April 21, 2024

PHOENIX — The Texas Rangers‘ prowess on the road this postseason has been a source of widespread inquiry but very little explanation. Max Scherzer, whose 2019 Washington Nationals rode a similar run to a championship, was the latest to deliberate on the topic and struggled to explain it himself. Instead, he referenced a trait that transcends setting.

“Nothing’s going to faze us,” he said before Sunday’s workout. “We’ve seen it. I feel like I’ve seen it over my time since I’ve been here on the Rangers — that there’s been moments where you think the team is going to fold over, and it absolutely snaps back the other way and punches the other guy in the face.”

It was obvious once again Monday night.

Scherzer’s back spasmed three innings into his start, forcing him to exit Game 3 of the World Series after recording only nine outs. It was Jon Gray, the veteran starter turned temporary reliever, who provided the big punch, delivering three quality innings to hand a small lead over to the Rangers’ high-leverage relievers and set the tone in a 3-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Rangers have now won an unprecedented nine consecutive road games in these playoffs, a run that saw them surge past the 99-win Tampa Bay Rays, the 101-win Baltimore Orioles and the defending champion Houston Astros. Two more, and the Rangers — with a 2-1 lead over the D-backs in this best-of-seven series — will claim the first championship in their 62-year history.

To get here, they overcame an eight-game losing streak near the middle of August and six losses in seven games to begin September. They responded to losing the division title on the final day of the regular season by reeling off seven consecutive playoff wins, then lost three consecutive American League Championship Series games at home, only to clinch the pennant with back-to-back road victories in Houston.

Now they might have to overcome injuries to two of their most decorated players.

Scherzer, who lines up to start a potential Game 7, is hopeful that the back spasms will subside within the next 48 hours but was still very much uncertain when he addressed the media at his locker postgame. Adolis Garcia, the dynamic right fielder who has done most of the heavy lifting offensively this month, had already left Chase Field by then. He was undergoing imaging on his left side after seemingly tweaking his oblique on a swing in the eighth inning, prompting his exit.

“He’s been the heart and soul of our team,” Marcus Semien said of Garcia. “That being said, we’ve had Adolis go down earlier in the season, we’ve had guys step up, and that’s what the entire year has been.”

The Rangers’ rise from a 102-loss team in 2021 to one that is on the precipice of a championship in 2023 began Nov. 30, 2021. The Rangers signed Semien and Corey Seager to contracts that totaled $500 million that day — but they also signed Gray to a four-year, $56 million deal. Gray spent the next two seasons serving as a solid member of their starting rotation, posting a 4.05 ERA in 53 starts. But he experienced forearm tightness in late September, prompting a stint on the injured list that led to him serving as a reliever for the tail end of these playoffs.

Gray contributed five critical outs in Game 1, then warmed up to begin the bottom of the fourth in Game 3 — one inning after Semien’s RBI single and Seager’s 421-foot two-run homer gave the Rangers a 3-0 lead against rookie right-hander Brandon Pfaadt. Scherzer had motioned to the Rangers’ training staff, then came out of the game because an achy back would not allow him to keep pitching. Gray proceeded to retire nine of the 10 batters he faced, three of them via strikeout. He needed only 30 pitches. Josh Sborz, Aroldis Chapman and Jose Leclerc handled the rest.

“This is what we envisioned,” Seager said of he, Semien and Gray putting the Rangers one step closer to a title. “This is where we wanted to be. We talked about it before.”

Gray, 31, had made 205 pitching appearances across nine major league seasons. All but one had come as a starting pitcher.

Transitioning to a reliever hasn’t been as difficult as he imagined.

“It was pretty easy because I had missed so much time early in the playoffs,” Gray said. “There was so much I couldn’t do. When I was celebrating with the guys, I really didn’t feel like I contributed. So to be able to get a chance to help is all I can ask for. I was really happy about that.”

The Rangers benefited from three sizeable breaks. In the second, D-backs first baseman Christian Walker ran through a stop sign from third-base coach Tony Perezchica and was thrown out at home by Garcia. Later that inning, a sharp one-hopper off the bat of Alek Thomas ricocheted off Scherzer’s right elbow and rolled close enough for Rangers third baseman Josh Jung to make a slick barehand play. And in the ninth, Gabriel Moreno took an outside pitch that should’ve prompted a leadoff walk but was instead ruled a strike by home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, a call that D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said he was “not happy about.”

But the Rangers also made their own luck, most notably in the bottom of the eighth shortly after Arizona picked up its first run off Chapman. Ketel Marte hit a 114-mph grounder to the left side, but Seager ranged to his left, fielded it and flipped to Semien to start an inning-ending double play.

Moments later, Seager was asked how his team continues to find ways to win outside of Arlington, Texas.

He struggled to answer, too.

“We’re just showing up to play every day,” Seager said. “We’re trying to win that day. No matter where we are, we’re trying to play good baseball every day. I don’t know how to credit it to anything other than that, really. Sorry.”

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