Jankowski reintroduces himself as Rangers' unsung hero

March 31st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ARLINGTON -- Before Opening Day, -- who is kicking off his 10th MLB season -- only needed his two hands to count the number of home runs he had hit in his career.

It was an eventful Opening Day for the Rangers, from the banner drop to a dramatic back-and-forth affair before they walked off against the Cubs to win, 4-3. One thing got lost in the shuffle: Jankowski hitting his 11th career home run.

The veteran outfielder pinch-hit for Ezequiel Duran to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning and hammered a game-tying solo homer to right field. It was the first Opening Day homer and first ever pinch-hit homer for Jankowski. It was also just the second-ever Opening Day homer by a pinch-hitter in franchise history (Geno Petralli on April 6, 1992 at Seattle).

Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said his original plan was to have first baseman Jared Walsh pinch-hit for Duran in a tie game, but when the Cubs took the lead in the top of the ninth inning, he decided to turn to Jankowski.

“I switched over to an on-base guy that could steal a base, and he ended up hitting the home run,” Bochy said. “So, I just love the way it worked out.”

How would Jankowski describe the vibe in the dugout after his home run?

“Electric?” he laughed. “I think when I came back to the dugout, it was a little bit of shock. I think all of us were shocked, including myself. But that was one of those things. That's baseball, right? Like anyone can be the hero on any night. Crazy stuff happens in this game. I can finally count on more than two hands how many career homers I have, so that's nice, but again, don't expect any more this year.”

Jankowski joked that he hit his one home run for the year and that nobody should expect his 5.000 OPS to be anywhere near sustainable.

“I'm going to try to go back to hitting singles,” Jankowski said. “Now, if I hit another one, it's a mistake.”

Jankowski has become a fan favorite in the past year with the Rangers, even earning the nickname “El Blondi,” a nod to his long flowing locks after he replaced an injured Adolis García -- “El Bombi” -- in Games 4 and 5 of the World Series last November.

In Game 4, a day after García fell injured, Jankowski went 2-for-4 with two RBIs against the Diamondbacks, providing a spark for the club as it sought its first World Series title.

He said the World Series is likely the only thing in his career that topped Thursday’s big homer.

“That's probably one of my better Opening Day moments for sure,” Jankowski said. “I was just honestly really happy to contribute on Opening Day and help this team win. The World Series probably trumps this by a lot, but that's [the] No. 2 [moment in my career]. This is an easy No. 2.

“Last year, playing in a World Series and being able to help the team win there was great. Winning with these guys was awesome. The best part of hitting a home run is being able to celebrate with these guys.”