Texas Rangers

How Pence’s grand slam served as wake-up call as Rangers avoided another Pirates sweep

Good news: I’ve been at all five Texas Rangers road victories.

Bad news: I’ve been at all 10 Rangers road losses.

More good news: I’m off the next seven road games.

Maybe that will help the Rangers keep it going away from Globe Life Park.

Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 9-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates

1. A confession: Rangers Reaction was going to get a bit snarky about the Rangers’ road play in this item, and with good reason. An entire item had been written before the eighth inning, and a couple preflight cocktails were on my mind.

But then the eighth inning happened. More specifically, Hunter Pence happened. Again. With an assist to ineffective Pirates reliever Michael Feliz. Pirates fans can argue that Clint Hurdle happened.

Pence pinch hit for Jeff Mathis with two outs, the Rangers down 6-2 and the bases loaded after three walks, and he clanged Feliz’s first pitch high of the left-field foul pole for a game-tying grand slam.


The initial stab at a this item for Rangers Reaction focused on the sixth-inning play in which Mathis and Joey Gallo were tagged with throwing errors to allow a run to score, and the next Kyle Dowdy pitch that went for a 415-foot pinch homer by Colin Moran.

Still a big sequence, though not necessarily the height of the Rangers’ road embarrassments. It’s definitely in the top five.

“There were a lot of things in that game that didn’t go as planned,” manager Chris Woodward said.

The Pence homer seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the ninth, and possibly the final seven games of this road trip, as Isiah Kiner-Falefa doubled in a hustling Nomar Mazara from first and Rougned Odor connected for a two-run homer.

Chris Martin came in and collected his first save of the season, and the Rangers headed to the airport with some momentum.

Looking for more highlights from Wednesday? Here are a few:

With his two-run homer, Gallo became the fastest to reach 100 home runs in American League history, doing it in 377 games.

Elvis Andrus was 3 for 4 with two stolen bases, both in the first inning. He was stranded at third as the Rangers wasted a chance with the bases loaded and one out.

Shelby Miller pitched well, surrendering two runs in four innings. He struck out six, walked only one, and his reward was getting pulled at 73 pitches. Did he earn another start or have the Rangers made up their mind about the bullpen thing?

That will be hashed out soon enough. For now, the Rangers are feeling pretty good about themselves as the head to Houston.

2. Lost in Andrus’ injury-plagued 2018 season is that the Rangers’ franchise leader in stolen bases swiped only five.

Yes, he missed two months, but it’s very unlikely he would have stolen 15 or 20 in that stretch. He considers 20 to be the fewest he should steal when healthy.

He had already surprised his 2018 total by one entering Wednesday, and said Wednesday morning that his goal this season is to swipe 30. He then went out and took second and third in the first inning.

“Last year was a tough one,” Andrus said. “When I came back, I had no timing at all. But I know my speed is there and if I stay healthy I’m going to steal 20 bases every year. I’m aiming for more this year, and I feel good so far.”

Andrus is more aware of the risks that come with stealing as the No. 3 hitter. Taking a base could take the bat out of the hand of the No. 4 or No. 5 hitters, and getting caught could take away a chance to score a run.

But the Rangers haven’t been shy on the bases this season, and their 27 steals entering Wednesday were good for second in the American League. Woodward said in spring training that he wanted the Rangers putting pressure on opposing defenses with their work on the bases.

Andrus is tied with Delino DeShields for the team lead in steals.

3. Jose Leclerc’s demotion from the closer’s role is looking as if it will be more of a short-term break than a long-term change of direction for the Rangers, based on Woodward’s postgame comments Tuesday.

The two scoreless innings tossed by Leclerc were what Woodward wanted to see, as Leclerc blew through the Pirates in the seventh but had to work for his scoreless eighth.

He was both dominant, which is want the Rangers want to see in the ninth inning, but he also had to work out of some trouble. The Rangers want to see that, too.

The Rangers have seen Leclerc dominate, but Woodward said that Leclerc needs to handle jams better than he did during his bumpy April. Rather letting a out-out walk and steal of second unnerve him, Leclerc stranded the runner and kept the Rangers down only one run.

“His demeanor is the biggest thing I’m looking for,” Woodward said. “Just the confidence. If something happens and he walks a guy, he’s still able to execute. I want to see him dominate, but at the same time I want to see how he handles a little bit of adversity.”

Woodward doesn’t have a set number of appearances he wants Leclerc to make in middle relief before returning to the ninth inning. He needs to pass the eye test, where his mound presence and stuff both appear to be back in working order.

Though two appearances, though, Leclerc has looked better.

“He’s looked good, man,” Woodward said.

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.