Hunter Pence’s career resurgence earns All-Star starting spot
On a Sunday afternoon when runs were at a premium against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Texas Rangers fizzled out after their chief power source attempted a bunt.
Joey Gallo, author of a prodigious 436-foot shot that disappeared into orbit and wedged into a Tropicana Field catwalk a few innings earlier, represented the tying run in the seventh inning. With a wide open left side against the defensive shift, he laid one down, but it wasn’t executed well enough.
Left-handed reliever Colin Poche sprang off the mound to field it and threw out Gallo, who collected the ironic footnote of his first career sacrifice bunt. As for the game, the Rangers went quietly after that with eight consecutive outs, allowing the Rays to close out a 6-2 victory.
After a 4-2 road trip, the Rangers now have a two-game losing streak after winning a season-high six straight. They fell two games behind the Rays in the American League wild-card race.
Plenty of things went awry for the Rangers.
They faced a very good version of Rays left-hander Blake Snell (5-7), the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner who had been struggling mightily. This time, Snell allowed just three hits in six efficient innings, striking out 12 and walking none.
Overall, the Rangers struck out 17 times against Snell and four Rays relievers.
Rangers starter Jesse Chavez (3-3) didn’t do poorly. He surrendered three earned runs over six innings with eight strikeouts and no walks. But four of the five hits he surrendered went for extra bases, a pair of leadoff doubles by Yandy Diaz, a ground-rule RBI double by Willie Adames and a solo homer by Tommy Pham.
The game’s momentum swung on a razor-thin edge.
The final tipping point became Gallo’s attempted bunt.
In the second, with the third-base area unprotected by Tampa Bay’s shift, Gallo bunted for a single. In the seventh, after an Elvis Andrus leadoff single off right-hander Chaz Roe brought on Poche, Gallo had a similar thought.
He approached Rangers manager Chris Woodward.
“I checked in with Woody about it and said, ‘I might lay one down here,’ ‘’ Gallo said. “Woody said, ‘I don’t think it’s a bad idea.’ Worst-case scenario, we get a runner to second with a righty (Logan Forsythe) coming up. Best-case scenario, runners on first and second with no outs.
“A guy with power like me, I could go up and hit a home run (to tie the game). But it’s not that easy, going up and hitting a home run. That’s a tough lefty (Poche) who struck me out the day before. I kind of weighed the pros and cons. I don’t think it was a bad idea.’’
Andrus did get to second. But Poche struck out Forsythe, then Willie Calhoun flied out against lefty Adam Kolarek. The Rangers were retired in order during the eighth and ninth.
“I didn’t have a problem with it,’’ Woodward said of Gallo’s seventh-inning bunt attempt. “I know you’re kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. People will tell him, ‘Why don’t you bunt against the shift?’
“Down two in the seventh, yeah he can hit a homer and he knows that. That’s a tough matchup for him. The guy (Poche) has good stuff. The other day, he kind of wiped us out in a clean inning. So I don’t have a problem with it.’’
The larger problem was Snell.
Gallo produced his 20th home run in the fourth, a mammoth blow that became the seventh fair ball in Tropicana Field history to hit a catwalk and not come down. That gave the Rangers a short-lived 2-1 lead.
Otherwise, though, Snell “was lights-out today,’’ according to Gallo.
“I think we saw the guy who won the Cy Young (last season),’’ Woodward said. “He attacked us. He got strike one on pretty much all our guys. When you get behind on a guy like that, with that kind of ability, it makes it tough. Once he gets ahead, he knows how to pitch.’’
The Rangers begin a four-game home series Monday night against the Los Angeles Angels. … Rangers starting pitchers have combined for seven consecutive quality starts, the club’s longest streak since April 23-30, 2016. … The Rangers finished 18-11 in June. … Just before game time, third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera was scratched due to lower back tightness. … Second baseman Rougned Odor was on track to start Sunday, but never made the lineup. Odor, who suffered what Rangers manager Chris Woodward described as a mild left hamstring strain during Friday night’s ninth inning, still wasn’t 100 percent. “No sense in trying to push it, especially on this turf’’ Woodward said. “He’s about 75 to 80 percent. We’re trying to keep him healthy.’’ Odor flied out in a ninth-inning pinch-hit appearance.