PHOENIX — The Texas Rangers’ talent this postseason has been a source of widespread inquiry, but little explanation. Max Scherzer, who rode a similar run to the 2019 Washington Nationals championship, pondered the title and struggled to explain it. Instead, he noted a trait that defied the system.
“Nothing is going to faze us,” he said before Sunday’s workout. “We’ve seen it. I feel like I’ve seen it in my time since I’ve been here at Rangers — there are moments when you think the team is going to fold and it completely backs off. He punches the other guy in the face with no choice.”
That was clear once again on Monday night.
Scherzer’s back faltered three innings in his start, forcing him out of Game 3 of the World Series after recording just nine outs, and Jon Gray, the veteran starter-turned-temporary reliever, delivered the big punch, delivering three runs. The inning surrendered a slim lead to the Rangers’ high-leverage relievers in a 3-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Rangers have now won an unprecedented nine consecutive road games in these playoffs, passing the 99-win Tampa Bay Rays, 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 clinch their first championship in their 62-year history.
To get here, they snapped an eight-game losing streak in mid-August and six in seven games starting in September. They responded by losing the division title on the final day of the regular season.
Now they will have to deal with injuries to two of their most decorated players.
Scherzer, who is lined up to start a possible Game 7, hopes the back spasms will subside within the next 48 hours, but he was more uncertain when he addressed the media in his locker postgame. Adolis Garcia, the dynamic right fielder who did the heavy lifting offensively this month, has since left Chase Field. After tweaking his tilt on one swing in the eighth inning, he underwent imaging on his left side, prompting an exit.
“He was the heart and soul of our team,” Marcus Semien said of Garcia. “That being said, we got Adolis down at the start of the season and guys have stepped up and that’s been the case all year.”
The Rangers’ rise from a 102-loss team in 2021 to a team at the top of the Championship in 2023 began on November 30, 2021. The Rangers signed Siemian and Corey Seager to contracts that totaled $500 million that day — but they also signed Gray to a four-year, $56 million contract. Gray spent the next two seasons as a solid member of their starting rotation, posting a 4.05 ERA in 53 starts. But he suffered forearm tightness in late September, prompting a spot on the injured list that led to him serving as a reliever in the tail end of these playoffs.
Gray contributed five critical outs in Game 1 and then warmed up to start the bottom of the fourth in Game 3 — an inning after Siemian’s RBI single and Seager’s 421-foot two-run homer gave the Rangers a 3-0 lead against rookie Wright-hander Brandon Pfat. Scherzer gestured to the Rangers’ coaching staff, then left the game after a sore throat prevented him from pitching. Gray retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, three of them by strikeout. He needed just 30 pitches. Josh Sporce, Aroldis Chapman and Jose Leclerc handled the rest.
“This is what we envisioned,” Seager said, adding that he, Siemian and Gray put the Rangers one step closer to a title. “This is where we wanted to be, and we talked about it before.”
Gray, 31, has made 205 pitching appearances over nine major league seasons. All but one were openers.
Becoming a reliever wasn’t as difficult as he thought.
“It was a lot easier because I missed a lot of time early in the playoffs,” Gray said. “I couldn’t do it. When I was celebrating with the guys, I didn’t feel like I contributed. So the only thing I can ask for is to have the opportunity to help. I was really happy. That’s about it.”
The Rangers benefited from three big breaks. In the second, D-Backs first baseman Christian Walker ran through third-base coach Tony Pereszica’s stop sign and was thrown out at home by Garcia. Later that inning, a sharp one-hopper off the bat of Alec Thomas hit Scherzer’s right elbow and rolled just enough for Rangers third baseman Josh Jung to make a slick empty-handed play. And in the ninth, Gabriel Moreno took an outside pitch that should have prompted a leadoff walk, but home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez ruled it a strike instead, and T-backs manager Torrey Lovullo said he was “not happy.”
But the Rangers also made their own luck, especially in the bottom of the eighth, shortly after Arizona picked up its first run on Chapman. Ketel Marte hit a 114 mph grounder to left, but Seager went to his left, fielded it and flipped it to Siemian to start an inning-ending double play.
Moments later, Seager was asked how his team finds ways to win outside of Arlington, Texas.
He too was unable to answer.
“We play every day,” Seager said. “We just try to win on the day. Wherever we are, we try to play good baseball every day. I don’t know how to credit it to anything other than that, really. I’m sorry.”