Gray masterful as Rangers fire on all cylinders

Woodward calls commitment to teamwork and character "our separator"

June 18th, 2022

DETROIT -- Martín Pérez wasn’t worried a bit on Thursday, even though he was on the hook for the loss when he departed after the seventh. He knew even before he handed over the ball that his teammates would find a way to reward his efforts.

“I believe in my guys; we’ve got a good team,” he said. “I think we’re just going to go out there and fight and get the win, no matter what.”

That night boiled down to a last-minute play that sent the Rangers into celebration shortly afterward. The Rangers seemed to enjoy the excitement of the late-game surge that capped off their Thursday evening at Comerica Park, but Texas chose to flip the script Friday and pile on the Tigers early during a 7-0 win.

“We had really good at-bats in that first inning,” said manager Chris Woodward, whose team collected 12 hits and is 14-0 this year when it collects 11 or more. “And that just kind of set the tone from the first at-bat.

“Any time you can get on the board like that, especially when you’ve got a good pitcher like Jon Gray, it kind of settles him down, and he can go out and throw some zeros up on the board.”

After Adolis García put Texas on the board with a run-scoring double for his team-leading 43rd RBI of the year, Gray’s batterymate, Jonah Heim, cracked a two-run double down the third-base line. Heim added a solo home run in the fifth, his eighth long ball of the year, to round out his three-RBI night.

Only veteran Royals backstop Salvador Perez (10) has more homers among catchers in the American League.

No one was buoyed more by the Rangers’ first-frame surge than Gray, who used the buffer to pursue Detroit aggressively with his full arsenal from the jump. His fastball sat at 96 mph, and the veteran used it high to set up a mid-80s slider that he buried expertly, using the putaway pitch to account for half of his six strikeouts.

“We stayed on the attack the whole time; I don’t think we backed off for a whole at-bat,” said Gray, who hurled seven scoreless frames for the first time this season, walked none and scattered just five hits. “We kept the pressure on them and made them do something …

“Just jumping on them [on the scoreboard] like that, kind of not letting the other team breathe, is really good.”

While Gray held the Tigers at bay with a performance that seemed almost effortless at times, the offense kept plugging away behind him. The Rangers widened the lead in the third on an RBI double from Nathaniel Lowe; after Heim homered in the fifth, the Rangers tacked on two more in the sixth on a Charlie Culberson single and a García sac fly, giving them their 7-0 margin of victory.

The scoring outburst was a welcome change from one night prior, when the Rangers were scoreless through 8 2/3 before Ezequiel Duran, Texas’ No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, clubbed a bases-clearing triple.

Whether feast or famine, lately, the club has seemed to find a way to support one another and get the job done. Friday’s all-around effort -- errorless defense included -- confirmed that the Rangers are indeed firing on all cylinders at the perfect time to take advantage of a soft spot in the schedule to close out the month.

“The way we play the game, the way we go about our business, I know, is going to pay dividends long-term, especially as the season becomes a real grind for most teams,” Woodward said. “We’re going to lean on one another, and their commitment to [that] has been phenomenal.”

The Rangers have weathered some rough patches this season, but most on the team are quick to point out that nothing has lasted long. Texas’ longest losing streak was five games, back on April 15-20, and the club has had just one slump of four losses, April 26-29, since.

Where some teams may be at odds internally when the water’s rough, those blips of adversity to start the season have only served to unite the Rangers.

“That’s where character and culture come in,” Woodward said. “That’s what separates the good from the bad. … There’s no guarantee to win, but it does set you apart, being able to -- as a team -- get through the tough times closer together.

“… There’s a little extra edge that guys play with, a little extra care that they’re pulling for one another. … At the end of the day, that’s going to be our separator.”