Only a short three days ago, the 2013 Texas Rangers were largely written off as AL West contenders in our collective minds. Fresh off of a weekend sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, the ball club had managed only two wins in ten games coming out of the All-Star break.
On nights the pitching was stellar, the bats didn't show up. When the bats showed up, the pitching faltered. Failing either of those things contributing to a loss, there were questionable pitching decisions and questionable strike zones. During all of it, fielding was poor and baserunning was awful. The team seemed out of sorts, unfocused, and surprisingly disinterested on the whole. That says nothing about a supposed bar fight at 2:30 in the morning on the road.
Following Sunday's loss to cap off the sweep in Cleveland, Ron Washington held a closed-door meeting with the team that lasted 44 minutes. At some point during those 44 minutes, the Rangers decided to have fun again, spurred on no doubt by Geovany Soto blasting a walk-off home run on the first night of the three-game set against the Angels on Monday.
Soto's home run was only the beginning, as he hit a three-run bomb the next night as a stopgap on the way to Leonys Martin hitting a walk-off home run of his own. Last night, history was made, as the Rangers became only the 5th team in Major League history to have three consecutive walk-off home runs, and only the 2nd to complete a three-game sweet of a team doing so -- the other being the 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks. Last night's herorics were courtesy of -- in the words of Eric Nadel -- a screaming, rising, rocket over the left field wall, off the bat of Adrian Beltre.
Two out of three nights, the player that many fans felt turned his back on the city and the Texas Rangers watched the baseball sail over his head to guarantee his new team a loss.
The bats have seemingly begun to heat up, despite a hiccup on Tuesday, the pitching staff looks to be primed for a run, and last night, Martin Perez once again showed off his immense potential.
Perez, once a top prospect and coveted trade target for other teams, was forgotten for a couple of years due to some struggles in the upper levels of the minor league system, and yet many people had forgotten that Perez was barely 21 at the time he made his Major League debut.
Last night, he spun 7.1 innings of 4-hit baseball with 2 walks and 4 strikeouts, the only run he gave up being a home run that came off the bat of, you guessed it, Josh Hamilton. 65 of his 95 pitches were strikes with 43 being SNIPs (strikes not in play), and he induced 10 whiffs (swings and misses) from the Angels lineup.
It remains to be seen whether or not this momentum can carry this ball club on a run worthy of looking back to at the end of the season, but for three nights at the end of July, this Rangers team was magical. Now 4 games back of the Oakland A's in the AL West, the Rangers play a make-up game against Arizona in Arlington. Yu Darvish will be on the mound, and if momentum is indeed a powerful thing in baseball, we can only hope to see an ace-like performance.
The real test of momentum will come as the Rangers head to Oakland to take on the very team that leads them in the standings. There is no better opportunity to make up ground in the division than to beat the team that is ahead of you in the standings, and for all the hand-wringing over this Rangers team struggling since the All-Star break, the A's have struggled in their own right, posting a .647 OPS in the month of July.
If the last three days are any indication, baseball should be a lot of fun to watch over the next four days, and we should be careful not to take it for granted. Much like the Rangers seemingly did over the past year or so, we as fans have sometimes become numb to winning, and yet it's funny how one series can remind us just how much fun this game can be.
To the victor go the spoils, but we should all be careful not to become spoiled, lest we take success for granted. This season could be better if the past month is any indication, but given where the 2013 Texas Rangers were expected to be by many before the season, it could be a lot worse. For now, enjoy the ride, because these Rangers remembered how to win, and they're having fun in the process.