Top ten Rangers moments of 2017: No. 9. 37 comments

Top Ten Moment #9: A. J. Griffin throws a complete game shutout.

A. J. Griffin strikes out the first Padre batter in the top of the ninth.


By Tuesday, May 9, the Rangers had been left for dead. They were suffering their second horrible start in the three-year Jeff Banister era. They lost the first of a two-game series in San Diego against the woeful Padres, 5-1, to fall seven games under .500, at 13-20.

Things were looking dire.

While the Rangers’ next ten games were against teams they actually had a chance to beat, they needed some sort of spark. They got it in the right arm of A. J. Griffin, who came into the game undefeated in three decisions.

He easily retired the first ten Padres hitters.

With one out in the fourth, he gave up two consecutive singles, but got out of the inning unscathed. It helped that the Rangers scored five in the first and already had an 8-0 lead at that point or chances are pretty good, having given up two hits in a row the second time through the Padres batting order, that manager Jeff Banister would have pulled Griffin.

He went back to work in the fifth inning and retired the Padres one-two-three.

In the sixth, with one out, he walked a batter, then gave up a single, immediately causing an involuntary twitching of Jeff Banister’s bullpen-calling finger. Before Banister could pull him, though—with a three-hitter and an 8-0 lead and a whopping 69 pitches—Griffin got Wil Myers to ground into an inning-ending double play. Crisis averted, for the moment.

Griffin retired all three batters in the seventh.

He retired all three batters in the eighth.

Now it was the bottom of the ninth. Jeff Banister had a major crisis of conscience on his hands. The Rangers had an 11-0 lead. His starter was still in the game, at an ungodly, unheard of 92 pitches. But his bullpen had already blown a dozen games. No lead was safe, not even eleven runs, especially with Sam Dyson lurking. But no starter had ever gone nine innings. But his bullpen was untrustworthy. But his starter was still in the game. But he had Sam Dyson. But but.

Somehow, against all odds, against his better judgment, against anything he had ever done in the past, against the sacred Book of Baseball, Jeff Banister let A. J. Griffin pitch the bottom of the ninth inning.

Right away Banister regretted his decision. After four pitches to the first batter, Griffin had allowed two balls to go along with two strikes. Banister was biting his nails. He had ignored that voice inside his head that instinctively told him no starting pitcher could ever go longer than six innings. And now, here he was, letting this one go into the ninth. The ninth! And what was his reward for that stupidity? Seeing his starter throw two balls out of the strike zone. Banister did the math in his head. Just two more balls would walk this batter, then just thirteen more walks after that, and the game would be tied. He had to get his bullpen warming up immediately.

But the next pitch, which Banister “watched” with his eyes covered, was a strike. One out. Okay, but it was still a fourteen-consecutive walk game. Griffin was nearing 100 pitches.

Banister prayed that Dyson would warm up quickly. He vowed, no matter what, if he did bring Dyson into the game and he was ineffective, he would pull him after twelve walks. No messing around today. He wouldn’t let Dyson go the entire fourteen walks.

Fortunately, Griffin got the next batter to fly out on four pitches.

Banister’s stomach was turning. With two outs and the bases empty, the game was still just three grand slams away from being lost. And Griffin had passed the 100-pitch threshold, at 101. The Player’s Union was threatening to file a grievance.

Somehow, Griffin found the next gear. He reached back and, three pitches later, on pitch 104 exactly, which is thought to set an MLB record for pitches in a game, historians are still researching, A. J. Griffin coaxed a ground ball to short for the last out of the game.

An unlikely 11-0 complete game, four-hit, one-walk shutout.

What was really important, though, was that that game was the first of what was to grow into a ten-game winning streak that moved the Rangers over .500 for the first time in the season and gave them hope.

Then the Ranger proceeded to lose twelve of the next sixteen.

But for one brief moment, sparked by an A. J. Griffin gem, the Rangers season looked salvageable.