PHOENIX — About 45 minutes before Game 4 of his franchise’s first World Series appearance in a dozen years, Texas Rangers General Manager Chris Young held a sudden news conference in the depths of Chase Field on Tuesday night.
He had just removed explosive outfielder Adolis García and expensive trade deadline acquisition Max Scherzer from the team’s World Series roster, and the tension was clear on his face as he explained that their injuries, suffered in Monday’s Game 3 win, left him no choice. But, he insisted, the Rangers are here because they are resilient. General managers have to say things like that.
But within 90 minutes of that news conference, the Arizona Diamondbacks were collapsing at the feet of his Rangers, not the other way around. Two innings in, the Rangers led by five. Three innings in, they led by 10, García’s little-used replacement had two hits, Marcus Semien was halfway to the cycle, Corey Seager had his third home run in four games, and the World Series was firmly in Texas’s control. The Rangers went on to win, 11-7, to take a 3-1 series lead. They can clinch the first title in franchise history Wednesday night.
The Rangers’ offensive eruption gave plenty of credibility to Young’s claims of resilience. So did the fact that they had, indeed, dealt with things such as this before. Their prize offseason signing, Jacob deGrom, needed elbow surgery two months into his Rangers career. Seager missed a month early in the season and two weeks after the all-star break. Scherzer, Nathan Eovaldi and Jon Gray missed time because of injury. Josh Jung, Jonah Heim and Mitch Garver did, too. Heck, even García missed time in September.
Plus, at one point, their bullpen was falling apart on a nightly basis. They lost eight straight in August. They trailed in the American League West by three games Sept. 10, led it by a game Sept. 30, then watched the Houston Astros seize the division title on the final day of the season. But now, they have won 10 consecutive road games to start the postseason.
“It’s been a theme of our team. It has. It’s kind of the next-man-up mentality,” Young said. “Our guys don’t feel sorry for themselves, and I love that. That’s a true characteristic of the Texas Rangers, and I’m proud of that.”
Scherzer, sidelined with back spasms, probably would have started one more game at most, maybe provided four or five more innings if all went well. But García, out with a moderate oblique strain, has been instrumental to the Rangers’ rise, hitting .323 in the postseason with eight homers, almost all of them crucial.
“I told the first base umpires, [Adolis’s] back should be sore - he’s been carrying us for two weeks,” first baseman Nathaniel Lowe said. “Now that it comes down to an oblique, it kind of makes sense.”
Without him, the Rangers’ lineup revolved more around rookies Evan Carter and Jung, both of whom have handled the pressure of their first October with grace. Carter moved to the cleanup spot for Game 4; Jung moved up to fifth.
In his first at-bat, leading off the second inning, Jung hit a scorching double off Arizona opener Joe Mantiply. He scored on a wild pitch by Miguel Castro a few pitches later. The Diamondbacks used six pitchers Tuesday night. The Rangers ate most of them up.
Rangers Manager Bruce Bochy said before the game that when he was deciding who should replace García in the lineup, he did not worry much about optimizing matchups. Arizona was going to use so many pitchers that it wasn’t worth it. Instead, he chose his best defensive option, speedy outfielder Travis Jankowski. So naturally Jankowski, batting ninth, singled in his first at-bat and scored on Semien’s two-run triple, which drove Castro from the game and ensured the Diamondbacks would need to use three pitchers before the second inning ended. Jankowski, who had never taken a postseason at-bat before the American League Championship Series, finished the evening 2 for 4 with two runs scored and two RBI with his wife and children in the stands.
“When you hear about Adolis and the potential oblique situation, I was locked in last night preparing to start. I didn’t get the official word until about 2 o’clock,” Jankowski said. “But I was ready to go. Shoot, I’ve been ready to go. Fifteen years ago I was waiting for this.”
Jankowski’s success dulled the loss of García for the evening. But so did the fact that the Rangers might be the only team in World Series history to lose a player with eight postseason homers to injury and not be deprived of their best postseason performer in the process. Seager stepped to the plate in the second inning with two homers in the World Series. He ended it with three, sending a line drive to deep right-center that scored Semien and gave the Rangers a 5-0 lead.
They doubled that advantage before Arizona could get three more outs because the Diamondbacks, so consistently capable of rising to every occasion in October, fell apart. With one out, Jung provided his second hit in two at-bats. After a Lowe single, normally steady first baseman Christian Walker made an error that loaded the bases. Then Jankowski delivered his second hit and, with it, two more runs. Semien, who had driven in three runs this postseason entering Game 4, blasted a three-run homer. In just three innings, he drove in five, coming alive when the Rangers needed him most.
“I want to contribute like that. Baseball’s tough, though,” Semien said. “You’re going to have stretches where you just don’t.”
At one point the Rangers led 11-1. Their starter, Andrew Heaney, allowed one run in five strong innings. They have clear starting pitcher choices for Games 5 and 6 (if necessary) in Eovaldi and Jordan Montgomery. They could win this series without ever getting back to what would have been Scherzer’s spot in the rotation. They could win this series Wednesday night.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys, how they bounce back, how resilient they are, how they’ve dealt with things, whether it’s losing streaks, whether it’s injuries,” Bochy said. “You can’t do anything about it. You know they’re going to happen occasionally. What’s important is how you handle it.”
The only trouble with claiming resilience, especially this time of year, is there is no guarantee of exclusivity. When it seemed the game was long since over, the Diamondbacks rallied to score four runs in the eighth inning - one on a sacrifice fly by Tommy Pham, the other three on Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s homer - then two more in the ninth on Gabriel Moreno’s single up the middle. By evening’s end, Arizona had out hit the Rangers 12-11 and forced Texas to use its closer, Jose LeClerc, to secure victory in a game it once led by 10. The Diamondbacks looked dead in the NLCS, too. But for one more night at least, the snakes are alive.