PHOENIX — On the first day of December 2021, hours before the owners of Major League Baseball locked out the players, the Texas Rangers orchestrated a series of press conferences to introduce their new $500 million middle infield. Marcus Semien and Corey Seager both left contenders to sign with a franchise that had not posted a winning record in five seasons. The money influenced their decision. And so — the players said — did the vision put forth by Rangers officials.
“We’ve laid it out, we’ve been authentic, we’ve been very transparent,” Texas general manager Chris Young said that day. “We were a 102-loss team. We haven’t run from that. But we have a vision, we have a plan, and this is how we’re going to accomplish it. Does this scare you? Are you afraid? Do you want to be part of this? You want to do something special that’s never been done in Texas Ranger history?”
History is almost upon them, after an 11-7 thrashing of the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 4 of the World Series on Tuesday. The Rangers are one victory from capturing their first championship. The trajectory did not follow a straight line. Texas lost more than they won in 2022, a skid serious enough that owner Ray Davis fired manager Chris Woodward and longtime head of baseball operations Jon Daniels. But Young remained. So did Semien and Seager, who steadied this club all summer and powered the Texas offense in Tuesday’s laugher at Chase Field.
Semien supplied a two-run triple in the second and a three-run homer in the third. In between, Seager clobbered a two-run home run. The Rangers obliterated Arizona’s attempt at running a bullpen game. Texas hung a five-spot on assorted Diamondbacks relievers in the second and scored five more runs in the third. The lineup appeared unfazed by the loss of budding star outfielder Adolis García. His replacement, Travis Jankowski, kept the second-inning rally going with a single and cracked a two-run double in the third.
Texas starter Andrew Heaney authored five innings of one-run baseball. He protected the Rangers bullpen for Game 5. It will be a rematch between Arizona starter Zac Gallen and Texas starter Nathan Eovaldi. The Rangers will now have three chances to collect one more victory, the one that eluded the club the last time it reached this stage, against St. Louis in 2011. Those Rangers were one strike away on two separate occasions. The series left scars. This group can offset some of that hurt, suggested former Rangers third baseman Adrián Beltré earlier this series.
“I’m going to feel like it’s a little weight off of us, because we didn’t get it done and those guys did it for us,” Beltré said. “So I’ll be super happy about it.”
Texas spent the afternoon refurbishing its roster. The Rangers won Game 3 but lost two high-profile players to injury. Max Scherzer, the three-time Cy Young award winner, suffered back spasms. García, the outfielder recently crowned MVP of the American League Championship Series, strained an oblique muscle. Scherzer’s back did not loosen up Tuesday. García felt pain when attempting to swing, Young explained before the game.
The absence of Scherzer may only matter if this series reaches a seventh game. The absence of García robbed Texas manager Bruce Bochy of a slugger with an excellent arm in right field. García launched the walkoff dinger in Game 1. He cut down Arizona first baseman Christian Walker at the plate to short-circuit a Game 3 rally. “You hate to lose your cleanup hitter,” Bochy said before the game. “But it happened.”
The Diamondbacks had their own problems. Manager Torey Lovullo’s roster lacked a credible fourth starter. He had to lean upon his relievers. The approach worked in Game 4 of the last round against Philadelphia, a team far more willing to chase pitches outside the strike zone than the Rangers. Lovullo was asked before the game if he preferred using a starting pitcher over playing roulette with his relievers. “Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, Gooden, you name it,” he said.
Instead, Lovullo had Joe Mantiply. The lefty reliever handled the first then surrendered a leadoff double to Texas rookie Josh Jung in the second before ceding the stage to right-hander Miguel Castro. Jung took third base on a groundout. When a changeup from Castro skipped off the plate and deflected past catcher Gabriel Moreno, Jung raced home on the wild pitch for the game’s first run.
The Rangers did not stop there. Unable to locate his fastball or changeup, Castro walked outfielder Leody Taveras. Up came Jankowski, who replaced García in right field. Jankowski rolled a two-out single up the middle. Up next, Semien pulled a slider down the left-field line. Arizona outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. stumbled in the corner trying to secure the baseball. The two-run triple forced Lovullo from the dugout.
Down three runs, Lovullo opted not to intentionally walk Seager, who had delivered mammoth home runs in Game 1 and Game 3. Lovullo sent lefty Kyle Nelson into the fray. At least the decision backfired on Nelson’s second pitch, rather than his first. Nelson hung a slider. Seager volleyed the baseball an estimated 431 feet, beyond the center field fence for a five-run lead.
The bottom fell out for Arizona in the third. Nelson yielded singles to Jung and first baseman Nathaniel Lowe. Walker flubbed a grounder that loaded the bases. Jankowski clubbed a double off the newest Arizona reliever, right-hander Luis Frías. Semien pushed the advantage into double digits by the next at-bat. Semien destroyed a fastball at the top of the zone for his first home run of the postseason.
The outbursts from Texas left the game all but decided. The Rangers could savor the final innings of Game 4 knowing what Game 5 represented. The vision that Texas officials suggested to Semien and Seager, a vision that may have sounded fanciful in the days before the lockout, could come to fruition in only one more day.
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(Photo: Rob Tringali / MLB Photos via Getty Images)