In the churning aftermath of a game — a seventh inning, in particular — unlike any baseball has ever seen, Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers stood at his locker, where the notepads and cameras waited to question him.
The shortstop’s eyes didn’t show tears, but they clearly glistened moistly in the bright lights. His answers were direct. His guilt was profound.
“It was a routine ground ball.”
“I should make that play.”
“The throw bounced, but I tried to hold it.”
“The ball just hit my glove and came out.”
They were all simple answers and reeked of contrition. But what do you say at the gates of baseball hell?
“This is the toughest time of my career right now,” said Andrus, who came to the Rangers at the tender age of 20.
“I know I could make those plays a hundred times.
“I’m in a lot of pain right now. I feel I let down my team. I feel I let down my city.”
A routine throw back to the pitcher by Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin had struck a fortuitously placed wooden stick — Shin-Soo Choo’s bat — and nearly touched off a riot in the top half of that seventh inning.
Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor alertly saw the carom and dashed home with a go-ahead run.
Home plate umpire Dale Scott originally tried to call timeout and send Odor back to third base.
“That was my mistake,” Scott explained later. “I was mixing up two rules and I called time, but then it started clicking. I went, ‘Wait a minute. There’s no intent on the hitter. He’s in the box. The bat’s in the box.’ ”
One interested observer, however, knew exactly what the rule — Rule 6.03(a)(3) — was. Rangers manager Jeff Banister, a one-time catcher, had seen the exact same thing once happen to him.
The correct, but stunning reversal of the call, allowing Odor’s run to count, touched off an impromptu shower of beer bottles, popcorn boxes and assorted Canadian paraphernalia from the 49,742 at the Rogers Centre.
There was a lengthy delay, while clean-up crews tried to clear the field, and while Toronto police climbed atop the Texas dugout and posted guard in the Rangers’ bullpen.
Had the game been decided by that one freak run, it would still have secured a unique place in baseball’s postseason annals.
But, no, there was a bottom half of the seventh to be played. And baseball’s evil angels had a special punishment prepared for Andrus and the Rangers.
It was suggested to Elvis that the long, controversy-gurgling top half of the inning might have stolen his and his team’s focus.
“We’re all focused in that situation,” Andrus countered. “Right now the last thing I want to look for is an excuse.
“Everybody was ready. We just didn’t make those plays.”
On the first error, Andrus appeared to rush when he didn’t have to, because the slow-moving Martin was at the plate.
The second error was charged to first baseman Mitch Moreland, who seemed to hesitate and then bounced an unsure throw to Andrus at second base.
On the third error, Andrus had sprinted for third base and was there in time to take Adrian Beltre’s throw, but he dropped it.
The back-to-back-to-back errors set the diabolical stage for Jose Bautista’s three-run home run.
“It’s going to be a long off-season for me,” Andrus said.
Around him, Elvis’ teammates all sought to pardon him for his seventh-inning sins.
“We win like a team, and we lose like a team,” Odor said.
The truth is that Andrus, almost as much as any Ranger, had turned his season around in the second half and played shortstop at a Gold Glove level.
But what do you say when the postseason takes a stunning left turn, and you’re left at the gates of baseball hell?
“In my career and as a person, if I do something wrong, I’m going to put my face on it,” Andrus said, trying to shoulder an entire locker room’s hurt.
“If you’re going to blame it on me, I’m here. I’ll take it. And I’ll keep working hard so that it never happens again.”
The irony, as Texas fans know, is that no one in a Rangers uniform seems to enjoy himself on the field as much as Elvis Andrus. His joy has always been evident. His smile has been a window to the franchise’s success.
But there was hell to pay Wednesday, for whatever reason.
His eyes showed it. His words said it.
A long off-season lies ahead.