The end of the first half each MLB season results in a mass exodus of players to various parts of the country and tropical locales for a needed respite over the All-Star break.
A select few get to spend the break at a site of MLB’s choosing, where a few years prior baseball officials selected the city that would host the All-Star Game. This year, it’s Cleveland.
So, three Texas Rangers were to hop on a plane Sunday night after a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins and head east to join the rest of the American League team at Progressive Field.
It’s safe to say that no one expected this trifecta of players to come in.
That’s what is special about the Rangers’ All-Stars this year. Minor missed two seasons after breaking through early in his career, Gallo was billed as an all-or-nothing carnival act, and just about everyone thought Pence was done after last season.
“It’s an incredible message to everyone out there that may be going through a tough time,” Pence said. “I’ve found that the toughest times in my life helped shaped me into a better person, and there was amazing gifts and lessons within each one of them. I hope that that’s a message to anyone who looks, like, ‘Hey, look at these three guys who went through crazy injuries or some people gave up on them. They didn’t give up on themselves.’”
Gallo is the only of the Rangers’ All-Stars who will participate in Tuesday’s game. Pence is on the 10-day injured list with a groin injury, and Minor was replaced on the roster because he was unavailability to pitch.
All three will partake in the festivities.
Pence faced the longest odds for the simple fact that he had to win a roster spot in spring training. No team gave him a major-league deal, so he had to settle on a minor-league offer from his hometown Rangers.
Before that, though, he had gone through the process of reinventing his swing. Pence, a 12-year veteran and two-time world champion, tested it by going to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball.
After opening the season on the bench, Pence posted 15 homers, 48 RBIs, a .294 average and a .962 OPS before being injured June 16 and aggravating the injury last week. He was voted by fans as the starter at designated hitter.
“When I found out Hunter made it, that was before we found out we made it, I was like, ‘At least Hunter made it,’” said Gallo, who went 2-for-4 with two runs scored in the Rangers’ 4-1 victory in 11 innings Sunday over the Minnesota Twins.
“There couldn’t have been anybody better on this team to make that team. For what he’s been through, pretty much being told to retire, signing a minor-league deal, going to play winter ball, and to come out and be an All-Star on a team he wasn’t even starting on at the beginning of the year says a lot about him as a person and as a teammate.”
Minor didn’t pitch in 2015 and 2016 as he dealt with a shoulder injury, and then was a reliever in 2017 with the Kansas City Royals before the Rangers signed him to a three-year deal before the 2018 season.
They limited his innings, sometimes frustratingly so, and he entered the off-season determined to be the Rangers’ No. 1 starter.
He has proven to be that, going 8-4 with a 2.54 ERA, two complete games, one shutout, 114 strikeouts, an MLB-leading 5.8 WAR for pitchers and an AL-best 197 Adjusted ERA.
“Mike has been the most dominant starter in the game,” Gallo said. “It was a no-brainer.”
Gallo has broken through to become one of the game’s most complete hitters. The poster boy for the concept of “three true outcomes,” Gallo still swats mammoth homers, strikes out a lot and walks a lot, but he also has lifted his average nearly 70 points above the .203 average he took in the season.
He entered the first-half finale batting .271 with 20 homers, 46 RBIs and a 1.053 OPS. He missed three weeks in June because of a strained left oblique.
“Everybody thought Joey was just a .200 hitter that hit home runs and that’s it,” Minor said. “Now he’s on an MVP pace.”
As of Sunday, Minor, Pence and Gallo were on their way to the All-Star Game.