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Profar shines, but jury's still out

ARLINGTON - Jurickson Profar, the top-ranked prospect in baseball when the season began, has not been the transcendent player we were told he was destined to become for the Texas Rangers.

He's no Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, youngsters who arrived last season and quickly became impact players. Or Yasiel Puig, who ignited the Los Angeles Dodgers' playoff run this season. That's not Profar's fault.

He didn't create the hype that surrounded his minor league career, but he must deal with it. But the one thing Ron Washington has consistently said about Profar has nothing to do with the 20-year-old's bat speed, power, arm, range or savvy. Washington has consistently said the game doesn't intimidate Profar.

Profar gave us a glimpse of what Washington meant Thursday night with a towering homer to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning in a tie game.

Texas 6, Los Angeles Angels 5. Just so you know, the Rangers have won four consecutive games against the Angels with walk-off homers. The Rangers still trail the Cleveland Indians by a game and the Tampa Bay Rays by two games with three games left. Reality says the only way the Rangers can make the playoffs is by sweeping the last three games of this series from Los Angeles, while Cleveland loses once or Tampa Bay loses twice.

For now, the season lives on for at least one more day. And for that, the Rangers can thank the most unlikeliest of heroes. Joe Nathan worked out of a jam in the top of the ninth, giving Profar an opportunity to hit the first walk-off homer of his career.

Neal Cotts, who pitched a perfect eighth inning, walked Josh Hamilton to start the ninth after getting ahead 0-2. It marked just the fifth time in 134 at-bats  Hamilton had walked this season after falling behind 0-2.

Enter Nathan. A groundout and a wild pitch moved Hamilton to third with one out. Can you imagine the irony if Hamilton had scored the winning run in the game that essentially eliminated the Rangers from the playoffs?

It would've been the worst ending to an awful September for Rangers' fans, who've watched their team stumble to a 9-15 record this month and lose control of their playoff destiny. After all, they're still lustily booing Hamilton, who left Texas after five memorable seasons for a five-year, $123 million deal in Anaheim, with every at-bat. But Nathan struck out Kole Calhoun and Mark Trumbo, ending the threat. Lance Berkman, a nonfactor for months, stood in the on-deck circle with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. If Craig Gentry had reached base, Washington was going to give Berkman an opportunity to end the game with a long ball. When that didn't happen, he summoned Profar.

"I was just looking for someone to get on base," Washington said. "He gave me a lot more than I asked for." Profar, batting left-handed, turned on a 1-1 pitch and drove it 372 feet, several feet inside the right-field foul pole. As starting pitcher Matt Garza led Profar's jubilant teammates streaming out of the dugout, Profar sprinted around the bases, but not so fast he couldn't soak up the emotions of the moment.

"That was my first one," he said of the walk-off. "It's the best one." The last player as young as Profar (20 years, 218 days) to hit a walk-off homer was Florida's Miguel Cabrera (20.063) on June 20, 2003, vs. Tampa Bay, a two-run blast in the 11th inning.

We see how Cabrera turned out. We have no idea how Profar will turn out. He's so young; we must be patient. Of course, fans and franchises tend to lack patience. The Rangers and all the so-called minor league-prospect experts haven't helped Profar. All of them told us Profar was going to be a difference-maker with the Rangers. He had way too much talent to languish on the bench, so the Rangers shipped off Michael Young to make sure Profar could play almost every day. All the talk about trading second baseman Ian Kinsler or moving him to first base was based on Profar being one of the game's best young players.

He's not.

Profar is hitting .235 with six homers and 26 RBIs to go with 26 walks and 63 strikeouts this season. As the games have gained importance this month, Washington has benched the youngster.

Profar has had just 14 at-bats since Sept. 8.

"My confidence is always up. This is October baseball," he said. "I just try to work hard and stay ready.

"In that situation, I just wanted to have a good AB. I put a perfect swing on it." Did he ever.

And for one night, Profar was everything general manager Jon Daniels anticipated. The Rangers hope this is the first of many.