Gil LeBreton

Jurickson Profar steals the show at first, but it’s likely just a cameo

On the mound, it was Cole Hamels against Dallas Keuchel in a battle of Cy Young Award winners.

It was Rangers and Astros. Texas against Houston.

It was the first-place team in the AL West — not to scoreboard the Astros’ Ken Giles or anything — against the third-place-and-falling-again one.

There were lots of storylines, in other words, punctuated by Ian Desmond’s game-winning two-run home run for the Rangers in the bottom of the eighth.

But there was one subplot Tuesday night that we couldn’t keep our eyes off of.

Desmond won the game 4-3, but Jurickson Profar stole the show.

That’s Jurickson Profar, first baseman.

That’s Profar, 23 years young, whose previous experience at first base in the major leagues totaled, oh, about 90 minutes — during a pair of pregame workouts.

“He looked pretty athletic,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister assessed. “He looked like a shortstop playing first base.”

Banister sounded, though, like a manager who didn’t want to start a First Baseman Controversy. After all, he already has two.

All Profar did Tuesday night was catch every throw, stretch like a Baryshnikov when he had to, and make every play. Plus, he did it all while appearing to be having the time of his life.

“He has fun everywhere,” Banister said. “He has fun at the ballpark. He’s a ballplayer.

“He’s playing baseball with a youthful exuberance, and it’s fun to watch.”

Of course, it’s a lot easier to be exuberant when you’re batting .380 and not .206 or .190.

Profar had two more hits Tuesday, extending his hitting streak to 11 games.

Meanwhile, Prince Fielder served as the night’s designated hitter and struck out three times in a row before walking in his final at-bat. He’s the one lodged in a .190 death spiral.

Mitch Moreland, on the other hand, still presumed to be the regular first baseman, entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the ninth.

He didn’t really have to, though. Profar had shown no signs of needing fielding relief help.

His first test came in the second inning, when Colby Rasmus hit a hard shot to Profar’s right that the lifelong middle infielder knocked down like a shortstop and then fired a strike to pitcher Hamels for the out.

“We practiced that,” Profar reported. “I practiced catching it and throwing to the pitcher.”

In the pregame practice, bench coach Steve Buechele played the role of Hamels.

In the sixth inning, Profar had another chance to shine. Third baseman Adrian Beltre forced the runner at second base on a grounder, and Profar had to fully extend his stretch to try to double up Carlos Correa.

The crowd clearly appreciated the big-league effort.

No, Profar said, he never took a ballet or yoga class back home in Curacao. Nor did he practice stretching that far with Buechele.

“It just happened,” Profar said.

Banister was asked before the game whether he saw Profar’s cameo at first base as a sign that a permanent change could be afoot.

“Do I think this is a long-term position for Profar? No, I don’t,” the manager said. “If I was going to write a lineup out for tomorrow. I would guess that I would see Moreland in that lineup playing first base.

“We’re in the business of winning baseball games. Part of my job is making decisions, and when the time is appropriate and when it’s right, if there is need to make different lineup adjustments.”

Banister has repeatedly professed his confidence that Fielder, in particular, and Moreland will eventually begin to hit.

Fielder? Maybe.

Moreland? What, other than 2015, makes the Rangers think he’ll start hitting now?

For now, though, they know where to find a show-stealer at first base if they need one.

He’s batting .380, too, in case the Rangers need to be reminded.