Game 30: Texas Rangers
While the day was overcast with drizzle lingering ominously in the air we again drove through the spaghetti junctions of Texas freeways. We found a park at the Baymont Inn about a couple of miles from Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. With the gnarled up traffic patterns I was not keen parking too close to the congestion of the ground and we were prepared to walk to the stadium. We then spied a complimentary hotel trolley bus going directly to the ground, for hotel guests. With a bit of Kiwi ingenuity we bluffed our way in and so secured a nice safe drive to the ballpark.
By the time we got to the park the drizzle had subsided and things were looking good for a full day and night of baseball at the beautiful ballpark in Arlington. The first sight we got was of an amazing twelve acre lake that provided a perfect “reflecting pool” of the park. Once inside the park there were features which reminded me of some of the other twenty nine ball parks which we had visited. However there was a distinct and proudly Texan feel with local granite on the exterior adorned with long horn steers in cast stone carvings. There is only a small foul territory around the field which keeps the wildly patriotic Texans close to the action. A four story office building beyond centre field helps make this a fully enclosed ball park. Our seats for the first (mid-day) game were the ones I purchased cheaply on the internet so were very high, above first base, but with no view of the gigantic scoreboard. Usually these high seats are preferable in the Texan heat as they are the only ones which offer a cooling breeze. On this day though they were downright cold and we snuck around to get out of the wind, into the sun and gain a good view of the scoreboard. For the second game we used the tickets which were initially gifted to us by the Rangers organisation and they were perfect, seven rows up from the field, behind third base.
If the Rangers won both games they tied up the division. The Angels needed to win both to remain in wild card contention. Game on.
Los Angeles Angels…….001 001 102 - 5
Texas Rangers……..…….022 000 000 - 4
Los Angeles Angels.......400 000 300 - 7
Texas Rangers……..….…123 020 00x – 8
After the first half of the first innings of game two this was turning out to be a miserable Sunday for Texas. While the weather had perked up and the day became a typical scorching hot Texan one, things were decidedly cool for the Rangers. They blew a lead in the ninth innings of game one and found themselves in an early four run deficit in game two. A loss would have been the Rangers fifth in their last six games and would have shrunk their lead in the AL West to one game over Oakland. It also would have kept the Angels wild card hopes high. At the end of the day though the Rangers were able to take a very small sip of champagne before flying off to Oakland for a bit more sudden death baseball.
Texas clinched its third consecutive post season berth with an 8-7 victory over the Los Angeles Angels in game two. The Rangers were now guaranteed at least a wild card berth and could focus on gaining their third consecutive division title. They would need just one win out of the three game series in Oakland. But I can assure you that it was not all plain sailing. They let a 4-3 lead slip away in the ninth inning of game one as the hitherto reliable closer Joe Nathan suffered his second blown save of September. He walked Angel’s batter, Chris Iannetta, and then, with seemingly the entire 48,000 capacity crowd standing and demanding the game winning final out, conceded the deciding two out, two run double to Torii Hunter.
The entire park had to be cleared for cleaning and Kitty and I had to walk a mile to find the closest bar. Things were looking glum. Then just after six o’clock in the first inning of game two, Texas pitcher Derek Holland allowed four runs including a two run homer by Mark Trumbo. Holland however came back and pitched five straight scoreless innings as the offence chipped away at the lead. The Rangers scored a run in the bottom of the first on an RBI by Josh Hamilton. Then David Murphy and Mike Napoli opened the second innings with back to back solo homers off Angel’s starter Ervin Santana. Napoli next deposited a three run homer into the left field seats with two out in the third inning to give the Rangers a 6-4 lead. Napoli continued his dominance against his former club by providing a pivotal two run double in the fifth inning to cushion the Rangers lead to 8-4. Holland kept the lead intact but stumbled in the seventh inning. He gave up a three run homer to Howard Kendrick, as the Angels pulled to within one at 8-7. Despite Nathan throwing 28 pitches and blowing game one, the Rangers turned to him to close the game in the ninth inning. Nathan redeemed himself, and not without a few heart flutters, the play-off berth was secured.
Kitty questioned me about at an effort by Los Angeles player Kendrys Morales. In an endeavour to remain at bat he hit off numerous foul balls. Kitty asked if he was hitting them foul on purpose. While Morales was doing it to stay in the game, there have been more devious acts of foul ball hitting in the past. Actuallyit was not until 1901 in the NL and 1903 in the AL that the first two foul balls counted as strikes. This rule change was made in response to some players , such as Phillies outfielder Roy Thomas,’ ability to foul off balls seemingly at will – he once fouled off twenty two pitches before taking a walk. In 1942 the great Ted Williams took offence to a heckler in the stand. He hit seventeen fouls at the fan and never missed by more than six feet.
Towards the end of his career, Cal Ripken Jr. was in the process of playing in a record 2,632 consecutive games and a number of critics believed that the pressure of the streak was wearing him out. One of the sceptics was Baltimore Sun columnist, Ken Rosenthal, who suggested that Ripken should take a game off, for the good of the team. Ripken responded with the bat and sent a foul ball into the press box, just missing Rosenthal, but smashing and destroying his laptop.
Possibly the worst gambling scandal in the history of baseball actually revolves around the hitting of foul balls. In the late 1950’s speculation arose that a number of players in the Class AA Southern Association were intentionally hitting fouls to help gamblers. Like Indian cricketers, it was quite easy to convince a player to perform a relatively minor and inconsequential act in a game, like hitting fouls in baseball or bowling no balls in cricket. The gamblers just sat in the stand and bet with the fans on the outcome of the next pitch, when of course he knew it was going to be hit foul. There was an investigation and Joe Tipton fessed up that in 1957, while playing for the Birmingham Barons, he had accepted payment for hitting foul balls. Tipton received a lifetime ban from the game.
In the 1920’s Wally Kimmick while playing for Cincinnati was involved unwittingly in a foul ball scam. A fan approached him before a game and asked if he could hit foul balls at will. Kimmick insisted that he could, but the fan doubted him, so Kimmick felt compelled to prove himself. Kimmick said that if he came up to bat with nobody on bases he would hit ten in a row. Kimmick found out later that the man made $10,000 betting that he would hit foul balls.
So after discussing the intricacies of foul ball hitting we left the park and reunited with the trolley bus back to the Baymont Inn and our car. We again negotiated the clogged highways and congested interchanges of the I-30 and State Route 360 and finally descended on the Best Western North East Mall Inn at 8709 Airport Freeway, North Richland Hills, Texas. Like the Rangers we felt we deserved a congratulatory drink having successfully negotiated not only this day, but our venture around all thirty major league ballparks.