Gil LeBreton

April 1, 2014

Real pitching, real baseball lift Rangers

After Monday’s circus, Rangers followed Washington’s book.

Monday was a football score.

On Tuesday night, it was time for real baseball, with real pitching and timely hitting and a closing chapter that the home manager himself would have written.

This is the way that general manager Jon Daniels probably drew it up on the board during the off-season. In JD’s case, OK, it was probably a PowerPoint presentation.

Left fielder Shin-Soo Choo, acquired over the winter for his patience and on-base prowess, coaxed a base on balls from Philadelphia Phillies reliever Mario Hollands to start the bottom of the ninth inning. Shortstop Elvis Andrus then dropped a textbook, two-strike bunt to send Choo to second.

First baseman Prince Fielder, Daniels’ other major off-season acquisition, grinded out a six-pitch walk.

Adrian Beltre followed with a game-winning single, and the Texas Rangers had their first victory of the season 3-2.

Real baseball, with real drama and real relief pitching. And, oh, right, a real replay reversal that may well have prominently figured in the game.

Rare is the team whose bullpen is populated totally by high-dollar set-up arms. Thus, you have a procession of relievers whose job it is to hold the other team more or less scoreless until the closer or the cavalry arrives.

And you have the other guys, most of whom pitched in Monday’s wind-blown season opener, a 14-10 Rangers defeat. Maybe one day soon Pedro Figueroa, Shawn Tolleson and Seth Rosin will be called upon to pitch meaningful innings for manager Ron Washington’s club.

But for now, the job belongs Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts and the new closer, Joakim Soria.

After starter Martin Perez was lifted in the sixth inning, relievers Frasor, Cotts and Soria combined to masterfully secure the home team’s final 10 outs. Together, they allowed only one hit, one walk and struck out four Phillies.

It was exactly what Washington hoped he had left in the bullpen after the spring training shuffling that saw Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross being promoted to the starting rotation.

And it was mostly the opposite of what the manager saw Monday, when nobody seemed capable of consistently throwing strikes and Philadelphia spanked Rangers pitchers for 17 hits.

In five at-bats Tuesday, Choo was on base four times and twice scored runs. Four times after those at-bats, Andrus was able to allow Choo to advance to the next base.

Beltre delivered a run-scoring double in the seventh inning to knot the game, and he lined the game-deciding hit to right-center in the ninth.

Just what Washington and Daniels, in other words, probably had in mind.

Perez, for his part, deserved a better fate. He allowed only three singles through the first five innings, striking out seven, while throwing only 66 pitches. But a lead-off double in the sixth inning by the ninth-place hitter in the Phillies’ order, second baseman Cesar Hernandez, ignited a sudden rally and, suddenly, Perez was gone.

Philadelphia scored two and maybe should have had more, but Washington won a video appeal that overturned a pickoff tag at second base.

Perez’s pitching line — seven hits surrendered in five and 2/3 innings — looked worse on paper than on the scoreboard. Unlike Monday’s opener, when first-time starter Scheppers was shaky and struggled with his command, Perez was poised and in charge.

On the second night of the Rangers’ season, the winds calmed and real baseball returned.

Just the way the manager wanted it.

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