The Texas Rangers manage to bring in some fairly significant local athletes from other sports to throw out first pitches.
Dallas resident Jordan Spieth, for instance, took the mound last year after his Masters and U.S. Open wins.
The Rangers invited gymnast Madison Kocian, also of Dallas, for the first-pitch duties Saturday. It was definitely unique, as she did a few gymnastics moves before picking up the ball and lofting a strike to manager Jeff Banister.
She knows her Rangers stuff, too.
Part of the Final Five U.S. women’s gymnastics team that won Rio team gold and a silver medalist on the bars, Kocian talked a great lengths about her and her family’s history with the Rangers.
She wasn’t the least bit pretentious and spoke at ease with the media. Of course, she was a Today show regular and just met Beyonce, so six mostly hideous male members of the print media weren’t too intimidating.
Kocian was still in her primo seats at the end of the game, too, whereas other celebs who throw out first pitches bail after only a few innings.
She saw the Rangers move closer to the American League West title.
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 12-4 victory.
1. The Houston Astros as 2-13 against the Rangers this season and 69-51 against everyone else. As a result, they’ve been all but officially eliminated from the AL West race.
Their latest loss in the series saw the Rangers thwart them at every turn.
When they had a lead, albeit briefly at 1-0, it quickly disappeared. When they had chances to score with two outs, they didn’t get the big hit. When they had their best chance with their second-best hitter up, he bounced into an inning-ending double play.
Then, the floodgates opened.
The Rangers, still saying the right things about a big division lead and then following through on those words, continue to mash the gas pedal. At 82-54, they are six wins shy of their 2015 win total and 10 1/2 games up in the division.
Only the 2011 Rangers have had a bigger lead, and only by a half-game. No Rangers team has had this good of a record after 136 games or at home (47-21) after 68 games.
Yet, they’re probably not perfect and are continuing to evolve. They have bullpen issues to resolve and a rotation to determine for October. The returns of Jeremy Jeffress and Colby Lewis could settle those issues.
Offensively, the leadoff spot isn’t as good as it could be, but Nomar Mazara is doing just fine. How can anyone complain about what the Rangers have done with him as their leadoff hitter (they’re 7-1)?
But they’re the best team going in the AL right now. The West will be theirs. It’s only a matter of time.
2. This Rangers offense won’t go down as the best in franchise history, but no one would know that by looking at this homestand.
The Rangers have scored 69 runs in nine games so far, with one more to go. They’re averaging 7.67 runs despite games with 1 and 2 runs. The Rangers have 18 homers on the homestand and 21 in their past 10 games.
They did enough Saturday against Astros rookie Joe Musgrove, who has the look of a pitcher who will be a pain in the Rangers’ rear for the next six seasons. They did what they’re supposed to do in the seventh and eighth against September call-ups.
They got lucky in the seventh as a run scored on a Carlos Beltran blooper that went about 115 feet against a drawn-in infield and as Rougned Odor did one of his tag-avoiding slides to somehow steal second as Ian Desmond waltzed home with a steal of home.
But the Rangers aren’t getting lucky. They’re rolling on offense, and everyone is feeling the good vibes. Even Robinson Chirinos, slumping all season, had three hits in an emergency start for Jonathan Lucroy.
They can’t possibly keep up this pace, but they aren’t going to go ice cold either with so many ways to score runs.
The timing of the offense’s hot streak couldn’t have been better.
3. Derek Holland’s first two starts off the disabled list were nearly identical: one run on four hits with five strikeouts. He had swing-and-miss stuff to left-handed and right-handed batters, and his innings were mostly quick and tidy.
That wasn’t the case Saturday afternoon in post-DL start No. 3, at least for much of it, but a strong argument can be made that it was the best of Holland’s three starts.
Here’s why: Pitchers are measured by how good they are without their best stuff, and Holland was able to coax the Rangers to a win without the stuff he had at Cincinnati and against Seattle.
The left-hander’s final line: Six innings, six hits, two earned runs, three walks, two strikeouts, 108 pitches.
After a seven-pitch first inning, Holland pitched with at least one runner on over the next five innings.
The Astros strung together three singles in the second for the first run, but Holland stranded two. He walked two in the third but stranded them. A double play erased a leadoff single in the fourth, and Jake Marisnick was left at third after a leadoff single.
After Evan Gattis connected for a two-out homer in the sixth and Holland walked Teoscar Hernandez, he got Jason Castro on his 108th and final pitch. Castro, a lefty hitter, accounted for both of Holland’s strikeouts.
As the Rangers try to find two pitchers to stick behind Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish in the postseason rotation, Holland is looking like the best of the rest.
He’s been there, done that. The best start in Rangers postseason history was his Game 4 performance against St. Louis in the 2011 World Series as he threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings in a game the Rangers had to win.
Assuming Lewis is healthy and effective after coming off the DL perhaps next weekend, he’d would be a candidate, too. He’s just the Rangers’ all-time leader in postseason wins.
Experience counts. The Rangers would have plenty of it with Holland and Lewis in their postseason rotation.