“It’s not good.”
He said it stoically, his face devoid of the familiar smiles and the fake dugout indignation and the joy he brings effortlessly to the game, instead lined with the pain borne not only of a strained hamstring that forced him from Thursday’s game with not a shred of resistance but also of the reality sinking in as reporters penned him in the clubhouse, postgame.
I don’t like seeing despondent Adrian Beltre.
Hours later, just before the deadline to acquire playoff-eligible players from outside the organization, Texas sent fringy third base prospect Ti’Quan Forbes to the White Sox for one month of righthander Miguel Gonzalez that the club hopes lasts longer this year than that. And while I make that deal all day long (.219/.273/.320 in his last five starts with a 1.85 ERA, eight Quality Starts out of nine since the All-Star Break — with seven of those starts coming against teams currently holding playoff spots; Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper: “Love that trade for the Rangers . . . . Pick up a very solid, durable starter at an minimal prospect cost”), the news didn’t do much more than upshift my baseball state from stupor to languor.
Last weekend’s series in Oakland — a three-game spit-up before and after which Texas won 5 of 6, 10 of 13, and 13 of 17, and the A’s won 1 of 6, 2 of 10, and 5 of 18 — was brutal, but taking the first two from Houston afterwards, with strong pitching and tons of offense, was good. Good enough to preserve hope.
Then came Thursday.
The game was weird, in a series that was weird.
In the fourth inning, a 1–1 game became a 2–1 game, and not necessarily for the deserving team.
In the top of the frame, Joey Gallo hit a ball 110.1 mph at a 38 degree launch angle, expected mathematically to take 405 feet to land, but Tropicana Field’s “B” ring catwalk, which is in play in that building, intercepted what would easily have been Gallo’s 37th homer, and the ball caromed down in shallow right field, closer to half the projected distance. He pulled into second with a one-out double, and was stranded there.
In the bottom of the inning, Alex Bregman’s one-out steal of second stood after replay review, after it looked like the call might have been rightfully overturned. Three pitches later, he scored on Josh Reddick’s single.
That wonky 2–1 score held for an hour, until the bottom of the eighth. But by then, the Rangers season had already taken what feels like a much bigger hit than last weekend’s three-game sweep at the hands of the lowly A’s.
Nick Martinez had pitched well, scattering five hits and no walks in five innings, entrusting that 2–1 deficit to Jose Leclerc, who in the sixth was uncharacteristically sharp with his tremendous stuff, retiring Houston in order on nine pitches (six strikes). He remained on the hill for the seventh, hitting Carlos Beltran with the inning’s first pitch, getting Marwin Gonzalez to fly out to center, and starting J.D. Davis off with ball one.
Davis then hit a bounder on the left side. Beltre charged it on the Trop turf, though it wasn’t the type of play where he had to sell out. Davis had drilled the ball into the dirt in front of the plate, and it volleyed completely over the infield turf and onto the infield dirt between third and short, where Beltre cleanly short-hopped it. Looked routine enough.
But Beltre’s left hamstring got very angry, and by time he gathered the baseball, there wasn’t even an attempt to throw it.
Even more staggering, there wasn’t even an effort on Beltre’s part to talk his way out of being removed from the game. He basically led the slow march with trainer Kevin Harmon off the field himself.
I thought of this dismal moment in Toronto.
Leclerc got out of the inning and it remained 2–1. It felt like 20–1.
The next inning got out of hand, and Houston took a 5–1 lead that held up.
I had to look up the score.
I’m not willing to consider the possibility that the infield single on the Tropicana carpet was Michael Irvin in Philadelphia or Nolan Ryan in Seattle or Lavar Arrington on Troy Aikman. Adrian Beltre may be done for the year — he could be undergoing the MRI as I type this — but he can’t be done. He’s got another year under contract, but that’s not the point. He can’t be done. I’m not ready for that.
Beltre missed nearly two months at the start of the season. During that time, the Rangers went 25–26.
They’re now 66–67.
So, yes, Texas was just a .500 team while Beltre was active, over what was basically half a season. (The club went 40–40 in games he played, 41–41 overall.)
But that includes a month without Yu Darvish and long stretches without Cole Hamels and Matt Bush and Keone Kela and Tony Barnette and Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson and A.J. Griffin and Carlos Gomez.
In fact, Andrew Cashner and Martin Perez have had a combined 40 days of DL time this year — and they’ve been the two most steadily available pitchers on the staff, with the exception of Alex Claudio, who’s a walking exception.
It’s been a remarkable year, one that has the Rangers in contention entering the final month, in spite of everything.
But these last couple days, man. The Twins and the Angels and the Orioles pull off late-inning comeback wins. Joey Gallo hits the stupidest double imaginable. Texas wins a series against Houston — and loses ground in the Wild Card race. The Astros add Justin Verlander and Cameron Maybin, the Angels Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips. Adrian Beltre shuffles off the field, not with his teammates but with a trainer, without protest.
Miguel Gonzalez is here, and that’s good. The clubhouse isn’t giving up, and neither is the front office.
Joining him, soon enough, will be some (but not nearly all) of Diekman, Ronald Guzman, Jurickson Profar, Ryan Rua, Jared Hoying, Connor Sadzeck, Yohander Mendez, Nick Gardewine, Paolo Espino, Dario Alvarez, Joely Rodriguez, and possibly non-roster third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Hopefully Bush and Kela won’t be shelved much longer themselves.
The clubhouse will be at its most crowded since spring training, which Beltre finished on the disabled list. He’ll be there again when roster expansion gets underway, effectively out — most likely — for half a baseball season.
A season in which he hit, at age 38, a robust .315/.393/.553 (the second-highest OPS he’s ever posted), piling up nearly as many walks (37) as strikeouts (44) and picking up 93 hits, among which was the 3000th of a transcendent 2,800-game, 20-year career.
That better be a 21-year career. At least.
On the day when teams with designs on 162+ were last allowed to bring in players eligible for those extra games, Texas lost the player who’s maybe as responsible as anyone for giving this club hope, this late in this season, that it was eligible for that part of the baseball season to begin with.
Texas, trading for Gonzalez, isn’t giving up, so I’m not. But Thursday’s seventh inning was, and is, a really tough punch to take.
We will never forget this Rangers season. Yesterday afternoon better not be part of the reason why.