The Snake has done it again.
Kameron Loe pitched six strong innings on Sunday, and the Texas Rangers took their second consecutive game against baseball's best team, the Boston Red Sox. Loe gave up just one run in his six innings of work, recording his fourth win in as many starts. He fanned only one hitter and threw just 54 of his 92 pitches for strikes, but Kam got some huge outs when he needed them and escaped several jams. Loe has now allowed just one earned run in 13 career innings at Fenway Park.
The Rangers' offense did not record a single hit on the afternoon with a man in scoring position, and left 10 men on base, despite collecting nine hits and three walks as a team. Boston starter Julian Tavarez was anything but great, but the lineup was unable to really get to him, and Texas should be considering themselves fortunate that they got away with a win despite the poor run support.
The bullpen pieced together three shutout innings, but it was far from easy. With Texas nursing a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the 7th inning, C.J. Wilson retired the first two hitters, but gave up an infield single to Dustin Pedroia. Ron Washington promptly turned to Frankie Francisco, who walked Kevin Youkilis on a borderline 3-2 pitch. David Ortiz stepped up with the tying and go-ahead runs on base, but Frankie struck him out swinging on a 2-2 fastball.
Things became downright bizarre in the 8th inning. Aki Otsuka gave up a single in between two outs to begin the inning, bringing Jason Varitek to the plate with the tying run on first. On a 2-2 count, Varitek hit a grounder to the right side of the infield that should have easily been played by Ramon Vazquez at second base for the final out of the inning. Instead, first baseman Brad Wilkerson lunged for the ball (unsuccessfully), forcing Aki to try and race Varitek to first base. Varitek beat the throw to first base, apparently making contact with Aki in the process.
After a meeting on the mound with pitching coach Mark Connor, trainer Jamie Reed and Ron Washington, Otsuka came out of the game with an apparent ankle injury; of course, the Rangers are now saying the issue was elbow stiffness. Certainly not a good thing, but Aki didn't seem real worried about it after the game:
"A couple of days and I'll be good," Otsuka said.
It appeared on the replays that Varitek might have made contact with Aki's arm as he crossed first base, but it was very difficult to tell. Needless to say, Aki probably wouldn't have been available on Monday anyway, as he had already pitched in back-to-back games. Should this turn out to be something more serious, it could have a domino effect on the Rangers' trade plans, especially as far as Eric Gagne is concerned.
As Otsuka left the mound, Gagne began warming up immediately in the Rangers bullpen, gearing up for a four out save opportunity. The umpire crew wanted Gagne to warm up on the pitcher's mound, and one of the stranger moments of the season started to take shape, as the umpires were unable to attract Gagne's attention. Queue a loud chorus of booing from Red Sox fans upon Gagne, as he continued to take his warmup tosses, oblivious to the wildly gesturing umpires.
Finally, bullpen coach Dom Chiti appeared to get the message, and pointed out to Gagne that he better get his behind out on the field. Eric grinned widely as he jogged towards the infield, and got Alex Cora to hit a weak grounder for the final out of the inning.
In the bottom of the 9th, Gagne retired Jacoby Ellsbury and Youkilis, but walked Pedroia, putting Big Papi at the plate as the winning run with two outs. Thankfully, this matchup had a better ending than last year's Aki/Ortiz matchup, and Ortiz hit a harmless popup, allowing the Rangers to hold on for the 2-1 win.
Vicente Padilla, who is out until after the All-Star break with "triceps inflammation behind his right elbow," is scheduled to resume throwing when the Rangers return home to Arlington on Tuesday. Texas will start him throwing off flat ground, then progress to a bullpen session and then a rehab assignment if everything goes well. Mark Connor had this to say concerning Padilla:
"That's the best-case scenario," pitching coach Mark Connor said. "[Trainer Jamie Reed] said he's doing really well. His strength is good and he feels good. We want to make sure he's ready when he comes back. We want him to be able to throw 90 pitches without pain."
Yeah, we'll see how that goes.
Brandon McCarthy will be added to the 25-man roster before Monday night's series finale against the Red Sox, meaning the Rangers will have to make another roster move to make room. If Jerry Hairston Jr. is healthy enough to play, it sounds like Desi Relaford's tenure as a Texas Ranger will be very, very short.
Dave Sessions of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran down some potential trade candidates on the Rangers roster, including the usual suspects of Teixeira, Sosa, Gagne and Lofton. After going 2 for 5 at the plate on Sunday, Lofton is hitting .306/.386/.431 with 5 HR and 20 SB on the year, and Gagne has a 1.11 ERA in 24.1 IP. These signings are starting to go from "good" to "brilliant" in a hurry, especially if Texas can reel in several top prospects in return for both of them.
One team that could use Lofton? The Red Sox. They have a combined batting line out of their center fielders this year of .254/.307/.366. Obviously, you wouldn't get Ellsbury or Jon Lester straight up for Lofton, but I'd be interested in seeing what Jon Daniels could pry away from Theo Epstein.
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News has a big piece out on Gagne, including this very interesting quote:
"I hope my value is to this team," said Gagne, who signed a one-year deal worth a base of $6 million and as much as $5 million in games finished incentives with the Rangers in December. "I signed here thinking of this as a long-term commitment and I said that when I signed. I want to be part of helping this team win. And winning doesn't happen overnight. It's a learning process and I think that's what we're doing now."
Although having Gagne would be a very nice luxury for the next few years, I have to sadly resign myself to the fact that there are much more pressing needs on this team than a closer. One of the facts of life about having Tom Hicks as your team owner is that payroll is always going to be somewhat limited, despite any quotes to the contrary, and the Rangers really can't afford to shell out $10 million or more per year guaranteed to a closer with a sketchy medical history, especially with the rotation still looking so iffy.
But damn, if I wouldn't love to keep him here. This team's record becomes all the more maddening when you consider just how dominant the Rangers could have been this year if the rotation hadn't crumbled into pillars of salt. When the Rangers have gotten a lead to the bullpen, they haven't screwed around, and Gagne has been a huge part of that success in 2007. I suppose there's always the possibility of trading Gagne and resigning him in the offseason, but how many times has that plan ever worked in the history of professional sports?
For today, though, let's just focus on Brandon McCarthy bringing home a series win for the Rangers at Fenway Park.
And try not to hurt yourself again, B-Mac. Or as some might call him, "NotDanks."
Monday, July 2nd Game Preview
Texas Rangers (34-47) at Boston Red Sox (49-31)
Brandon McCarthy (4-4, 5.90 ERA) vs. Kason Gabbard (1-0, 6.48 ERA)
6:05 PM CST in Boston, Massachusetts (Fenway Park)
TV: FSNSW | Radio: KRLD 1080 AM