Image credit: Corey Seager and Marcus Semien celebrate after turning a double play in the eighth inning of the Rangers' 3-1 win over the D-backs in Game 3 of the World Series. (Harry How/Getty Images).
PHOENIX — In the fall of 2021, the Rangers decided something needed to change.
The team was coming off a 60-102 season, their fifth straight losing campaign and worst record since 1973. The prospects the team was counting on—shortstop Anderson Tejeda, catcher Sam Huff, righthander Hans Crouse and first-round picks Cole Winn, Bubba Thompson and Chris Seise—had all stalled or gotten injured, leaving gaping holes in the team’s lineup and rotation outlooks. The present was bad, and the future didn’t look much better.
With a sparkling new stadium and a fanbase growing impatient, a lengthy rebuild wasn’t an option. The players the Rangers needed to win simply weren’t in the organization, a painful realization the front office belatedly acknowledged. In order to turn things around quickly, the Rangers were going to have to pay to bring in players from outside the organization.
In a single day, the Rangers did so in decisive fashion. The Rangers signed shortstop Corey Seager, second baseman Marcus Semien and righthander Jon Gray to contracts worth a combined $556 million on Dec. 1, 2021, a stunning simultaneous outlay that announced to the baseball world the franchise was not going sit back and wait for things to magically get better—it was going to act.
On Monday night, on baseball’s biggest stage of all, the high-priced trio solidified they were worth the investment.
Seager and Semien combined to drive in all of the Rangers runs, Gray pitched three critical scoreless innings after Max Scherzer departed with lower back tightness and the Rangers beat the D-backs 3-1 in Game 3 of the World Series. The Rangers lead the series two games to one.
“I think they showed what they mean to us with their outstanding play.” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re the type of guys that can turn a franchise around. Went out and signed ’em and made this club that much better.”
In two years, the trio has largely given the Rangers their money’s worth. Seager (10 years, $375 million) posted a 1.013 OPS this season and is likely be the American League MVP runner-up to Shohei Ohtani. Semien (seven years, $175 million) led the AL in hits and runs scored out of the leadoff spot. Gray (four years, $56 million) has delivered two solid seasons to stabilize a rotation that critically lacked starting pitching.
But the Rangers didn’t give them more than half a billion dollars to merely perform in the regular season. They signed them to steer the franchise back to the postseason, and ultimately, lead the Rangers to their first World Series championship.
In that sense, they’re doing their part.
With the series tied at one game apiece after a D-backs rout in Game 2 and a boisterous, sold-out crowd rocking Chase Field, Semien and Seager teamed up to give the Rangers a critical early lead.
Right fielder Adolis Garcia threw out Christian Walker at the plate and third baseman Josh Jung made a sensational barehanded play to keep the D-backs scoreless in the second. Fresh off that standout defensive inning, Semien ripped an elevated fastball from Brandon Pfaadt for two-out RBI single into center field to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
After a mound visit, Seager clobbered the very next pitch 421 feet into the right-field bleachers for a two-run homer to make it 3-0. The homer left Seager’s bat at 114.5 mph, his hardest-hit ball as a Ranger and the hardest-hit home run in the World Series since Statcast tracking began in 2015.
“Marcus put a good AB together right before me and drove in a run and (I was) just trying to build off that,” Seager said. “This lineup is trying to build off each other constantly. So props to him on a great AB, and fortunately I got a good pitch to hit.”
Gray then took his turn to star. Scherzer emerged from the dugout in the bottom of the fourth visibly grimacing and trying to loosen up his back. After just two warmup tosses with a pained expression on his face, he walked off the mound with the Rangers trainer. Gray, a candidate start Game 4, was summoned to save the day on short notice.
Gray himself was not a picture of health. He finished the regular season on the injured list with right forearm tightness and had pitched only 2.2 innings in the postseason. But with his team nursing an early lead and in need of innings, he delivered to earn his first postseason win.
Gray struck out D-backs catcher Gabriel Moreno swinging through a 90 mph slider to lead off the fourth and cruised from there. He retired the first eight batters he faced and nine of 10 overall. He allowed just one baserunner, a single by Ketel Marte off the Semien’s glove, and threw 25 of 30 pitches for strikes.
With a thin and beleaguered Rangers bullpen at risk of needing to take on a significant chunk of the game, Gray carried the team through the middle innings to hand the ball off to end-of-game trio Josh Sborz, Aroldis Chapman and Jose Leclerc.
“He’s got a lot of confidence going,” Bochy said. “I’ll start with he’s healthy right now. I think he’s excited about that. He was dealing with the arm but now he’s back to who he is. He knows he’s getting the ball where he wants. His velocity. His slider. He’s back to being the guy that we had earlier in the season, and for the most part of this season.”
After supplying the offense, Seager and Semien saved the Rangers one final time on defense in the eighth.
The D-backs cut the Rangers lead to 3-1 in the frame and had a runner on first with one out. Chapman, the Rangers hard-throwing but erratic setup man, gave up two hits and a run within his first two batters and was visibly struggling, a common occurrence throughout his postseason career.
Marte ripped a hard ground ball up the middle that appeared destined for a single, but Seager made a sliding stop to his left to snag it. He delivered a perfect backhand flip to Semien from his knees to get the out at second, and Semien quickly got the ball out of his glove and fired a bullet to first, getting Marte by the slimmest of margins for an inning-ending double play.
Instead of two on, one out and the go-ahead run at the plate for the D-backs, the Rangers walked off the field with the lead and the momentum in their hands.
“Tremendous job on Marcus’ part, especially with that transfer in the turn,” Seager said. “What he did really made that play. It was a big moment for us in the game. It was a big momentum change for us, for sure.”
Leclerc finished it off in the ninth for the win. The D-backs, after exploding for nine runs and 16 hits in Game 2, managed just one run and six hits in Game 3. They went 2 for 7 with runners in scoring position, stymied by the Rangers pitching and defense, as well as multiple missed calls by home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez.
“We had a chance against Gray. We had a chance against Scherzer. But it’s a game of capitalizing on the right pitch at the right time,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “And sometimes it’s with two outs and we just didn’t get that job done today. They did. They got a two-out hit from Semien and a two-run home run from Seager. And that was the difference in a game.”
It was a critical victory for the Rangers, not just because it gave them the edge in the series, but because they lost Scherzer and ALCS MVP Garcia, who left the game with left side tightness after injuring himself on a swing in the eighth inning. With two of their best players down, Seager, Semien and Gray stepped up to steady the Rangers and give them control of the series.
Not all teams that spend money win a World Series, but the teams that win a World Series almost always spend.
The Rangers chose to put their franchise’s turnaround on the shoulders of Semien, Seager and Gray on that crucial December day. On the biggest stage of all, the trio delivered, and now has the Rangers two wins away from their first World Series championship.
“This is what we envisioned,” Seager said of he, Semien and Gray signing together. “This is where we wanted to be.”