Wow. I can't say I saw this coming.
Brad Wilkerson clubbed a career high three home runs on Tuesday night, Kevin Millwood pitched perhaps his finest game of 2007, and the Texas Rangers easily defeated the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 8-3.
Of course, things didn't look so hot for Texas in the early innings. Millwood retired the first five hitters he faced, but gave up a two out single to Casey Kotchman in the top of the 2nd inning. Garrett Anderson followed, and hit a fluke check-swing double down the left field line to put men on 2nd and 3rd. On an 0-2 pitch, Howie Kendrick pulled a hanging curve from Millwood into left field, and just like that, the Angels led 2-0. It was definitely beginning to look like one of those nights.
But out of nowhere, the fireworks began. Angels starter Ervin Santana allowed just one hit in his first three innings of work, striking out a ridiculous eight Rangers in the process. Marlon Byrd became his 9th strikeout victim to begin the bottom of the 4th inning, but the ball bounced away from catcher Jose Molina, allowing Byrd to reach first base. Frank Catalanotto followed with a single to right field, and after a successful Gerald Laird sacrifice bunt, Brad Wilkerson stepped into the batter's box.
Wilkerson had struck out on four pitches against Santana in the 2nd inning, but this time, Brad deposited the 4th pitch of the at-bat into the Rangers bullpen. Just like that, Texas led 3-2, and they would never look back. In the 6th inning, Wilkerson led off with a solo blast into the "Bermuda Triangle" wedge in the right field corner. Desi Relaford followed with a single, and would eventually score thanks to a rare fielding error by shortstop Orlando Cabrera, as well as a poor throw from Jose Molina that went sailing down the left field line.
The Rangers put the game away for good in the bottom of the 8th inning, as Marlon Byrd led off the inning with a triple to right center field. Catalanotto hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-2, and Gerald Laird singled, giving Brad Wilkerson a shot at making history. He would not disappoint, hitting a majestic blast to right field that landed a couple of rows deep in the lower home run porch.
The much maligned "Bad Brad" received a well earned standing ovation from the 24,871 in attendance, and delighted the crowd with a curtain call. Wilkerson's three home run performance marks just the 14th time in club history that it has been done, with the most recent instance being on July 13th, 2006, when Mark Teixeira hit three homers against the Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore. As you may recall, two of those came off of Bruce Chen, who's currently at Triple-A Oklahoma.
Wilkerson finished the night 3 for 4 at the plate with 6 RBI, also a new career high. It's Brad's 5th multi-home run game of his career, and his first since September 23rd, 2004. Wilkerson's monster performance has raised his batting line to .235/.316/.524 on the year, an increase of 71 points in the OPS department in the span of just one game.
There's no question that Brad has been a disappointment since being brought over in the infamous Soriano deal in December 2005, and I've been as guilty as the next guy of screaming obscenities at the TV after each of his frustrating strikeouts, or defensive miscues. However, despite all his struggles over the past season and a half, I've gotta say I'm happy for him, and hope that his recent hot streak can continue.
While all this excitement was going on, Kevin Millwood was quietly pitching an absolute gem. After Kendrick's RBI single in the 2nd inning, Millwood retired 13 consecutive Angels, and did not allow another run to cross the plate. Kevin allowed just five hits on the night in eight innings, striking out four, and walking nobody. He also threw 72 of his 105 pitches for strikes. It was probably his finest outing of the year, and a major step forward after his recent rash of struggles and injuries.
Bench coach Art Howe became the first Rangers coach this year to be ejected from a game, after arguing with home plate umpire John Hirschbeck in the top of the 8th inning over a potential batter's interference call. At least he got his money's worth.
Good news on Mark Teixeira, as the Rangers believe he will be ready to return from the disabled list on July 13th, which is the first game after the All-Star break. Teixeira will begin a rehab assignment soon, perhaps by Friday, as he continues to recover from the strained left quadriceps muscle that landed him on the disabled list on June 9th. His trade value could go either direction, depending on how quickly he can start raking the ball when he returns.
Vicente Padilla threw 60 pitches off flat ground on Tuesday, and pitching coach Mark Connor is saying the session went well, with Vicente experiencing little pain. Padilla will repeat the same exercise on Wednesday, and will pitch off a mound sometime this weekend.
Also, manager Ron Washington believes that Aki Otsuka will be available out of the bullpen on Wednesday, so his stiff right elbow appears to have healed quite a bit in the last 24 hours. Nice to see some positive developments on the injury front.
Evan Grant has the latest edition of his weekly newsletter out, with Grant offering some praise for Wilkerson (mind you, this was published before tonight's game) and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, as well as more thoughts on the Teixeira/Gagne/Otsuka trade rumors. Perhaps the most eye-opening paragraph is the one where Grant says he wouldn't mind Wilkerson being the starting first baseman in 2008, should the Rangers not get a first baseman back in a Teixeira deal.
Grant also throws out a hypothetical nightmare scenario involving A-Rod and the Yankees, which would completely derail the possibility of a Tex to LA deal. Then again, Chad Billingsley and James Loney are doing a pretty good job of that on their own.
Kevin Sherrington has a rather extensive piece out on the Rangers and their rebuilding efforts, with Grant doing a brief rundown on the most likely trade candidates. Nothing too groundbreaking here, but certainly worth a read.
MLB.com's Drew Davidson has a nice article out on Frisco's John Mayberry Jr., who went 3 for 4 on Monday with a HR, two RBI and two runs scored.
Right-hander Evan Reed, who was selected by the Rangers in the third round of this year's draft, was signed on Tuesday after successfully passing his physical.
Jered Weaver will try to stop Anaheim's recent losing skid on Tuesday, as the Angels have suddenly lost five out of their last seven games. Weaver dominated the Rangers on May 14th, allowing just one run in seven innings in a 7-2 win. Texas will counter with Jamey Wright, so this pitching matchup doesn't look real great on paper.
But then again, this is a different Rangers team than the one that was playing on May 14th.
Wednesday, July 4th Game Preview
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ( 51-32 ) at Texas Rangers ( 35-48 )
Jered Weaver ( 6-4, 3.55 ERA ) vs. Jamey Wright ( 1-2, 6.38 ERA )
7:35 PM CST in Arlington, Texas ( Rangers Ballpark in Arlington )
TV: KDFI/My27 | Radio: KRLD 1080 AM