Gil LeBreton

Rangers needed guys like Napoli, Diekman for playoff run

Jake Diekman’s blazing two-seam fastball will be a problem for opposing batters down the stretch.
Jake Diekman’s blazing two-seam fastball will be a problem for opposing batters down the stretch. Star-Telegram

At the risk of losing my SABR stat geek card or being forced to watch Moneyball another 500 times, I have an old-school baseball confession to make.

I like the clutch guys.

I like the gritty guys who seem to refuse to lose.

I like the guy in the clubhouse who’s going to hold people accountable, beginning with himself.

I have no statistics to help me to identify these players, these “gamers,” as my sabermetric friends will be quick to point out. There is no algorithm, as it turns out, to calculate “clutch.”

But if history has told us anything, it is that a winning baseball team needs a strong sampling of these kinds of clutch, no-prisoners guys.

Guys who will grind out an at-bat in late innings. Guys, like Will Clark, who will beat out a ground ball with a broken toe in the 150th game of the season so that Pudge Rodriguez can hit a game-winning homer on the next at-bat.

The Texas Rangers moved into first place that 1998 night in Baltimore. They never gave it up.

Clark could be testy around the media, but he wasn’t called “The Sheriff” for nothing. It was no coincidence that the those 1990s Rangers teams made the postseason for the first time once Clark joined the club.

It also was little surprise that the American League playoffs followed Mike Napoli to Boston. He has an unselfish game that, if nothing else, will teach the Rangers youngsters well in these final 50 games of the season.

How Rangers general manager Jon Daniels got Napoli last week from the Red Sox for next to nothing — and got Boston to pick up most of Nap’s salary — could end up being one of the Daniels’ best all-time deals.

The Cole Hamels trade, of course, could be the other one, though early returns on the $22.5 million starter have yet to bolster the win column. Rangers fans are reminded that Cliff Lee’s first two 2010 starts in a Texas uniform were underwhelmingly similar.

Hamels simply needs to pitch better. He needs to be Felix Hernandez better, to cite Sunday’s example. Hamels did, after all, throw a no-hitter in his final start in the National League.

Hamels would do well to follow the lead of his partner in the Philly trade, lefty reliever Jake Diekman.

While some have offered Hamels the adjustment-to-the-AL excuse, lanky, red-bearded Diekman has shown that a 98-mph fastball is a blur in any league.

On the Statcast list used by ESPN of the major leagues’ fastest pitchers, Diekman’s two-seam fastball has been clocked at No. 12 — 97.4 mph. Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman is the fastest with an average speed of 100.2.

The TV radar gun in Seattle regularly timed Diekman over the weekend at 98. The Mariners were overmatched.

Our brief introduction to the Nebraska native last week showed him to be a 28-year-old with promising wit. The most intriguing thing about his first day as a Ranger, he said dryly, was wearing black baseball spikes, after all those years in Phillies red.

In the revamped Rangers bullpen, Diekman is going to make a great sheriff.

Manager Jeff Banister has been impressed with both of the two new bullpen additions, Diekman and Sam Dyson.

“I knew the big arms on both of them, the velocity.” Banister said. “I had seen [in Pittsburgh] the improvements Diekman has made. Our scouts had done a lot of work on both of them with their makeup and their character.”

In the Rangers dugout, Adrian Beltre is already a sheriff. Young Rougned Odor has shown signs of being a feisty deputy.

Now along come Napoli and a tall left-hander who can throw close to 100.

Fifty games are left. Who’s willing to play on a broken toe?

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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