The sticky, rumor-infested shadow of the MLB trading deadline hovered over the proceedings at Globe Life Park on a 96-degree afternoon Sunday.
Alas, it was the only significant shadow in sight.
With all due respects to Lucas Harrell, Mitch Moreland and Hanser Alberto, the true heroes of the day were the 32,086 who showed up to watch the AL West’s hottest team — hot, of course, in more ways than one.
Pitching his first game for his new team, Harrell must have thought he had been traded to Beelzebub State. It was Sahara hot. I know this because I ventured out of the air-conditioned press box for five minutes, and my $8 helmet sundae nearly melted on the walk back.
But let’s continue with the narrative, shall we?
Harrell weathered it all — the heat, the new surroundings, the pressure of the pennant race, the fact that his trade was a mere appetizer to deadline weekend, and did I mention the 96-degree heat?
The Rangers won 5-3 to complete a four-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals.
Harrell lasted six innings — six innings! — heretofore known as Never Never Land for the Rangers’ fifth starter. He allowed only four hits, walked three and, basically, gave the club something it had been missing from that spot in the rotation — a major league-quality start.
The streaking Moreland added yet another homer, his seventh since the All-Star break, and Alberto laced a key double in the seventh inning.
Baseball is much easier when you’re hitting home runs and your starting pitcher goes at least six innings.
Harrell, a former Houston Astro, has been at this a while, and his maturity showed when someone asked whether there was any discussion about his returning to the mound for a sixth inning.
“I came in and [Doug] Brocail said, ‘You’re getting a little side to side and you left a couple of balls flat. That’s why you’re giving up a couple hits. Make sure you work front to back.’
“So when I went out there between innings I worked on that and had a quick sixth.”
Despite all the trade talk hovering in the air, newly acquired Harrell said he was able to keep his day’s task in focus.
“I’m not a savior,” he said. “I’m not anything like that. I’m just another guy out there trying to help the team win. The pressure I put on myself is just to go out there and help us win.”
The Rangers have Monday off before heading to Baltimore, which meant equipment bags were being packed around the clubhouse — a somewhat awkward reminder that for some of the players, Sunday could have been their last day in a Texas uniform.
Not that anyone was openly discussing it. In their corner of the clubhouse, Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar were talking about hitting, not new teams. Both have said they want to remain Rangers, but both realize that their names have been mentioned in possible trades.
With the deadline set for Monday at 3 p.m., the Rangers appeared to be fully engaged in talks with the Milwaukee Brewers about All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
The Brewers thought they had concluded a trade with the Indians on Saturday night, but Lucroy exercised the no-trade clause in his contract to veto the deal. That enabled the other clubs that were interested in the catcher — the Rangers among them — to see what Cleveland had offered and to trump the earlier deal.
Monday figures to be busy, as general manager Jon Daniels finishes the deal, if any, with the Brewers and tries to acquire another starting pitcher.
Lost in the 5-3 victory was that a difficult July was over for the Rangers. They will turn the calendar page with a 62-44 record and a six-game division lead.
And more help, perhaps, on the way.