Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Ross Wolf has his moment for Rangers
By Todd Wills
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ross Wolf's plan was to give up baseball at the end of this season.
After getting his first major league win in the Rangers' 3-1 victory over Oakland on Wednesday, the 30-year old's plans have changed.
Ross Wolf went five-plus innings to earn his first major league win and help the Rangers avoid a sweep.
Wolf will likely begin preparing for a Monday start in the Rangers' day-night doubleheader at Arizona, taking the ball on the same day as ace Yu Darvish.
Sometimes baseball produces great stories like this one. Wolf, an 18th-round pick of the Florida Marlins out of Wabash Valley (Ill.) Junior College, hadn't pitched in the big leagues since 2010 with the A's. He toiled around in the minor leagues with two organizations last season -- including the Rangers. A blister on rookie Nick Tepesch's pitching hand forced the Rangers to call up Wolf for a spot start.
Wolf arrived in spring training in February with no visions of pitching in the majors. Basically, he and his wife were planning on life after baseball with two young children in his hometown of Newton, Ill.
"If you had told me at spring training I would be here with this team," Wolf said, "I would have called you a liar."
But there he was Wednesday afternoon, starting one of the biggest games of the season for the Rangers. Oakland had won two straight in Arlington and had a chance to pull within 3 1/2 games in the American League West. It was a big swing game, and one on paper that seemed to tilt toward the A's.
Not after the first inning. Wolf pitched a 1-2-3 first inning (he went on to retire the first nine batters he faced). The Rangers offense, which had three singles and didn't have a plate appearance with a runner in scoring position in Tuesday's dismal 1-0 loss, exploded for three runs in the bottom of the first.
Wolf allowed the offense to wake up, even if it was just for an inning. The Rangers had a 3-0 lead after four batters as David Murphy cranked a two-run home run and Adrian Beltre hit a solo shot to center field.
Wolf went to work from there. He got into his first jam in the top of the fourth when the A's had runners at second and third and one out. He minimized the damage as Brandon Moss plated Oakland's only run with a sacrifice fly and Josh Donaldson grounded out to shortstop.
The fifth inning provided the big test. Wolf walked Seth Smith and allowed a double to Derek Norris to find himself in another second and third situation, this time with no outs and a 3-1 lead. He got through the inning with help from A.J. Pierzynski, who came out and talked to him on the mound a few times.
"He stayed in the moment and didn't lose focus on what he was doing out there," Pierzynski said.
Elvis Andrus made the defensive play of the game with an over-the-shoulder catch for the first out, and Wolf induced a second popout to short for the second out. That left a key matchup against A's leadoff hitter Coco Crisp. Wolf got ahead with a slider and then was able to get Crisp to ground out to first on a 1-2 change-up.
"He did a good job of changing speeds," Pierzynski said.
Wolf did put two runners on in the sixth -- one on a rare error by Andrus -- and he needed help from relievers Neal Cotts, Robbie Ross and Joe Nathan to seal the win. All they did was retire 12 of the 13 batters they faced.
Nathan and Pierzynski made sure Wolf got the ball from the final out as the Rangers' closer struck out Norris to end the game.
"I wish I had gotten to say hello to him before the game," said Nathan, who closed out the game and earned his 14th save. "It's obviously a great story, hard work and dedication."