ARLINGTON, Texas — Rangers general manager Chris Young was trying to change short- and long-term history when he agreed with Corey Seager after the 2021 season on the most expensive contract in franchise history — 10 years at $325 million.
The Rangers had not made the playoffs since 2016. The franchise that began in 1961 as the Washington Senators had remained one of six current teams that had never won a World Series.
In Seager, Young was enlisting a player who had won the NLCS and World Series MVP in 2020 when the Dodgers captured their first championship since 1988. Both of those series were played in the COVID-created bubble of Globe Life Field. That is the Texas Rangers’ home.
That was the site of World Series Game 1 on Friday night. That was where Seager came to the plate with one on and one out in the ninth inning and the Rangers down two runs to a Diamondbacks team playing at a heightened level of performance and confidence, particularly on the road.
Arizona closer Paul Sewald had been near perfect this postseason — eight innings, three hits, no runs, six-for-six in save opportunities. But he committed a baseball sin to open the ninth with a 5-3 lead — he walked the ninth-place hitter, Leodys Taveras. The struggling Marcus Semien, who was signed for seven years and $175 million as a near package deal with Seager, stayed struggling as the lineup turned over by striking out.
But that brought up Seager and in the dugout Rangers third baseman Josh Jung thought, “Don’t throw him a heater up” But that is what Sewald did with the first pitch. Seager went to the upper deck in right field to tie the score. Known for hard work (often on his own) and stoicism, even Seager broke character to pump his arms in jubilation.
“It’s such a special moment, but that’s why you bring a guy like that in who you pay top dollar for a top-tier performer,” Texas first baseman Nathaniel Lowe said.
Seager is on the short list of best hitters in the sport — and perhaps an even shorter list of just who you would want batting in this type of situation: your team on the precipice of losing the World Series opener in its home park.
“It’s like the script was written for him,” Jung said. “It’s truly incredible. The at-bats he puts together night in and night out in the big spots and in the big situations. When he was coming up there. I was like, ‘Don’t throw a strike, something cool is going to happen.’ First pitch, there he goes. There’s no words to describe what he means to us.”
Perhaps the only player who the Rangers would want up more in a critical spot than Seager these days did bat with one out in the 11th inning of what was still a 5-5 game. Arizona had just brought Miguel Castro in for a right-on-right matchup against Adolis Garcia. But these days it doesn’t matter with which hand the pitcher throws — or who the pitcher is.
The opener of the 119th World Series was the first of 37 games this postseason to go to extra innings. And Texas won 6-5 when Garcia smoked an opposite-field homer to right. It was the eighth homer this postseason for Garcia and marked the fifth game in a row he went deep — only Daniel Murphy in 2015 at six has a longer streak. It was the first World Series walk-off homer since the Dodgers’ Max Muncy took out Nathan Eovaldi in Game 2 of the 2018 World Series. Eovaldi was Texas’ starter in Game 1 Friday.
He was terrific vs. the first six batters, retiring them all, going to a 0-2 count on five and striking out four. But in the third Eovaldi was victimized by a two-run Corbin Carroll triple and, from there, Arizona would get four steals from four different players, a homer from Tommy Pham and two RBIs from Ketel Marte, who has a hit in all 17 postseason games in his career to take a 5-3 lead to the ninth.
In relief of Eovaldi, the Texas bullpen — the weak spot of the team this postseason — produced 6 ¹/₃ shutout innings. Within that Rangers manager Bruce Bochy seemed more likely to use Jacob deGrom or Nolan Ryan in a tight playoff game than Aroldis Chapman. But those relievers who did pitch kept it close for Seager to tie it and Garcia to win Game 1.
“Right now that list [of who you would want up in a huge World Series spot] is very small,” Texas star rookie Evan Carter said. “And honestly there’s probably two people in this room right now that I would want up there for sure.”