Gil LeBreton

Odor brings edge, fierce will to Rangers

The Rangers’ Rougned Odor scores around the attempted tag of Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. Odor has scored five runs in the first two games.
The Rangers’ Rougned Odor scores around the attempted tag of Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. Odor has scored five runs in the first two games. Star-Telegram

It wasn’t just a slide.

It was a statement.

The Texas Rangers refuse to lose. Rougned Odor, 21 years young, won’t allow it.

You don’t win a stomach-churning, 14-inning postseason game — in the opponents’ noisy home, no less — by playing it safe.

Odor, you may have noticed, never plays it safe. He runs all the yellow lights.

In Thursday’s first game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Odor was motoring so fast around third base that his wheels came off and nearly cost the Rangers a run. He picked himself up and still scored.

And when Hanser Alberto — heretofore a footnote on the Texas bench — singled with two outs in the 14th inning of Friday’s Game 2, there was Odor sprinting for home and sweeping across the plate, around the tag of Russell Martin, in a furious cloud of dust.

“I was just trying to get home safe,” Odor said after the dramatic, five-hour 6-4 victory. “And I think I did a pretty good job.”

When he was demoted to the minor leagues in May, his .144 batting average weighing on him like an anchor, second baseman Odor was given some fatherly advice.

He was trying to be a polished, buttoned-up kind of player. And that’s just not who he is.

manager Jeff Banister on Rougned Odor

“Go,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister told him. “Go find your edge.”

At his tender age, Odor had been rewarded with a starting job in the major leagues. Six weeks into the season, however, the Venezuela native was lost — lost at the plate and at second base.

“He was trying to be a polished, buttoned-up kind of player,” Banister recalled. “And that’s just not who he is.

“He’s a lay-it-on-the-line, dive-and-make-plays and create type of baseball player. That’s what we sent him down for.

“We told him, ‘Go find that guy.’ 

Five weeks later, Odor was back in the major leagues by acclamation. His .352 batting average at Triple A was a rejuvenation.

Star-Telegram columnist Gil LeBreton and beat writer Jeff Wilson breakdown the ALDS after two games and what to expect when play resumes on Sunday at Globe Life Park in Arlington. (Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner)

Odor found not only his batting stroke, but also his confidence. He left for the minor leagues bewildered. He returned with an edge.

“Love the edginess,” Banister confessed Friday.

In the 91 regular-season games that Odor played since being called back to the big leagues — 336 at-bats — he had 41 extra-base hits, batted .292 and posted an .861 OPS.

His final four months weren’t exactly a goodwill tour. Odor’s full-throttle, spikes-flying style seemed to rub more than a few opposing teams the wrong way.

“I always play with energy,” he said after Friday’s win. “I try to help everybody, to pick everybody up.”

In Game 1 against the favored Blue Jays, Odor found himself in the middle of three of the Rangers’ five runs. His missile-like homer to right field in the seventh inning provided a much-needed insurance run.

16Home runs hit by Odor, second-most all-time by a second baseman under the age of 22

And Odor was back at it again Friday, walking to lead off the second inning, moving all the way to third base on a grounder to the pitcher, and then dashing home on a sacrifice fly.

In the field, meanwhile, Odor’s defense has been flawless, at times spectacular. His barehanded snag of Ryan Goins’ hot grounder ended the 12th inning with Toronto’s potential winning run at third base.

“It’s an edge,” an appreciative Banister said. “He just throws everything out on the dirt. He’s a dirtbag.”

The manager meant it as the highest compliment.

Banister knows you don’t come into the Blue Jays’ ear-ringing dome and take two games by being scared. You don’t win a 14-inning game by sliding politely into second, or by backing down when the enemy’s Josh Donaldson questions your manhood.

I was safe. I know I was on the base all the time.

Rougned Odor on the would-be tag at second base

Odor said he wasn’t worried about a video review ruling him out at second base in the final inning.

“I was safe,” he said. “I know I was on the base all the time.”

Alberto’s single followed, and Odor refused to be tagged out at home.

“There are times that players just will themselves to score,” Banister said of Odor’s sprint to the plate in the 14th.

“What he does for us, the little things — the bouncing catch with one hand to make the play — he makes baseball plays. Guys like that play hard and will themselves to do special things.”

One victory at home over the Blue Jays, and the Rangers will be headed to their third American League Championship Series.

Rougned Odor, 21 years young and edgy, will be right there, heading for home, running all the yellow lights.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton

@star-telegram.com, @gilebreton

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