ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Rougned Odor was struggling so badly a month into this season that he was sent back to the minor leagues by the Texas Rangers.
Now the 21-year-old second baseman is a big reason Texas returned home with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five AL Division Series against Toronto.
Aggressive on the bases, Odor scored twice in Game 2 with a pair of nifty slides into the plate – one on a shallow sacrifice fly, and the other for the tiebreaking run in the 14th inning of their 6-4 win.
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”Right now, he’s in a position that he feels good, and he feels his confidence level is high and he can do whatever,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said Saturday before the Rangers worked out at home.
Sort of like a then-22-year-old Andrus was in 2010, when the Rangers also had a 2-0 ALDS lead and were on the way to their first World Series. Andrus is now the longest-tenured position player in Texas.
Game 3 against the Blue Jays is Sunday night in Texas, a game that will start about the same time the Dallas Cowboys should be finishing their home game across the street against the New England Patriots.
Left-hander Martin Perez (3-6) pitches for the Rangers in the potential clincher. Marco Estrada (13-8), who held hitters to a MLB-low .183 batting average after the All-Star break, starts for Toronto.
”We need a big outburst with the bats, score a lot of runs,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. ”We score in bunches. That’s kind of our trademark. … Hopefully we can do it one time, you know, catch our breath a little bit and gain a little confidence, maybe we can hang in this thing.”
Odor got the game-winning rally in the 14th started Friday with a two-out infield single, then took a wide turn around second on a single to right by Chris Gimenez before sliding feet-first back into the base with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki quickly applying a tag – the safe call stood after a long video replay.
Two pitches later, Odor was going around catcher Russell Martin again, swiping his hand on the back of the plate to put Texas ahead to stay on Hanser Alberto’s single.
Manager Jeff Banister calls Odor one of those players that will ”completely will yourself to score” and with the sole purpose to cross the plate.
”That’s where I think Roogie Odor is,” Banister said. ”Great heads-up baserunning, but also just to have the body control to be able to make the slides that he made. Incredible.”
A dozen innings before his go-ahead run, Odor came home on a short flyball to center to score on a close play. After diving head-first toward the plate and initially reaching with his left hand to get under Martin, Odor avoided the tag by pulling his left arm back and then reaching around with his right hand to hit the plate.
”That excitement and exuberance that he plays with, it lifts everybody else in this clubhouse,” Gimenez said. ”Literally, this is a kids’ game, he’s literally a kid playing this game. … And he’s playing like a man. Doing what he’s doing is pretty special.”
Odor hit .259 in 114 games as rookie last season, when he was the youngest player in the majors as a 20-year-old, making his debut in May 2014.
After hitting .144 with 25 strikeouts in 90 at-bats through the first 31 games this season, he was sent back to Triple-A Round Rock. Since getting called back June 15, he is hitting .292 with 16 home runs and 53 RBIs in 93 games, including the first two games of this series.
Alberto is the rookie forced into action since veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre exited Game 1 early with lower back stiffness. Beltre, still considered day to day, was excused from Saturday’s workout to stay home and rest, and will be reevaluated again before Game 3 on Sunday night.
Only once in their previous seven playoff series did the Blue Jays lose the first two games. That was the 1989 ALCS when they lost the best-of-seven series in five games to Oakland.
”We have to keep trusting our teammates and believe in what got us here,” Josh Donaldson said. ”We still have an opportunity to win this series.”