Arms to the sky: García ends slump with game-winning homer

July 10th, 2024

ANAHEIM -- entered Tuesday amid one of the worst extended slumps of his career.

On the heels of winning the 2023 ALCS MVP and putting together one of the most impressive playoff performances in baseball history, García had slumped to a .214/.279./410 line in 86 games prior to Tuesday’s contest. Perhaps good things are on the horizon for García, who crushed a go-ahead, game-winning home run in the eighth inning in the Rangers' 5-4 win.

After a back-and-forth start to the game, the two clubs were locked in a 4-4 tie for three innings before García crushed a ball 405 feet the other way into the right-field pavilion of Angel Stadium. Right off the bat, García knew the ball was gone and -- on his way to first base -- raised his arms and looked to the heavens as if to say “finally”.

“It was awesome because it helped the team win and that’s the most important thing right now,” García said through interpreter Raul Cardenas. “That was a big moment, and it was important for our team to win.”

García’s 2024 season started in typical fashion, as the 31-year-old had a .932 OPS and eight home runs through the end of April. Since then, García had slumped to .570 OPS in 57 games heading into Tuesday’s game. García, who entered the year as the primary cleanup hitter, has been bumped to the fifth spot since Sunday against the Rays for the red-hot Wyatt Langford.

García’s game-winning homer was just one of several signs he could be turning the page. In the third inning, García smoked a grounder with an exit velocity of 110.7 mph, resulting in a double play. Even his lineout in the sixth inning left his bat at 99.8 mph, giving him three batted balls classified as hard-hit (95-plus mph exit velocity), tied for the second-most in a game this season.

“If you look at the at-bats, he smoked that ball to the shortstop for a double play. Next time up, he hits a line drive to center,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He didn’t have much to show for it, but didn’t get down about it and goes up there and hit a home run to put us ahead. We need him. He’s a guy who carried us at times last year.”

García would be just one of many Rangers who have seemingly gotten hot simultaneously. After scoring 22 runs in their previous two games, the Rangers scored five more on Tuesday and extended their winning streak to a season-high five games. García had ample offensive help, including Josh Smith tying a career high with three hits, something he’s done five times in his career. It was also the second time he had a homer included with his three hits (also done on June 5, 2024, against the Tigers).

“With the blow of losing [Josh] Jung, here Smith is being considered for the All-Star Game and can possibly still be on it. That’s how well he’s played,” Bochy said. “He’s been so consistent all year, and really it’s been his defense that’s been so impressive, going from third [base] to shortstop, and he’s really gifted there, too.”

Smith’s turnaround from his first two years with the Rangers has been remarkable, and he’s been vital in filling in for the injured Jung at third base. After posting a .592 OPS from 2022-23 -- 15th-worst among hitters to record at least 400 plate appearances -- Smith is rocking an .841 OPS with eight home runs in 86 games.

Smith -- along with Ezequiel Duran -- was part of a six-player Trade Deadline deal in 2021 that sent Joey Gallo and Joely Rodríguez to the Yankees. According to MLB Pipeline, Smith was the Yankees’ No. 14 prospect at the time and moved into the top 10 in the Rangers system (No. 7) after the trade. Like Duran did filling in admirably for Corey Seager when he was injured last season, Smith has done the same for Jung in 2024.

The Rangers also received quality innings from Max Scherzer, who threw a season-high 6 2/3 and allowed four runs (three earned) -- two of which came off the bat of Logan O’Hoppe and his pair of solo home runs. It wasn’t Scherzer’s sharpest outing, but he put his team in position to win the game.

“I felt like I was even stronger today. Even in the seventh inning, it felt like I had a good fastball,” Scherzer said. “That’s another step forward, especially when you throw 70 strikes on 95 pitches. That means you’re coming through the strike zone with all of your stuff.