Mike Minor has his 200-inning, 200-strikeout season.
The way he achieved it Thursday in the Texas Rangers’ 7-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox might not sit well with some, but it’s sitting just fine with the All-Star left-hander and his teammates.
The way they saw it, they were simply playing the same game the Red Sox were playing beginning in the eighth inning.
“They were trying to mess with me because they knew what I was trying to do,” Minor said. “They were laughing about it.”
The Rangers contended that Boston was doing whatever it could to keep Minor from his 200th K, and they simply reciprocated in the ninth inning.
Here’s what went down:
Minor had eight strikeouts after the seventh inning, in which he surrendered two solo homers to cough up a 5-3 lead and was nearly removed by manager Chris Woodward. Willie Calhoun and Rougned Odor homered after the stretch for a 7-5 lead.
And there was Minor, jogging back to the mound at 117 pitches.
Each Red Sox hitter swung at the first pitch, making an out and giving Minor a three-pitch inning. Two outs on two pitches isn’t unusual, but the third hitter almost always takes the third strike to avoid that gift of an inning for an opposing pitcher.
Also, the patient, grind-a-pitcher-into-the-dirt Red Sox were down two runs and swinging at the first pitch. Minor said that Brock Holt, the former Stephenville High School star, looked at the Rangers’ dugout and laughed after his first-pitch popup in the eighth.
“I haven’t seen a three-pitch inning, I don’t think in my career, to be honest,” Woodward said. “I’ve seen a guy swing at the third pitch of an inning, but not to hit it fair and get out. I’ve never seen a three-out on three consecutive swings. It is what it is.”
As Minor went to the dugout, Woodward told him he wasn’t finished even though he was now at 120 pitches.
“I said, ‘If they’re going to do that, you’re going back out,” Woodward said.
And there was Minor, jogging back to the mound for the ninth and with a plan. He threw Sandy Leon a first-pitch knuckleball at 64 mph and about seven feet short of the plate.
Leon lofted the next pitch to left field.
Then came Chris Owings, who took the first pitch for a strike. Minor threw him ball before he popped up the third pitch just off the plate down the first-base line.
First baseman Ronald Guzman raced into to catch it, and then pulled up as the ball fell for a foul ball and strike two.
That’s what left the Red Sox in a huff.
Minor said that he told Guzman to let if fall. Guzman said that everyone at Globe Life Park was telling him to let it fall.
“I heard a lot of, ‘Drop it,’” Guzman said.
Minor still had a chance his 200th strikeout, and, by God, plate umpire CB Bucknor was there to help.
The next pitch wasn’t a strike, not until Bucknor said it was.
“It was borderline,” Minor said. “But I liked it.”
Woodward immediately came to the mound to remove Minor, who finished with 126 pitches, a 14-10 record, and an accomplishment he doesn’t believe is tainted by how he got there.
“It’s an accomplishment that I was looking at this last offseason,” Minor said. “A lot of guys were talking about it. The last couple games I was trying to get there but had some duds in there. Today I got closer and I knew we were a couple strikeouts away, so I tried to get it.”
Red Sox manager Alex Cora wasn’t clearly displeased. He hung around in the dugout, staring at the Rangers as they did their customary post-victory handshake.
He took his shot while talking with Red Sox writers.
“I’m just happy our guys are playing the game the right way,” Cora said. “I don’t manage the Rangers. That’s a question for Woody over there, and he probably has the right answer.”
Woodward said that he would likely talk to Cora about how the end of the game unfolded.
“I’m not worried about that,” Woodward said. “I guess that they kind of set the tone in the eighth inning by swinging at three pitches.
“I didn’t love the idea that we dropped a popup at the end, but on the other side of that, they swung at three pitches in a row in the eighth inning down by two. So if they have any beef with that, obviously, I’m pretty sure Cora did. They chose to not try to win the game as well. They were trying to keep him from striking a guy out, which worked in our game to winning the game eventually.”
Minor joined Lance Lynn in the 200-200 club, and they became only the second duo in club history to reach that mark (Nolan Ryan and Bobby Witt in 1990).
And Minor isn’t sweating how it might look to some.
“We felt like Cora was telling guys to swing first-pitch no matter what,” Minor said. “So Woody was OK for me to keep going out there because I felt fine.”