Culture / Sporting Life

From MLB’s Joke to Astros Annoying Spoilers — Chris Woodward’s Texas Rangers Suddenly Have Something to Still Play For

Texas' Other Baseball Team is Showing Plenty of Loud Fight

BY // 09.17.20

The most notable thing the Texas Rangers have done this season is whine about a home run. Which turned Chris Woodward’s team into something of a national sports laughingstock. If you backed the Rangers in their unwritten rules of baseball dispute with young Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr., you’re likely still kicking kids off your lawn. While not wearing a mask.

It was not supposed to be like this, of course. Instead, the Rangers envisioned triumphantly opening up their new $1.2 billion ballpark to packed crowds, riding the wave of that excitement and some expensive free agent pitchers to a surprise playoff berth.

We all know how the coronavirus helped obliterate those notions.

Instead, the Rangers turned out to be a bad baseball team playing in a beautiful empty ballpark.

But now with this coronavirus short season speeding towards a close, the Rangers may be showing some fight. And they at least have the chance to be the annoying spoilers who derail the Houston Astros’ dynastic run (at least temporarily). The Rangers beat the Astros 1-0 in the second game of the team’s three-game series Wednesday night, robbing Houston of one of the home wins that Dusty Baker’s team so desperately needs to build up some playoff cushion over Seattle.

The 14-34 Pirates are the only team with fewer wins in all of baseball than Texas (18-31). Yet, Chris Woodward’s team is 5-5 in its last 10 games. There may be a pulse after all.

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The Rangers are certainly into it when Joey Gallo drops a double a whisper inside the right field foul line to send speedster Leody Taveras scampering to home plate for the game’s only run. Gallo’s double elicits a loud, frenzied reaction from the Rangers’ dugout. This sounds like a team that is clawing and fighting, and playing for something.

Maybe, it is.

“I could just hear from second base when I got that hit, the whole dugout erupt and screaming,” Gallo says in his postgame Zoom interview with reporters. “That’s a feeling that’s like amazing. You can’t replicate that.

“We play for those guys. We play for each other.”

Gallo calls the Astros “one of the best teams in baseball” twice in his six minutes with the media. It is clear that beating the Astros still means something to the Rangers, too. After several years of being absolutely pushed around by Houston, the Rangers actually still have a chance to win the so-called Silver Boot Series in 2020 (currently, the Astros are up 3-2).

Perhaps more importantly (and potentially damning to Houston) with five games still remaining against their intrastate foes (including a season-ending four game series at Globe Life Field), the Rangers could be the team that keeps this Astros juggernaut out of the MLB’s supersized playoffs. Talk about a Houston nightmare scenario.

“It really hurts to lose 1-0,” Baker says. “Especially on a ball hit on the line by Joey Gallo with two outs, two strikes.”

Dusty Baker’s team now only has 11 regular season games remaining, with only four of those in the friendly confines of Minute Maid Park. The Rangers know their season is racing towards a merciful close, with the only question being whether they can catch the fourth place Angels and avoid finishing dead last in the AL West.

Yet as that beyond lit dugout celebration shows, these Rangers sure look like they’re going to play hard to the very end. Especially against the Astros.

“It’s good for the young guys to see how intense these games are, how serious they are,” Gallo says.

Carlos Correa Rises to Face the Rangers

Maybe, the Astros could only get one miracle in 24 hours. Maybe, having all-world shortstop Carlos Correa back for the stretch run is a victory that will make Houston’s own 3-7 record in its last 10 games soon moot.

The way Correa went down and needed to be helped off the field after fouling a ball off his left ankle Tuesday night, you would have thought he shattered his leg. But there is Correa back in the lineup the very next night, hitting seventh and playing his usual next level defensive shortstop. Astros manager Dusty Baker says that Correa must have drank a lot of milk as a kid.

The Astros may have got milk, but they don’t have runs this night.

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The Astros and Rangers are playing a tighter series than anyone expected this season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

The first complete game shutout of Kyle Gibson’s unremarkable eight-year MLB career is no small blow to an Astros team (24-25) that still needs to solidify its ticket to October. Gibson secures his complete game when Kyle Tucker smokes a ball right at Rangers first baseman Ronald Guzman’s glove with Alex Bregman on second base.

That Tucker shot comes off the bat with 98.4 MPH exit velocity and carries a .900 expected batting average according to Statcast. Gibson is excellent for 8 2/3 innings — and then he is arguably very lucky for one last out.

Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. is almost as good as Gibson, striking out eight in seven scoreless innings after a cortisone shot helps clear up nerve inflammation in his neck. McCullers’ answers in his own postgame Zoom are uncharacteristically terse. But who among us hasn’t gotten a little grumpy at some point by 2020?

It’s a strange year, a bizarre baseball season. One in which the Rangers could go from a joke to Houston season enders if the Astros are not careful. Need proof? Just follow the noise at Minute Maid.

“It’s a fun  clubhouse right now for sure,” Gallo says of the visitors’ scene in Houston.

The Astros sure aren’t laughing.

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