ARLINGTON -- Evan Carter figures that the biggest game he played before reaching the big leagues was the 2022 Texas League championship game with the Rangers' Double-A affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders.
Carter has now played 14 games in the big leagues, and each has been like the playoffs for the Rangers. Every single one is a little more important than the last. With Texas and Seattle tied in the standings entering Friday’s matchup -- the first of a three-game set -- the energy in Globe Life Field felt just like a postseason game.
The Mariners made it interesting late, as the Mariners loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth, but the combination of a hot offense -- including a three-run homer from Carter and a solo shot from Corey Seager -- and 2 1/3 shutdown innings from Andrew Heaney out of the bullpen powered Texas to an 8-5 victory over the Mariners.
“For a big lead, we had a lot of drama tonight, but they got it done,” said manager Bruce Bochy.
- Games remaining (9): vs. SEA (2); at LAA (3); at SEA (4)
- Standings update: The Rangers (85-68) took over first place in the AL West, a half-game ahead of the Astros (85-69) and a game ahead of the Mariners (84-69).
- Tiebreakers: Lose vs. Houston; win vs. Toronto; win vs. Seattle. (The Rangers' season series vs. the Mariners is still undecided; they still have six head-to-head games, but Texas leads the season series 6-1.)
Carter was a big reason for the Rangers getting it done. MLB Pipeline’s No. 8 overall prospect, Carter went 1-for-2 with a big three-run home run and a walk against the Mariners, extending his own club record by reaching base safely for a 13th straight game with a plate appearance to begin his MLB career.
Even an experienced manager like Bochy has been impressed with Carter’s poise and confidence in the first few weeks of his MLB career.
“I've had some pretty good players that were rookies and did a great job, and he's right up there with how he's handled everything,” Bochy said. “He just has a quiet confidence about him. Very calm. He plays the game. He slows it down. He's taking close pitches, does a good job in the outfield, so he's just been a shot in the arm for us.”
Carter is hitting .324/.447/.676 with a 1.123 OPS over his first 14 big league games, though he admits that hitting in front of guys like Marcus Semien and Seager doesn’t hurt.
“It's actually really fun to watch,” Seager said of Carter. “The kid has zero fear. He's going out there and playing free and being himself. He's not trying to do too much. He's just staying within himself. It's pretty special. … He doesn't seem like [the pressure] has affected him. It doesn't look like it, which is pretty cool. It speaks to his character, speaks of his personality and speaks to the player he is. He's just confident in who he is.”
It’s been a tall task for the 21-year-old Carter to get called up in September of his third year of professional baseball and get immediately thrown into a pennant race. He’s taken it in stride every step of the way.
“I’m just trying to play every game like I know how important this is and I know how close everything is, but at the same time, I play best when I'm relaxed, so I’m just trying to treat each game like it's just another game of baseball going out there,” Carter said. “No different than the last. Not adding any extra pressure to it definitely helps me out a lot.”
But he admits that’s easier said than done.
“I know exactly what's at stake and the magnitude of where we're at right now,” he said. “So I'm definitely not downplaying that, but that's how I play best is just by trying to relax myself.”
The final nine games of the season are sure to be a ride for Carter, but also for his teammates as they vie for the club’s first postseason appearance since 2016. And while the Rangers have regained sole possession of first place in the AL West for the first time since August 24, the job is far from over.
“We've talked about being resilient all year,” Seager said. “We’ve talked about winning every series all year. And that's what it's going to come down to.”
And being back in first place?