'Prepared for whatever,' Heaney lifts Rangers in G1

October 7th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- The Rangers are becoming the road warriors of the 2023 postseason, and with another win to open the ALDS in Baltimore, they’ve seized the pitching advantage early.

While the Orioles had six days to rest up and set their rotation, the Rangers had already used their frontline starters -- Nathan Eovaldi and Jordan Montgomery -- against the Rays to win the Wild Card Series. Montgomery will come back around for Game 2 Sunday, but the Rangers had to turn to lefty in the opener for his first career postseason start, and he delivered in the 3-2 win in Game 1.

“We knew we had to do this, going into Tampa, then coming into here facing a really tough ballclub,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “We’ve got work to do, but the guys just responded so well after that series in Seattle.”

Rolling with a left-handed starter who lost his rotation spot in September was never Plan A for the Rangers, but the postseason doesn’t wait around for you. This was their best option for Game 1, and while a lefty facing this Orioles lineup had its risks, this matchup taking place in Baltimore made it more manageable.

Why? Take a look out to left field. Keep looking … farther back … There it is.

The left-field wall at Oriole Park was moved back 26 1/2 feet into the seating area and raised from 7 feet, 4 inches to 13 feet before the 2022 season.

“I remember Gleyber Torres hit, like, 18 home runs here,” Montgomery said, thinking back to his days with the Yankees. “I think he might have been the reason they moved it back. It kind of changes what you're throwing and how you attack righties.”

Why this looked dangerous for the Rangers:

  • Only the Braves (23-9) and Rays (24-11) had a better record than the Orioles (36-17) when the opponent started a lefty this season.
  • Ryan Mountcastle batted .338/.398/.655 with 12 homers vs. left-handed pitchers in 2023. Only Mookie Betts (.673) had a higher slugging percentage vs. lefties (minimum 150 PA vs. LHP).

There were only 16 home runs hit to left field at Oriole Park this season, though, which is by far the fewest of any MLB stadium. Combine left field and left-center and the total comes to 48, which was the second-fewest in MLB, only ahead of Progressive Field (42). It’s an absolute dead zone for power.

That’s why this matchup wasn’t as nerve-racking as it might have been at Globe Life Field.

How Oriole Park at Camden Yards lessened the danger:

  • Left-handed pitchers gave up 32 home runs at Oriole Park in 2023, the fourth-lowest in MLB.
  • The Orioles’ lineup had a .764 OPS vs. lefties across all regular season games (10th in MLB), but that number was just .694 when facing them at Oriole Park.
  • For the Orioles’ right-handed hitters looking to turn on Heaney and pull something to left field? Oriole Park had a 93 Park Factor rating in 2023. The average for this metric is 100, so this ranked second-lowest in MLB ahead of only T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
  • From 2020-’22, before the renovation, Oriole Park had a Park Factor of 101 (11th in MLB).

These are the small edges that teams care about in the playoffs, when a few feet can flip a series and a season. Without their best arms on the mound, the Rangers needed to keep the Orioles in the yard.

“I think Andrew Heaney threw the ball extremely well to start the game,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, “and we saw him do that here in May. He pitched well against us then also. We just didn’t get many big hits today.”

Heaney wasn’t expected to go as deep as Montgomery will on Sunday, but he gave the Rangers 3 2/3 innings of one-run ball and avoided any big blows.

“I’m in a really good headspace,” Heaney said. “I’ve got a good routine going, my body feels good and my mind is right. I’m always prepared for whatever. I will always go out there and do my best to help the team win. It doesn’t matter what spot, what inning, what role, for how long. I just want us to win.”

All these risks considered, the Rangers are suddenly in a fantastic spot, having stolen a game on the road to open the series. Regardless of what happens in Game 2, they’ll return to Texas with a chance to win the series at home, with Eovaldi leading the way.