'Thin' bullpen spells trouble for Rangers in walk-off loss

Chapman allows three-run HR before Speas gives up game-winning hit

July 25th, 2023

HOUSTON -- When Chas McCormick delivered a gut-punch three-run homer to tie the game at nine on Monday night, it put the already precarious Rangers bullpen in another pickle.

Manager Bruce Bochy sent one of a few options out to the mound in the bottom of the ninth: rookie Alex Speas, making just his third Major League appearance. And three weeks after dropping the last Lone Star Series showdown vs. the Astros, Texas lost another dramatic, high-stakes game to Houston, 10-9, in a bullpen meltdown.

The Rangers’ lineup did its part against the team’s American League West rivals. Josh Jung kicked off the scoring with a two-run blast, his 20th home run of the season. The bats responded to the Astros’ four-run first inning by knocking in three of their own in the second to retake the lead. Josh Smith followed with the longest home run of his career, sending a Statcast-projected 422-foot second-deck shot to left field in the fourth.

Even after the Astros responded to knot the game at six in the fifth inning, Texas had an answer.

“We’ve come out on the wrong end of these a couple of times, but I can’t say enough about how they kept going, kept fighting,” Bochy said.

The Rangers calmly loaded the bases and drove in three runs with two RBI walks and a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, notching 10 hits and seven walks to buoy starter Jon Gray, who allowed six runs over five frames.

But the Astros drew their own bevy of free passes, too. Of Houston’s seven walks, five came around to score, including the game-winning run off Speas. Kyle Tucker and José Abreu drew three walks apiece.

“We just walked too many guys,” Bochy said. “That haunted us.”

Aroldis Chapman came on in the seventh inning and issued two walks to Tucker and Abreu before giving up a game-tying home run to McCormick, an eerily similar shot to Jose Altuve’s dagger in Game 6 of the 2019 American League Championship Series.

Then, after Brock Burke threw a scoreless eighth and was not available to throw another inning in the ninth, per Bochy, there just weren’t many options left for the Rangers. Headed into the bottom of the ninth, they needed two relievers to finish the game.

With Nathan Eovaldi scratched from Tuesday’s start and Cody Bradford and Owen White likely to piggyback in his place, that left rookies Speas, Yerry Rodríguez and closer Will Smith.

“[Smith] had been used the day before, so I didn’t have him [for] more than an inning,” Bochy said. “So we’re hoping that we can get through the ninth there and then we have him for the 10th.”

Speas issued two walks, and Tucker scored on Yainer Diaz’s walk-off single for his fourth run of the game. The loss slimmed Texas’ lead in the AL West to two games over Houston.

It also put a magnifying glass on the Rangers’ already pressing need for pitchers heading into the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline. Bochy certainly didn’t fault Speas for the loss but was candid about the situation with his relievers, calling the bullpen “thin.”

“Speas, he had one really good outing,” Bochy said. “The other was a little shaky. But you know where he was, with his stuff, you’re just hoping -- hate to say hope -- but if he can get over the plate with his stuff, he’ll be fine.”