ARLINGTON -- The Rangers were down by two runs heading into the bottom of the sixth inning on Friday night when manager Chris Woodward turned to bench coach Don Wakamatsu hoping for a little divine intervention.
“I’m saying a little prayer right here,” Woodward told Wakamatsu. “The baseball gods should be with us on this one.”
A mother and father getting their first chance to see their son pitch in the Major Leagues do deserve a happy ending, and the night turned out to be a memorable one for Ariel Sr. and Yizel Jurado. After arriving the day before from Panama, they not only got to see Ariel Jr. play, but they also got to witness Joey Gallo's first Major League grand slam.
That slam enabled Ariel Jurado to be the winning pitcher as the Rangers scored six runs in the sixth inning en route to a 6-2 victory over the Royals at Globe Life Park. The Rangers have won 11 of their last 16 to finish 14-13 for the month of May.
“I’m very happy,” Jurado said. “That was something special for myself.”
The sixth-inning rally against Royals starter Danny Duffy was the Rangers’ last chance to get Jurado a win. He was done after six, having allowed two runs on five hits and three walks with a career-best six strikeouts. That’s his second straight quality start, as he allowed two runs over 6 1/3 innings against the Angels on Sunday.
“That was a special moment,” Woodward said. “He pitched really well. He did not get hit hard much at all. He executed his pitches and used them all. I just can’t say enough about what he has done since he has been here.”
This was Jurado’s third start against nine relief appearances since being called up from Triple-A Nashville. When Jurado first joined the Rangers, the intention was to use him out of the bullpen. But now he is earning an extended chance to win a permanent spot in the rotation.
“When he first came up, I thought [the bullpen] was a better role,” Woodward said. “He is basically saying, 'I can do that for 100 pitches,' which is really impressive. When I see the conviction in his [pitching], it’s pretty fun to watch.”
Woodward admitted there was some concern Jurado might put undue pressure on himself with his parents in the stands. That was not the case. Most impressive was in the third when he gave up a leadoff triple to Whit Merrifield and did not allow a run. With runners at the corners and one out, Jurado struck out Jorge Soler and Cheslor Cuthbert to end the inning.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Jurado said. “As soon as I get on the mound, I don’t think about anything but pitching.”
He just needed the run support and Woodward’s prayer request was answered in the bottom of the sixth. Danny Santana started the rally with a walk after falling behind, 1-2, in the count.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa struck out, but Shin-Soo Choo smacked a grounder just past second baseman Nicky Lopez for a single that moved Santana to third. Elvis Andrus followed with a line-drive single to center to bring home the first run and Hunter Pence loaded the bases by beating out a slow bouncer for an infield single. Duffy then walked Nomar Mazara to bring home the tying run.
That brought up Gallo, who had struck out in his first two at-bats. This time he crushed a 1-1 fastball with an exit velocity of 112.6 mph, according to Statcast. The ball traveled a projected 457 feet and landed in the first row of the plaza seats above center field to put the Rangers ahead.
“I was standing out there, I’m like, baseball kinda sucks sometimes,” said Gallo, who also made a stellar diving catch for the final out. “But in the back of my head, I said, ‘We’ve got four or five innings still left. Be confident and go out there and still play hard,’ and things turned around quick. That’s just the way baseball goes, so I try not to get too down on myself and just keep fighting.”