As clinch nears, Rangers must stay focused
After 152 games, spread over six months …
After Josh Hamilton on crutches, Prince Fielder’s likely career-ending neck injury and both Robinson Chirinos and Shin-Soo Choo with broken arms …
After the Carlos Beltran trade, the Jonathan Lucroy trade and the Carlos Gomez signing …
After seeing the pitching rotation depleted by injuries, only to solidify again …
After Rougned Odor decked some punk named Bautista, after one long rainy morning in the Bronx and after Adrian Beltre spun to his knee for yet another home run …
After a Texas Rangers journey quite unlike any other, the regular season has come to this.
One day. Maybe only one more victory.
With a win Wednesday night over the Los Angeles Angels, plus losses by the Mariners and/or Astros, the Rangers can clinch the franchise’s seventh division title and eighth trip to the American League playoffs.
No matter what happened to the two AL West pursuers Tuesday, manager Jeff Banister’s team will know where it stands by Wednesday’s first pitch. Both Seattle and Houston have daytime contests.
The 5-4 decision over the Angels on Tuesday marked the Rangers’ 90th victory of the season. Only the 2012 team reached the 90-win mark as quickly.
More than milestones Tuesday, however, were the little things that have placed a signature stamp on this season — the club’s record in one-run games (36-10), the roller-coaster ride of the bullpen and the post-trade deadline depth in the lineup.
Odor, who lit the first spark with his haymaker in May, went 0 for 4 on Tuesday. But no matter — ex-Astro Gomez picked up three hits, Beltre had two and Nomar Mazara, 21 years young, knocked a two-run homer to pick up the slack on a night when starting pitcher A.J. Griffin couldn’t last two innings.
So goes the 2016 rotation, which finds itself groping for some semblance of stability as the postseason nears.
Banister knows he has the quality arms to go deep into October. The question is going to be whether they will pitch to expectations in the bright lights of the postseason.
We’re talking about you, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish.
Griffin didn’t help his case Tuesday with his ragged, no-command, four-walk performance. But Banister somehow was able to work through it with a procession of six bullpen arms, none of which allowed an earned run.
The home team’s pitching hero of the night ended up being Nick Martinez, who spelled Griffin in the second inning and pitched three-plus innings of one-hit shutout baseball. Martinez’s outing also included a highlight-reel, double-play stab of Andrelton Simmons’ line drive that left Angels manager Mike Scioscia shaking his head.
This is what the Rangers have done all season, however. Big plays and timely hits have backed frequent clutch pitching outings, many of them ending in one-run victories.
As the Rangers left the field Tuesday night, their magic number was down to two. The right combination of wins and Houston/Seattle defeats will mark the earliest — Sept. 21, the 153rd game — the Rangers have clinched their division in club history.
After all that has happened this season ….
After the brawl with Toronto and the trades …
After racing to the best record in the American League …
After 50 wins at home and 50 water cooler showers . . .
Wednesday may be the day for champagne.