By Rick Assad
Iconic and massive, AT&T Stadium is the home venue of the five-time Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, and it sits within easy walking distance of Globe Life Field, in Arlington, Texas.
For the fifth year in a row, my sister, Frances, and I have ventured to the Lone Star State, staying with her daughter, Kristin, and her family which consists of husband Manny, 26-year-old Alex, 21-year-old Isabelle and 13-year-old Noah.
The four males had tickets for last Wednesday’s contest between the Rangers and Tampa Bay, which ironically met the Dodgers in the 2020 COVID-19 World Series at this same stadium and claimed by the Boys in Blue in six games.
This is the second time I’ve been to the recently minted Globe Life Field which opened in 2020.
In 2019, I attended two games at the original Globe Life Field for games versus the Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers.
On this occasion, the Rangers, who came into the game with a 57-39 record and are 58-41 after losing the first two of three games to the visiting Dodgers, 11-5 on Friday and 16-3 on Saturday behind All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman, who clubbed two homers, drove in three runs, finished with four hits and three runs scored, powered past the Rays 5-1 and a three-game sweep with just enough hitting that included two home runs, flawless defense, two stolen bases and outstanding pitching by four hurlers.
For six innings, it was a one-run differential in favor of the Rangers when center fielder Leody Tavares swatted a leadoff homer to right field, his 11th, in the third inning.
Four frames later, Tavares slapped a one-out single to center field which scored left fielder Travis Jankowski, who reached on an infield base hit that put Texas ahead 2-0.
The Rangers would break the game wide open in the eighth when they scored three runs on a homer to right field by All-Star catcher Jonah Heim, who doubled to right center in the fourth, his 14th round-tripper.
The Rays, who outhit the Rangers, 10-9, entered the contest with a 60-38 mark, trimmed the lead to four runs with a one-out solo blast to right field by Jose Siri, the center fielder, which was his 19th.
Right-handed pitcher Alex Speas, who was drafted by Texas in the second round with the 63rd pick in the 2016 draft, made his big-league debut memorable after striking out three in one and two-third innings.
Speas’ story is uplifting and instructive after the 25-year-old hard-thrower had been away from the game to take a mental health break.
Speas had been coaching at the Combine Academy in North Carolina in 2022 and was inspired by those young players who ranged in age from nine through high school.
“It’s one of those dreams come true,” said Speas, who pitched in 28 games in AA and AAA this season, having tossed 36 innings with 59 strikeouts and a 1.00 earned-run average, in a story written by Gabriel Trevino, an intern for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It’s something you dream about as a kid. I look back at working with those kids this past year. It’s something they all dream about. Using this as a platform for those guys to understand that anything is possible.”
Speas faced four batters and fanned three swinging without allowing a walk or a hit.
The first batter Speas saw in the seventh inning was All-Star shortstop Wander Franco, who fanned.
This turned into a double play when Heim threw to former Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager (singled to right in the third inning) who applied the tag on right fielder Manuel Margot, (doubled to right field in the second and added an infield hit in the seventh).
Speas, who uses a cutter and a sweeper, struck out first baseman Yandy Diaz to begin the eighth inning.
Speas whiffed All-Star left fielder Randy Arozarena, who came in as a pinch hitter and who as a rookie in 2020 had a breakout postseason when he walloped 10 homers, added 29 hits with 14 runs batted in across 20 games.
Speas induced third baseman Isaac Paredes to pop to second base for the final out of the frame, which secured a hold for Speas.
First-year Texas manager Bruce Bochy, who guided the San Francisco Giants to World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014, and has pushed the Rangers into first place in the American League West, felt that Speas could and would do the job.
“I can’t say enough about what he did,” Bochy said in that same article. “That kid really showed great poise, really handled the situation so well. I know he’s worked hard to get back here. He went out there and looked like he was in a good place, and we saw what he did. And we needed it. It was such a tight ball game, had some guys that were down today, and we didn’t want to use. He came through in a big way for us.”
Tampa Bay started the season with a 23-6 record at the end of April and went 34-22 combined in May and June and are currently 61-41 and second place in the AL East.
Brock Burke (4-2), who toured two scoreless innings, received credit for the victory, allowing one hit with three strikeouts.
The Rays employed five pitchers and opted for a relief game as Zack Littell (0-2) took the loss after working three and one-third frames, surrendering five hits with one run (earned), four strikeouts and no walks.
The temperature outside Globe Life Field was an oppressive 106 degrees, but inside the air-conditioned facility it was a cool and comfortable 74 degrees.
That’s baseball during the summer in Texas.