Wow. Just wow.
For 26 outs, the Texas Rangers were beaten. Brandon McCarthy had put together an excellent start, Joaquin Benoit had thrown three shutout innings, and despite a major hiccup from Frankie Francisco in the top of the 9th inning, Texas had allowed just three runs to one of the best slugging teams in baseball this season.
And the defense was superb, with the Rangers committing no errors and Marlon Byrd making two fantastic catches in right field, including a diving catch that saved at least one run in the 8th inning and kept the game at 1-0.
But despite playing so well defensively, Texas was finished. The Rangers were down 3-0 coming into the bottom of the 9th inning against Francisco Cordero, who had a 0.36 ERA, 0.61 WHIP, .089 BAA, 35 K, and just one earned run allowed in 24.2 IP this year. He had converted all 22 of his save opportunities, equaling the Rangers' win total for the season. Cordero was on pace to have the greatest single season ever put together by a closer in the history of baseball.
And Francisco quickly retired Frank Catalanotto and Ian Kinsler, putting him just one out away from closing out his former team. His former team, which Cordero ripped in November of last year, saying more or less that the Rangers were "stupid" to trade him for Carlos Lee, and that they had forgotten about what he had done for so long.
Never mind the fact that Cordero blew five saves in April of 2006, setting a new major league record for blown saves in a month, or that he posted an ERA in Arlington of 6.56. Never mind that he was appointed the nickname "24/7" by a poster on the Newberg Report forum, a subtle jab referring to the fact that, just like an all-night convenience store, he "never closes." No, the Rangers were the stupid ones.
Tonight, the Rangers turned the tables on good old Coco.
Brad Wilkerson began one of the most improbable rallies in Rangers history by looping a single into left field, with two outs and nobody on base. Ramon Vazquez got ahead in the count 2-0, and for a brief second it appeared things might get interesting, but Cordero pounded in two strikes to even the count at 2-2. However, Cordero failed to finish off Vazquez, instead throwing two more balls to put him on first base - and the tying run at the plate.
Here's where the improbable turns into the nearly impossible: Gerald Laird would fall behind in the count 0-2, took a 97 MPH fastball outside, and then pulled a trademark Coco slider on the outside corner into left field, scoring the Rangers' first run of the game.
Kenny Lofton would follow, again falling behind 0-2, and again taking a 97 MPH fastball outside. On the 4th pitch of the at-bat, Lofton slapped a grounder to first baseman Prince Fielder, who grabbed it and appeared ready to flip it to Cordero for the final out of the game.
But Fielder lost his balance - perhaps partially due to his 260 pound frame? - and fell over, while Cordero was late getting to first base. With Lofton sprinting the whole way, Fielder attempted a desperation shovel pass to Cordero, and it might have beaten Lofton if not for Cordero being off the bag.
Instead, Lofton beat Cordero by half a step, making the score 3-2 and putting runners on 1st and 2nd. At this point, there was no turning back. If Texas had failed to finish the comeback here, it would have been more crushing than if they hadn't rallied at all.
But on this night, the Rangers wouldn't fail. Marlon Byrd stepped into the box, who was 0 for 3 on the night but had a pair of magnificent defensive plays to his credit. Once again, Cordero got ahead in the count 0-2, and attempted to finish Byrd off with stuff low and outside of the strike zone.
But on the 6th pitch of the at-bat, Byrd drilled a slider through the middle, just beyond the reach of both Cordero and second baseman Tony Graffanino, to tie the game. This is the point where I started to lose it, jumping up and down in the middle of my living room and screaming "HE DID IT!"
As Laird crossed the plate, Cordero had the same dumbfounded look on his face that seemed to plague him throughout his final four months with the Texas Rangers. He knew the same demons that haunted him in Arlington during 2006 had returned, despite him being on a different team, in a different uniform.
With Cordero's confidence completely shattered, all it would take was one more base hit to strike the death blow. And Texas had just the man at the plate to do it - the $80 million man, the face of the franchise, Michael Young.
Cordero went ahead in the count yet again as Young waved at a low slider, but his next pitch would be his last. He fired a 96 MPH fastball up in the zone, and right down the heart of the plate. Mike wouldn't miss this one, smashing a trademark opposite field single to right field. Outfielder Corey Hart tried to snag it on the bounce, but not even a perfect throw would have nailed the speedy Kenny Lofton as he sprinted across home plate and leaped into the arms of a jubilant Sammy Sosa.
The Rangers' dugout streamed onto the field, mobbing Lofton and Young in a fashion eerily similar to that following David Dellucci's walkoff double in 2004. Cordero slowly walked off the field, head down, removing his cap and wiping his brow. Brewers GM Doug Melvin looked on in astonishment as his former ballclub celebrated.
I'm certainly not going to sit here and pretend that this win is a precursor to a miracle run that puts the Rangers back in contention. But in a season filled with so much losing and disappointment, this has to be considered a magical moment. For one game, at least, the Texas Rangers are winners, and they defeated the pitcher who had caused them so much grief a year before.
As for Cordero, he was delivered a stinging blow at the hands of his former teammates. Perhaps he'll revert to his 2007 shutdown form as soon as the Brewers' team plane leaves the Metroplex, and he'll dominate the league the rest of the way. But on the other hand, perhaps tonight will mark the beginning of a collapse for Cordero. Heck, Cordero should know all about collapses.
After all, he'll always be "24/7" in my book.