"Willie's a Special Kid" While Gallo Steals the Show, Calhoun's Clutch At-Bat Helped Save a Rangers' Win in San Francisco
Joey Gallo is really good at baseball.
Even after a two-week delay due to positive tests for COVID-19 during intake testing in camp, Gallo has gotten off to a great start this season. Sunday afternoon's performance was undoubtedly his best of the season, going 3-for-4 with a single, double, and three-run home run in the seventh inning that gave the Rangers a 9-5 lead and put the game out of reach.
"I felt good today," Gallo said. "Days games are always tough to get the body going. At the beginning of the game, I didn't feel to great after a long night game before. You just have to compete. I felt like I had a good first at-bat. I was able to go the other way. That led to more good at-bats and seeing the ball well. It was a pretty good day for me today at the plate. I feel really good."
No doubt about that. Just like there was no doubt about his ability to drive a ball to the deepest part of the park and still get it over the fence.
What preceded the largest hit of the game might have been the most crucial at-bat of the game. The Rangers had a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning after a strong four innings from Kolby Allard. Ian Gibaut and Jesse Chavez struggled in the home half of the fifth and sixth innings, allowing the Giants to crawl right back in the game. Home runs from Evan Longoria and Chadwick Tromp in the sixth inning tied the game at five runs apiece.
Heading into the seventh inning, the Rangers' No. 9, 1, and 2 hitters led off with three consecutive walks. After loading the bases with nobody out, Giants manager Gabe Kapler went to lefty reliever Tyler Anderson for the favorable matchups against Ranger lefties Willie Calhoun and Joey Gallo.
Calhoun has had a hard time against lefties since coming back after being struck in the jaw by Dodger lefty Julio Urías in Spring Training.
"I’m proud of Willie because when you get hit in the face—I don’t care what he says or how he says it—there’s things that can affect you long-term," Rangers manager Chris Woodward said.
Woodward stuck with his young outfielder in that tough spot, which is a huge statement of confidence. There's a big difference between 3-5 and 2-6 when starting a 60-game season. The Rangers needed to salvage that series. There was no way they could leave a bases-loaded, nobody out situation without bringing in at least one run.
Willie worked the at-bat beautifully by laying off a couple tough pitches to get ahead 2-0. He then put the barrel on a fastball and drove it deep enough to center field to allow Jeff Mathis to score from third base with ease.
Needless to say, that's a confidence booster for Calhoun.
"Yeah, that helps a lot," Calhoun told SI's Inside The Rangers. "Obviously getting hit in the face back in spring against a lefty gives me a little hesitation when I face them. But the more and more I see them, I am starting to get more and more comfortable again. It’s just little victories like that right there, that makes me feel good about the next time I face a lefty. I’m hitting the ball hard, and that’s all I can control."
Managers have a tough line to walk this season. They don't have as much time to allow guys to figure things out at the plate. Yet, they can't just swap a guy for the favorable matchup without crushing confidence and morale. Managers have to look beyond the box score and be tuned in to where their players are and know when a guy can come through when the team needs it.
"Obviously he’s not getting a ton of hits, but he’s hitting the ball hard," Gallo said of Calhoun. "He’s having good at-bats. He had that bases loaded sac fly against a lefty, which was huge. That’s a great at-bat to drive in a run right there. You don’t get hit out of it, but you still had a great at-bat."
The Rangers are relying on Calhoun to be a big part of their offense. Woodward understands the urgency a 60-game season demands. The shrewd move there might be to bring in a right-handed bat to increase the chances of bringing home a run. Woodward's decision to stick with Calhoun says everything we need to know about how he and the club values him.
"I want him to be the guy in that situation. I’m begging to put him in that situation," Woodward said. "Willie’s a special kid, man. He’s got a special ability with the bat in his hand. I don’t care if the guy is throwing left, right, or in between. I want him in the big spots.”