If only the Rangers had played this well back in April and May.
Ramon Vazquez belted a dramatic two out, two run homer off of Seattle closer J.J. Putz in the bottom of the 8th inning on Wednesday night, and the Rangers pulled off a spectacular four game sweep of the second-place Seattle Mariners with a 7-6 victory.
Texas led Seattle by a 5-3 score going into the top of the 8th inning; Frankie Francisco induced a quick ground out, but a Jose Lopez single signaled Joaquin Benoit's entrance into the game. Benoit promptly gave up a double down the right field line, putting men at second and third with just one out. After retiring Ichiro with a harmless pop fly to center field, Adrian Beltre tied the game with a two run double to right field, and Raul Ibanez gave the Mariners a 6-5 lead with another RBI double.
The unstoppable Marlon Byrd led off the bottom of the 8th inning with a single, and Frank Catalanotto sacrificed him to second base for the first out of the inning. Seattle manager John McLaren turned to closer J.J. Putz, who was working on one of the single greatest seasons ever put together by a relief pitcher in baseball history. (Sound familiar?) Putz was 29 for 29 in save opportunities in 2007, with a 0.78 ERA, 0.56 WHIP and .127 BAA.
However, there was one major statistical oddity coming into this game - Putz had allowed just four runs in 46.1 innings of work, but three of those runs were inflicted by the Rangers, and all via the home run ball. This quirk in J.J.'s pitching ledger would come back to haunt him again tonight.
After striking out Gerald Laird, Vazquez crushed a 2-0 Putz fastball to right center field, which traveled so fast that not even Ichiro had a chance to catch up to it. 414 feet later, Texas had retaken the lead, and they would not relinquish it again. To place even more emphasis on how unlikely Vazquez's home run was, it marked just his 12th home run in 1,312 career at-bats. You do the math.
With an impressive Wednesday night crowd of 34,853 roaring for a sweep, Joaquin Benoit toed the mound yet again for the 9th inning. He quickly retired the side in order, with the final out landing safely in Kenny Lofton's glove.
Lofton went 2 for 5 on the night with a two run homer in the 3rd inning and an RBI single in the 5th inning - I hope everybody enjoyed his performance, because with Texas not returning home until August 6th, chances are tonight marked Kenny's final game in Arlington while wearing a Rangers uniform. The same goes for Mark Teixeira, who went 1 for 4 with an RBI double. Perhaps Joaquin Benoit as well, who was credited with a blown save but also picked up the win.
Brandon McCarthy was decent in his five innings of work for Texas, giving up three runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out three. Willie Eyre and Frankie Francisco teamed up to provide 2.1 shutout innings of middle relief, nursing the 5-3 Rangers lead until the dramatics began in the 8th inning.
Trade winds continue to swirl violently around the Rangers, with the 3:00 PM CST trade deadline on July 31st drawing ever closer. The latest Ken Rosenthal report still pegs the Atlanta Braves as the front-runners for Teixeira, but the Dodgers are apparently still very much in the hunt, while the Angels are considering Teixeira as their "primary target."
Rosenthal says that Braves GM John Schuerholz is offering a multi-player package consisting of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and possibly Single-A shortstop Elvis Andrus; Rosenthal believes Saltalamacchia would play catcher for Texas, something which I'll touch on in a second. He also notes that the Braves would love to get a left-handed reliever back along with Teixeira, such as C.J. Wilson - a possible dealbreaker, in my opinion - but that Ron Mahay was a more likely option.
Here's the rub, though: just how much offensive value is Saltalamacchia going to lose if he's moved from catcher to first base? Dealing Teixeira leaves a gaping hole at first base that will be difficult to fill internally; Jason Botts is viewed as an outfielder/DH by the organization, not a first baseman, and Brad Wilkerson may be traded himself in the next week. Despite Gerald Laird's offensive struggles, he seems pretty firmly entrenched as the starting catcher right now.
Furthermore, Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA forecast projects Saltalamacchia for an .820 to .850 OPS over the next five years, with around 20 HR per season; elite production from a catcher, but hardly so from a first baseman. Most Braves fans seem particularly bullish on Saltalamacchia, but that's another matter altogether.
Finally, Rosenthal re-iterates one major connection between the Rangers and Dodgers:
Don Welke and A.J. Preller, two of the top assistants to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, previously worked in the Dodgers' organization, and know the team's farm system well.
The Yankees are apparently unwilling to part with either Joba Chamberlain or Philip Hughes, two of their top pitching prospects, and Angels GM Bill Stoneman has a pretty long history of not trading top prospects for veteran players. Right now, I'm considering both Anaheim and New York as pretty major long shots, but as long as they remain interested, it's going to help Teixeira's trade value increase.
The DMN's Evan Grant has some slightly different information to offer, saying that Texas is "heavily involved" with the Braves, and that Atlanta is likely offering a package consisting of Saltalamacchia, Andrus and either Kyle Davies or Ryan Harrison, two young pitchers. He says that left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes is probably not available.
Baseball Prospectus's Will Carroll commented on Wednesday about the hypothetical Saltalamacchia/Andrus/minor league pitcher package, and he doesn't seem too terribly impressed with the idea:
Nice return, but does it really fit with the Rangers needs? "Salty" is a nice haul for any team, whether he's at first or moves behind the plate, but Andrus is a Single-A phenom who might be ready before Michael Young's contract is up. The Rangers need pitching, and if the best they're getting for the most tradeable player in the game is someone like Jo-Jo Reyes, I'd be stunned. Moreover, the Braves have needs beyond first base. Chipper Jones is calling for a lefty reliever, while most think the Braves could use one more starter. Unless John Schuerholz is suddenly ready to deal off most of the prospects he has, those needs will go unfilled if he starts off with this trade.
Meanwhile, Grant suggests that the Dodgers would have to give up James Loney, outfielder Andre Ethier and a minor league pitcher to get Teixeira; he thinks Dodgers GM Ned Colletti would balk at adding Highland Park left-hander Clayton Kershaw to the deal, but it's certainly worth dreaming about. Stick Ethier in a corner outfield spot, put Byrd in center field and you suddenly have a pretty decent looking outfield.
Richard Durrett did a Rangers chat session on Wednesday, which you can check out here. Included among the topics covered are the potential Teixeira deal (as if that's any surprise), the Jon Daniels contract extension, and Marlon Byrd's future in center field. Definitely worth checking out.
T.R. Sullivan reports that Vicente Padilla will likely pitch at least three more rehab starts before making a possible return. Pitching coach Mark Connor said that Texas wanted to increase Padilla's workload by 15 pitches per outing, meaning he's scheduled to throw 45 pitches in his next rehab start on Saturday. The Rangers want to get him to 75 pitches before making a decision on whether he's ready to re-join the starting rotation.
Jason Botts returned from the seven-day disabled list on Wednesday night, going 1 for 4 for Triple-A Oklahoma in a 3-1 victory over Portland. Nelson Cruz went 3 for 4 with yet another home run, putting his OPS at 1.118 in 158 AB. Yeah, I'd say Cruz has earned another look at the major league level during the last two months of the season, along with Botts.
Even though I have been loudly carping here for several weeks about how the Rangers need to deal Teixeira, I'll admit to feeling just a bit emotional as tonight's game drew to a close. It's very hard to get your mind around the fact that your favorite team's best player probably won't be around the next time they return home. For all of Teixeira's inflammatory remarks to the media, the fact remains he's still an excellent baseball player.
And for a long time, he was one of my favorite Rangers too.
On July 18th, 2004, Texas was firmly planted in the middle of the AL West pennant race, having just won two straight games against Toronto following the All-Star break. The Rangers were looking for the sweep at home, but trailed 5-1 going into the bottom of the 8th inning of the third and final game of the series.
A huge rally, sparked by such notables as Rod Barajas and Laynce Nix, drew the Rangers to within 5-3, but reliever Vinnie Chulk retired Hank Blalock and Alfonso Soriano. However, Chulk walked Brad Fullmer to load the bases with two outs, and Mark Teixeira stepped in with a chance to be the hero.
I'll let this audio highlight tell the rest of the story, if you don't already remember how it ended.
Good luck to you Tex, wherever you end up.