Thursday was a newsy day with the Texas Rangers, and not all of it had to do with what happened at Minute Maid Park.
Masks are no longer required at Globe Life Field beginning Monday, when the Rangers return home for a seven-game homestand. They will do so with one fewer diehard fan, after Shirley Kost passed away Thursday morning at age 82.
Known as “The Cookie Lady,” Kost was diagnosed with COVID-19 during the offseason and was never able to shake its after-effects. Her husband, Cal, works as an usher at home games, and together they became fixtures on the back fields at spring training.
Young players always seemed to have a place in Shirley’s heart, so she would have loved this past spring training had she been well enough and had fans been allowed to watch the morning practices.
As the Rangers said in a statement, it wasn’t the same without her there and won’t be the same going forward.
Now, to the on-the-field stuff. The Rangers opened a four-game series against the Houston Astros and once again found themselves in a tight game.
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 4-3 walk-off loss in the 11th inning ... on a wild pitch.
Manager Chris Woodward emptied his bench in the 10th inning only to see the Rangers fail to score despite having runners on the corners and no outs.
Woodward then loaded the bases with two intentional walks in the bottom half, and watched Joey Gallo catch a Miles Straw flyball and throw out pinch-runner Chas McCormick at the plate to end the Astros’ threat in the 10th.
One of those moves came into play on the game-ending play, a wild pitch from Brett Martin that allowed Straw to score from third with the winning run.
“We fought. That’s one thing we did do,” Woodward said. “If we were playing golf, it’s like we were scrambling from the woods all day.”
If anyone wants to nitpick (not a particular big if there), start with the first move.
Third baseman Andy Ibanez batted for catcher Jose Trevino to start the 10th and took a walk. The result was good, putting runners at first and third with no outs, and Woodward said he thought Ibanez had a chance to put the ball in the gap and be the catalyst for a big inning.
But it forced some defensive mischief going forward after Khris Davis hit for outfielder Eli White. Davis bounced into a double play in which the runner at third, Charlie Culberson couldn’t score. White was in the game after pinch-running for left fielder Willie Calhoun in the eighth.
Jonah Heim entered the game at catcher, Ibanez went to third and Culberson went from third to left field, where he hasn’t played all season.
“You don’t really like take your catcher out of the game,” Woodward said. “But at that point I thought we had two matchups that best suited us.”
Trevino, who drove in the Rangers’ second run with a sacrifice fly, could have drawn a walk. He could have lifted another sacrifice fly to score Culberson, who opened the inning at second and went to third on a wild pitch.
Trevino, who is considered the Rangers’ best defensive catcher, would have been behind the plate for the Martin slider that got away from Heim and allowed Straw to score.
Straw is blazing fast, so the ball didn’t need to get far away for him to score. Heim, who’s no slouch defensively, wasn’t all that far from home when he retrieved the loose ball.
Maybe the same thing happens to Trevino if he’s still in the game. But maybe it doesn’t it.
Calhoun’s leadoff homer
Calhoun took a page from Shin-Soo Choo, taking the game’s first pitch out for a home run. It was the first leadoff homer of Calhoun’s career, and the first for the Rangers on a game’s first pitch since Choo did it last season at Oakland.
The last batter other than Choo to do it was Carlos Gomez in 2016.
Until Leody Taveras figures things out at the plate, Calhoun appears to be set as the Rangers’ leadoff man against right-handed pitchers. So, he’s going to get more chances to do what he did Thursday night.
(Taveras, by the way, had the most recent Rangers leadoff homer in September).
Calhoun doesn’t necessarily need to do it on the first pitch, but his ability to give the Rangers a quick 1-0 lead is one of the reasons manager Chris Woodward likes having him up there.
“Yeah, 1-0 after one pitch,” Woodward said. “He’s been swinging the bat really well.”
Calhoun has been one of the Rangers’ best hitters since he was reinstated from the injured list last month for his season debut. He has four homers in 81 at-bats and is hitting .309.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa opened the season at the leadoff hitter and still has that assignment against left-handers.
And don’t discount Calhoun’s glove. He’s never going to win a Gold Glove, but he has improved defensively. He showed that in the second inning, as he stayed with a Michael Brantley flyball, caught it against the left-field wall, and then threw to second base to double off Jose Altuve and end the inning.
Mike Foltynewicz said after his last start that he is getting closer and closer to the form he showed in 2018, when he was a National League All-Star with the Atlanta Braves.
And it’s plain to see at times. Other times, though, it isn’t.
Sometimes is plain to see after an instance when it wasn’t. In the same inning, even.
Foltynewicz worked himself into trouble multiple times, including in the Astros’ three-run second.
The first two Astros reached on singles and moved to second and third after a Straw sacrifice bunt. Foltynewicz then jumped ahead of No. 9 hitter Jason Castro, but the catcher worked a walk to load the bases.
Altuve followed with a grounder toward third base, but Culberson couldn’t make a play on what became a bases-clearing double and a 3-2 Astros lead. Calhoun’s play in left field helped minimize the damage.
If Culberson makes a play on the Altuve grounder, Foltynewicz’s night looks much better.
“It’s not an easy play,” Woodward said. “It’s an in-between play. He put himself in a tough spot. If he catches it, we’ve got a double play.”
The Astros threatened again in the fourth, as Straw started with a single and Castro walked again. But Foltynewicz retired Altuve, Brantley and Alex Bregman to end the threat.
“I gathered myself a bit and made some pitches there,” Foltynewicz said. “It seems like every game we’re battling out of an inning like that.”
Rangers’ star of the game
Here are the candidates for Rangers’ star of the game. Vote as many times as your heart desires.
Willie Calhoun: He started the game with a home run on the first pitch for the first leadoff homer of his career, and he made a critical catch-and-throw double play in the second inning to save at least one run.
John King: The left-hander, pitching in his hometown and a few miles from where he played in college (Houston), allowed two hits in two scoreless innings in relief of Mike Foltynewicz. King struck out two and dropped his ERA to 1.80.
Joey Gallo: He went 0 for 5, but one of his hitless trips was a ground ball that brought in Nick Solak from third with the tying run. Gallo then forced an 11th inning by catching a Miles Straw flyball and throwing out Chas McCormick at home to end the inning.
Who was the Rangers' star of the game from Thursday at Houston?