly, he’s confident again, wishing he had 20 starts remaining this season instead of four. He says that he believes his mechanics are in the right place after discovering a flaw on video after allowing five runs Wednesday at Atlanta, a start in which his frustrations boiled over — at least as much as he will let them.
That, of course, is a wonderful development for the Rangers, who will keep him pitching every fifth day up until the season finale, which they hope he doesn’t have to pitch. Ideally, they’d have that second wild-card sewn up before Game 162 and can save him for the win-or-go-home playoff game Oct. 4.
He and the Rangers aren’t getting that far ahead of themselves. All their win Monday did was move them a half-game closer to the Minnesota Twins, who didn’t play. The Rangers trail the Twins by two and the Angels, the first team on the outside looking in, by one.
But that was better than going the other way, for the Rangers and for Hamels. If he’s confident, which he seemed to be in the postgame swarm, the Rangers should have reason to be a little more confident.
2. Matt Bush pitched the seventh inning, which would have been a perfect frame if not for an unexpected error by the former shortstop on a ball back to the mound.
Jake Diekman worked a scoreless eighth inning, working around two walks that probably didn’t sit very well with him.
The biggest takeaway here is that for the first time this season manager Jeff Banister had the opportunity to roll out Bush and Diekman in the same game.
That must have felt like having Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera, considering the difficulties the Rangers have had in the bullpen this season.
Bush didn’t light up the radar gun in his first outing since Aug. 20 and the sprained knee he suffered colliding with Joey Gallo, but it looked like he might have been sacrificing velo to spot his fastball. Diekman was the same as he’s been so far since returning Sept. 1, not scored upon.
By the way, Alex Claudio finished things up with a perfect ninth courtesy of a fine diving stop and throw by third baseman Will Middlebrooks for the second out. He also assisted on the first out, but his throw was wide and Gallo had some discomfort after making the tag.
The Rangers don’t think it’s anything serious.
But this Bush-Diekman combination could be a serious development in the tight wild-card race. If Keone Kela returns Wednesday after another bullpen session Monday, the Rangers could see the back end of their bullpen as good as it’s been this season.
They just might not have enough time to take advantage of it.
3. The familiar refrain from a player who is playing while banged up, and from the manager who puts that banged up player in the lineup, is that nobody is healthy at this time of year.
It’s time to suck it up, in other words.
At some point, though, there’s only so much sucking up a player can do without being a liability to the team. And a team in the Rangers’ position can’t have liabilities on the field.
Such is the case with Nomar Mazara, the Rangers’ RBI leader and part of their foundation going forward. He played the outfield all weekend against the New York Yankees with a dinged-up left quadriceps muscle, and on Sunday, it showed how dinged up he is.
His bat is fine, more than fine, and it needs to be in the lineup. That’s not the issue.
Here’s what is: He was in right field chasing blooper after blooper and flyball after flyball on that leg, not confident that it would hold up. The Yankees hit a lot of them, as memory serves, and Mazara said that under normal circumstances, he would have caught the ones that fell in front of him.
His inability to do so wasn’t why the Rangers lost the game 16-7. There were a couple of pitchers who were the cause of that. Mazara, though, shouldn’t have been out there.
Surely there was communication between the manager and player. Right? Maybe Mazara, a youngster, was sucking it up too much. Maybe the manager pressed Mazara a tad.
At least the issue came to the proper resolution Monday, when Mazara was the Rangers’ designated hitter. He doubled in the game’s first two runs. And he rested for a day.
Maybe he’s back in right field Tuesday. That wouldn’t be the biggest shock. He’s not the only one who needs a DH day. But if one day not playing the outfield didn’t do the trick, the Rangers need to give him another.