HOUSTON -- With all of the attention that home runs have gotten this year -- both for their frequency, as well as the distance they're traveling -- it's probably fitting that this is also the year the country is celebrating an historic anniversary involving moonshots.
On Saturday -- the same night that Americans, and the Major League teams they root for, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 landing on the moon -- many, many "moonshots" were launched in ballparks from coast to coast. That includes at Minute Maid Park, where the Rangers and Astros combined for three of them. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they hit only one and they lost, 6-1.
Their one home run, however, was well-struck. The shot -- yes, this probably qualifies as a moonshot -- came off the bat of leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo in the fourth inning, registering 106.8 mph off the bat while traveling 416 feet to the deepest part of center field -- just to the right of the batter's eye.
It stood out for a couple of reasons. One, it marked the Rangers' only run. And two, it was the only time over the course of the 2-hour, 25-minute game that a Texas hitter had any luck with Jose Urquidy's changeup, which he used early, often and effectively.
"We had information that he has a good changeup," Choo said, nothing Urquidy's short-armed, quick delivery that added to the deception. "His arm action is the same [with] the fastball [and] offspeed. The first at-bat, I chased two pitches -- changeups. I thought I got it. He missed one pitch, and I hit a homer. That's the only one he missed."
Urquidy threw changeups on 42 of his 98 pitches. The pitch produced 10 swings and misses, contributing mightily to a dominant two-hit, nine-strikeout performance over seven innings.
"I don't blame him for throwing it as much as he did," manager Chris Woodward said of the changeup, "because we just didn't do anything with it. The ones we did kind of put in play, they were just off the end of the bat, just enough to get to the warning track a few times."
An effort was made among Rangers hitters to glean some knowledge about their run-ins with Urquidy’s changeup, share that with teammates hitting behind them and possibly chip away at the effectiveness of the pitch as the night wore on.
It didn’t work.
“Anytime, any count, he was confident throwing his changeup tonight,” Choo said, “because we chased a lot.”
The in-game minutiae is a mere side story to the much larger picture, which includes a looming July 31 Trade Deadline that is barreling toward a team slowly fading from the postseason conversation.
The Rangers have lost six in a row and 12 of 16, and they're now 6 1/2 games back in the race for the second Wild Card spot.
“It's an interesting time, because everybody feels July 31 coming up,” Woodward said. “Regardless of [whether] it's guys on the offensive side or the pitching side, there's a lot of talk about it. We just have to ignore that and get back to executing one pitch at a time, winning each pitch, pulling for one another.”
The Rangers’ pitching is arguably the main culprit, but the offense has been inconsistent, too. Hitters are piling up the strikeouts while falling dramatically short on the rare occasions when there are runners in scoring position.
Woodward's message to the team is to "stay together." He indicated he may gather the team together on Sunday to drive that point home a little more firmly.
"This is a critical time for us as a unit," Woodward said. "We built up a lot over the course of the season, Spring Training on. We built this belief that we're going to be a winning team. We're going to be a contending team. We need to get back to that feeling as a group and lean on one another.
“This is a tough time, and it's always a test for every team where [if] guys are going to go their separate ways, this is kind of that moment. We have a lot of fight left. We do need to come together and win a ballgame tomorrow.”