The day is coming, the men who run the Texas Rangers say, when left-hander Martin Perez will look like the Perez of old.
The Martin Perez who was the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2009.
The Martin Perez who rocketed through the farm system and won 10 games for the big club in 2013.
The Martin Perez before he had Tommy John surgery.
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But that day wasn’t Sunday night.
On Sunday, the baseball gods intervened and decided that no wishes would be granted. No shortcuts would be allowed.
Perez pitched like a 24-year-old who suddenly realized that the postseason spotlight was real.
He allowed the Toronto Blue Jays’ leadoff hitters to hit safely in four successive innings, walked in a run in the fourth inning, and was gone before an out was recorded in the sixth.
In a second wishful move, manager Jeff Banister decided to entrust rookie Chi Chi Gonzalez with finishing that fateful sixth inning, only to watch the Jays’ Troy Tulowitzki spoil that plan with a three-run homer.
That was more than enough for Toronto starter Marco Estrada, who was fifth in the American League in ERA (3.13) during the regular season.
The series continues Monday with the Rangers still needing one victory to advance to their third AL Championship Series.
And just like that, with the Blue Jays’ 5-1 victory, the mood shifted and the momentum swung with a thud.
It was Banister, not Toronto’s John Gibbons, who sounded as if his club was one game behind.
We’ll show up ready to play. We’ll be ready to play the game of baseball tomorrow.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister
“We’ve been in this situation before,” Banister said. “This is not new to this ballclub. We knew that Toronto was going to be ready to play today.
“We’ll show up ready to play. Derek [Holland] will show up ready to pitch. We’ll be ready to play the game of baseball tomorrow.”
The question had been a simple one: What did he expect to see in Game 4 from lefty Holland?
1 Total runs batted in in the series by Choo, Fielder, Moreland, Andrus and Hamilton
Banister also rendered a spirited defense of Prince Fielder, when someone asked about his designated hitter’s ongoing struggles. Fielder has one infield single in 12 at-bats in the series.
“Listen, I’m not going to start on Prince,” Banister said. “This is a guy who’s been right in the heart of everything we’ve done all year long.
“Do we need for Prince to find the barrel? Yes. He has. What I know about guys like Prince is that for every 0-fer, they’re one more closer to getting hot.”
Listen, I’m not going to start on Prince. This is a guy who’s been right in the heart of everything we’ve done all year long.
Banister on Prince Fielder’s struggles
That sounds like more wishful thinking. It was, in large part, the Rangers’ bullpen that shut down the Blue Jays and secured the two victories in Toronto.
The hitting, Fielder included, has struggled. With Adrian Beltre still out, the heart of the lineup — Shin-Soo Choo, Fielder, Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus — are a combined 4 for 45, an .089 average.
Add Josh Hamilton to that group, and the five have driven in a combined one run.
Perez pitched well on the regular season’s final weekend, but he left games while trailing in six of his eight starts before that.
The Rangers are now 4-6 in games where they’ve had a chance to clinch a series.
The decision was made, however, to name him the Game 3 starter and push Derek Holland, who has started in the World Series, to Game 4.
Gibbons, interestingly, repeated his intention to start veteran R.A. Dickey in Monday’s game. There has been speculation that the Blue Jays would use David Price on three days’ rest.
Gibbons might be right. Shortcuts in this series don’t seem to be allowed.