PHOENIX — On the first day of December 2021, hours before Major League Baseball’s owners barred players, the Texas Rangers organized a series of press conferences to introduce their new $500 million middle infielder. Marcus Semien and Corey Seager both left candidates to sign with teams that hadn’t posted winning records in five seasons. Money influenced their decisions. And so was the vision presented by Rangers officials, the players said.
“We’ve had a plan, we’ve been honest, we’ve been very transparent,” Texas general manager Chris Young said that day. “We were a 102-loss team. We’re not running away from that. But we have a vision, we have a plan, and this is how we’re going to get it done. Is this scary? Are you Are you scared? Would you like to join us? Do you want to do something special that has never been done in Texas Ranger history?”
History is just around the corner after defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks 11-7 in Game 4 of the World Series on Tuesday. The Rangers are one win away from winning their first championship. The trajectory was not a straight line. Texas lost more than it won in 2022, and the situation got so bad that owner Ray Davis fired manager Chris Woodward and longtime head of baseball operations Jon Daniels. But Young remained. Same goes for Semien and Seager, who have stabilized this club all summer and powered the Texas offense during Tuesday’s laugh at Chase Field.
Semien hit a two-run triple in the second inning and a three-run home run in the third inning. Seager hit a two-run home run during that time. The Rangers crushed Arizona’s attempts to run a bullpen game. Texas scored five points in the second with various Diamondbacks relievers, and then scored five more in the third. The batting lineup seemed unfazed by the loss of rising star outfielder Adris Garcia. Substitute Travis Jankowski defended the lineup with a single in the second inning, and hit a two-run double in the third inning.
Texas starter Andrew Heaney pitched five innings of one-run baseball. He guarded the Rangers’ bullpen in Game 5. It will be a rematch between Arizona starter Zac Gallen and Texas starter Nathan Eovaldi. The Rangers have three chances to get one more win, but the last time they reached this stage was the win they missed against St. Louis in 2011. The Rangers were only one shot behind in both innings. This series left a scar. Former Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre suggested earlier in this series that this group could offset some of that hurt.
“We didn’t get to do it and they did it for us, so it feels like a little bit of a burden is lifted,” Beltre said. “So I’m very happy.”
Texas spent the afternoon revamping its roster. The Rangers won Game 3, but lost two notable players to injury. Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer suffered from back spasms. Garcia, an outfielder who was recently named MVP of the American League Championship Series, injured his oblique muscle. Scherzer’s back didn’t loosen up on Tuesday either. He felt pain when Garcia tried to swing, Young explained before the match.
Scherzer’s absence could only become an issue if this series reaches a Game 7. Garcia’s absence deprived Texas coach Bruce Bochy of a slugger with a good arm in right field. Garcia hit a walk-off in Game 1. He struck out Arizona first baseman Christian Walker at the plate, making the Game 3 rally short. “You don’t want to lose your No. 4 batter,” Bochy said before the game. “But it happened.”
The Diamondbacks had their own problems. Coach Tori Lovullo’s roster lacked a reliable fourth starter. He had to rely on relief pitchers. This approach worked in Game 4 of the final round against Philadelphia, a team far more aggressive in chasing pitches outside the strike zone than the Rangers. Lovullo was asked before the game whether it would be better to use starting pitchers rather than playing roulette with relief pitchers. “Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, Gooden, you name it,” he said.
Redo: Playing in the bullpen feels completely out of place on the World Series stage.
Instead, Lovullo had Joe Mantiply. The left-handed reliever handled the first inning and allowed a leadoff double to Texas rookie Josh Jung in the second before ceding the stage to right-hander Miguel Castro. Chung grounded out and took third base. Castro’s changeup flew over the plate and missed catcher Gabriel Moreno, and Chung homered on a wild pitch to score the first run.
The Rangers didn’t stop there. Castro couldn’t find his fastball or changeup, giving a walk to outfielder Leody Taveras. Jankowski replaced Garcia in right field. Jankowski rolled a two-out single to center field. Semien then hit a slider down the left field line. Arizona State outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. stumbled in the corner while trying to secure the baseball. A two-run triple sent Lovullo out of the dugout.
Losing by three runs, Lovullo intentionally chose not to walk Seager, who had hit big home runs in Games 1 and 3, so Lovullo brought in left-hander Kyle Nelson. At least that decision backfired on Nelson’s second pitch, not his first. Nelson hit a slider. Seager hit a volley of balls estimated at 431 feet that sailed over the center field fence for a five-point lead.
Arizona slipped out of last place for the third time. Nelson gave up singles to Jung and first baseman Nathaniel Rowe. Walker hit a grounder and the bases were loaded. Jankowski hit a double off Arizona’s new relief pitcher, right-hander Lewis Fleiss. Semien pushed the advantage into double digits by his next at-bat. Semien smashed a fastball at the top of the zone for his first home run of the postseason.
The game was almost decided by Texas’ outburst. The Rangers were able to enjoy the final inning of Game 4 while understanding what Game 5 was about. The vision Texas officials proposed to Semien and Seeger may have sounded fanciful in the days before the lockout, but it could become a reality in just one day.
Rosenthal: With Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, the Rangers have proven that spending money can work — if you do it right.
(Photo: Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)