TORONTO -- The thrill of a rookie and the poise of a veteran.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” Carter said. “Everybody dreams about that moment, so hopefully there’s gonna be many more down the road.”
As much as this meant to Carter individually, it was also a crucial moment for his team.
The Rangers -- who have now won three in a row -- have control of the final American League Wild Card spot after their series-opening victory at Rogers Centre. The win also brought Texas to within a half-game of Toronto in the race.
- Games remaining: at TOR (3); at CLE (3); vs. BOS (3); vs. SEA (3); at LAA (3); at SEA (4)
- Standings update: The Rangers are in the final American League Wild Card slot after the Mariners lost to the Angels late Monday, and a half-game behind the Blue Jays, who are in the second spot. Texas is two games behind Houston, which leads the AL West.
This looked like it would be a back-and-forth affair to the end before Jonah Heim’s grand slam put it away during a five-run seventh inning. So Carter’s game-tying laser off Blue Jays starter Chris Bassitt in the third had all the makings of a tone-setting moment.
“I’m just so impressed with this boy,” said Rangers manager Bruce Bochy. “I mean, the great at-bats, the patience. He works counts, but he’s got some pop too, and it’s only gonna get better. He’s so young, he’s gonna get stronger.”
At this point in the season, a prospect’s development drops considerably on a contending team’s priority list. The absence of Adolis García and Josh Jung -- both facing stints on the IL -- opened a door for Carter earlier than expected, but he’s in the Major Leagues because the Rangers believe he can contribute to the postseason push.
He’s done just that so far. The 21-year-old Carter, who added a seven-pitch single and then scored from second base on Corey Seager's go-ahead RBI single in the fifth, has gone 3-for-9 with two RBIs and a 1.084 OPS in four big league games. After openly speaking about the jitters of making his Major League debut, the Rangers’ top prospect per MLB Pipeline now seems quite comfortable in his new surroundings.
“I definitely think I've calmed down a little bit since [my first game],” Carter said with a smile. “… When you get down to it, it’s just baseball. It comes down to just trying to relax and have fun with it.”
Preparation is also key.
Before Carter got a taste of his first road game in the Majors, he made sure to pick his teammates’ brains about the Rogers Centre turf and how the outfield wall played differently than at Globe Life Field. That attention to detail translated into a fantastic outfield assist to preserve what was at the time a one-run Rangers lead in the bottom of the fifth.
Carter fielded a single from George Springer in left field and darted an 89.8 mph throw to home, nabbing the speedy Kevin Kiermaier trying to score from second base. That throw put Carter’s arm strength in the 95th percentile among Major League outfielders, and it once again showed his affinity for the clutch moments.
“He’s just a nice ballplayer,” said Bochy. “He had a good one today.”
Carter’s heroics also helped starter Dane Dunning to his 10th win of the season to break a franchise-worst 22-game winless streak by Rangers starting pitchers. From start to finish, this was as complete a win as Texas has put together in a while.
It will go down as one of many in the grand scheme of a long season, but the club’s newest outfielder will always have a souvenir by which to remember it.
“It's just a little bit of confirmation of like, ‘All right, yeah, you can hold your own here and excel.’ Just kind of taking that confidence leading into the next game and the rest of the series.”
The Rangers will need that confidence, too. They now lead the season series against the Blue Jays, 3-1, with three games remaining between the clubs. All Carter is worried about is the next game. He doesn’t even know where he’s going to live come the offseason, but he knows what he wants to do with that first home run ball.
“[My wife and I] are gonna put it in a little case, and it's gonna go wherever we live in the offseason,” Carter said. “I don't even know yet, but I'm gonna put it up, and it's gonna be a really cool thing to have.”