SEATTLE -- If the first week and a half of the season for the Rangers and first two games of their three-game series in Seattle were akin to a punch in the mouth, the opening inning of Thursday night’s finale looked more like the uppercut that might very well lay them out on the mat for good.
Starter Taylor Hearn, who was being counted on for innings to help a banged-up and beleaguered pitching staff, hit a batter, walked two and gave up five runs on two very loud home runs without recording an out. All within his first 16 pitches.
This was not what manager Chris Woodward had drawn up for Thursday, and this was not what the Rangers had drawn up for 2022. But one thing Woodward has insisted every day through this rough patch is that these Rangers are not going to give up.
He was proven correct, with Texas absorbing the brutal opening frame and taking advantage of some breaks to battle all the way back for an 8-6 win at T-Mobile Park that allowed them to avoid a series sweep and break a five-game losing streak.
“This team’s not going to quit,” Calhoun said. “We've got good veteran leadership in here. We've got talented young guys who are hungry to go out there and play and prove who they are in the big leagues. So it's a fun group. I know we're not off to the best start, but it's wins like this that you can build off of and teach a team a lot about who they are.”
Prior to the game, Woodward echoed Calhoun’s sentiments, giving an impassioned endorsement of the character of the men in his clubhouse by saying that the team, which entered Thursday’s game with a 2-9 record, “could go 2-160 this year” and he would still have no doubts that they’d be fighting every step of the way.
Well, they’re not going to go 2-160. Thursday was their third victory of the year, and one that might go a long way toward giving the team some momentum as they head to Oakland for a three-game set against the A’s.
But the first obstacle to overcome was the biggest.
Hearn began the game with a profound lack of command around the strike zone, hitting Seattle leadoff man Adam Frazier with a pitch and then giving up a home run to Ty France to make it 2-0. He proceeded to walk Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez in succession, and then J.P. Crawford crushed a three-run shot into the right-field bleachers. It was 5-0 and there were no outs.
Hearn walked the next batter, Tom Murphy, before getting the next three hitters to escape the inning. He looked a lot more comfortable in the second and third, fanning three and giving up two hits. He departed after that, having thrown 78 pitches but surviving an early onslaught.
Meanwhile, the Rangers showed some of that fight that Woodward has been talking about.
In the second, they orchestrated a two-out rally against Seattle lefty Marco Gonzales with consecutive RBI doubles off the bats of Andy Ibáñez and Eli White.
“I loved that we came back and scored two, especially with the bottom of the lineup,” Woodward said. “Andy and Eli had some huge hits there to get it within three and that just kind of changed everything. Once we got it back within three, that just kind of changed everything.”
Reliever Albert Abreu came in and played the stopper role, firing two hitless innings, striking out three.
And after watching numerous 100-mph-plus rockets die quick deaths in Mariners gloves for the first two games of the series, some of the Rangers’ batted balls finally skirted away in the pivotal fifth inning.
Two rare errors by former Gold Glove-winning Seattle shortstop Crawford led to a Corey Seager sacrifice fly, an RBI double by García and a two-run homer by Nick Solak that gave the Rangers a 6-5 lead.
Reliever Matt Bush allowed the Mariners to tie it at 6-6 in the bottom of the eighth after walking two batters and giving up an RBI single to Suárez. But closer Joe Barlow got the Rangers out of that inning, paving the way for Calhoun and Lowe’s dramatic hits, and then retired the Mariners in order in the bottom of the ninth for the save.
In addition to the timely offense, the Rangers played terrific defense. White made a stellar running and leaping catch in the eighth inning, plucking a foul ball out of the first row of seats along the left-field line to end Jesse Winker’s at-bat. And in the ninth, García robbed Julio Rodríguez of extra bases with an all-out diving catch of a 108.8 mph sinking liner that had a 69 percent hit probability, according to Statcast.
“It feels like this gives us a lot of confidence as a team,” García said through an interpreter. “I think this is a really good steppingstone.”