ARLINGTON -- Rangers pitcher Mike Minor established career highs in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts in a 7-5 victory over the Red Sox on Thursday afternoon at Globe Life Park.
But it was Minor’s 200th strikeout, recorded in the ninth inning against Red Sox infielder Chris Owings, that caused a postgame stir. Minor’s much-anticipated strikeout came after Rangers first baseman Ronald Guzmán deliberately let a foul popup drop to prolong Owings’ at-bat.
That did not sit well with Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
“I don’t know,” Cora said. “I’m just happy our guys are playing the game the right way. We’re playing hard until the end.”
Rangers manager Chris Woodward responded by pointing out the Red Sox were deliberately trying to keep Minor from getting the last strikeout by swinging at the first pitch. Minor set the side down in order in the eighth on just three pitches.
“It got gut-wrenching as a manager,” Woodward said. “I didn’t love the idea that we dropped a popup at the end. But on the other side of that, they swung at three pitches in a row in the eighth inning down by two. So if they have any beef with that, obviously, I’m pretty sure Cora did. They chose to not try to win the game as well, they were trying to keep him from striking a guy out.”
Minor was just happy to get the last strikeout. With nine K's on the afternoon, he joins teammate Lance Lynn (236) as the second set of Rangers pitchers with 200 or more in a single season -- Nolan Ryan and Bobby Witt did it in 1990.
“It’s just an accomplishment that I was looking at,” Minor said. “Got close to the end and a lot of guys were talking about it and Lance accomplished [it] a long time ago. Last couple of games I was trying to get there but had some duds in there. Today I got closer and I knew we were a couple of strikeouts away and tried to get it.”
Minor was almost pulled in the seventh inning two short of 200 strikeouts. He took a 5-3 lead into the seventh, but he gave up a leadoff home run to Jackie Bradley Jr. and another long ball with one out to Owings to tie the game. Minor retired Marco Hernandez on a grounder to first and then gave up a single to Juan Centeno.
At that point, Woodward went to the mound to check on Minor and he decided to leave him in the game. Woodward had Emmanuel Clase ready in the bullpen. When Minor walked J.D. Martinez, Woodward started out to the mound to make a change.
But Minor motioned he wanted one more batter and Woodward obliged. Minor finished off the inning by striking out Sam Travis. At that point Minor had thrown 117 pitches and Woodward sent him back out for the eighth.
“I’ve obviously let him go further in games,” Woodward said. “I didn’t want him to go 120 pitches. Once it got close, I know it’s just a number, but [200 is] a big number, to have two guys that have accomplished that, it is a big deal. I thought he deserved it.”
That’s when the Red Sox went down on just three pitches. Brock Holt grounded out to Guzmán, Gorkys Hernandez grounded out to shortstop Elvis Andrus and Jackie Bradley popped out. That miffed Woodward and he sent Minor back out for the ninth.
“I said you’re going back out,” Woodward said. “If they want to do that, you’re going back out. There was no question. It was only three pitches.”
Cora pointed out that Bradley and Owings both hit their home runs on the first pitch of their at-bats.
“We have goals set in mind, they didn’t happen,” Cora said. “It’s been two weeks that we’ve been eliminated but we’ve been going at it the right way. That’s all I ask. I don’t manage the Rangers. That’s a question for Woody over there and he probably has the right answer.”
Minor disputed the idea the Red Sox were simply playing hard.
“I knew what they were doing,” Minor said. “They were laughing about it. Brock Holt popped out and looked at our dugout and was laughing. I didn’t mind it. I was just, I have to throw a ball off the plate where they can’t touch it because they were swinging.”
Minor started the ninth by getting Sandy Leon to fly out. Owings took a ball and a strike, and then lifted a high pop to the right of home plate that faded a few feet into foul territory. Both Guzmán and catcher Jose Trevino had a chance to catch it.
“I looked over at Trevi, he looked at me, we looked at where the ball was going to land,” Minor said. “I knew it was going to be a two-strike count if he dropped it. So I yelled at Guzie to drop it.”
Guzmán obliged his pitcher and was given an error on the play.
“He deserves it more than anyone else on the team,” Guzmán said. “Honestly, on that play I was going for it. I wasn't exactly sure if it was gonna be fair or foul. And when I got close to it, I heard like the whole stadium telling me to drop it, so I just couldn't do anything else. They were making it really hard on him, swinging at the first pitch every at-bat, even though the game was close. I mean, we just had to do what we needed to do.”
Minor threw one more pitch and Owings took it for strike three. Owings wasn’t happy with that and barked at home plate umpire CB Bucknor as he walked back to the dugout.
“It was borderline, but I liked it,” Minor said.
Woodward then let closer José Leclerc get the final out.
“I’m proud of Mike,” Woodward said. “He’s been awesome all year, to be able to go that many pitches and every inning he came back after the sixth, man, I was like, 'Are you OK, are you OK?' Actually, after the fifth, I wanted to make sure because it was hot out there. It just shows you how hard that man worked in his offseason to be able to do what he did today. It’s awesome.”