Fielder's RBI single enough for Texas to beat Felix, Mariners
By Richard Justice
ARLINGTON -- Sometimes, the sweetest, most improbable victories also happen to be the strangest. Style points?
The Texas Rangers got absolutely everything they could have asked for out of this Opening Day. Specifically, a 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners in front of 49,289 on a beautiful, sunny Monday afternoon at Globe Life Park.
Nevermind that the Rangers got just one hit -- a Prince Fielder RBI single off Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in a decisive fifth inning. If you can win with one, you win with one. No use wasting hits you may need later.
"Hey, it was a bullet," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said.
Actually, it wasn't. More on that later.
According to research requested by the Rangers, they're the first team in at least 116 years to win an opener with one or zero hits.
Funny thing about that one hit. If Texas fans think that sounds familiar, it may be because the Rangers got only one on Opening Day last season as well. But they lost that game, 8-0, to Sonny Gray and the Athletics.
The Rangers -- especially their manager, Jeff Banister -- think winning with one hit (along with three walks and a couple of Seattle errors) might bode well for the road ahead.
"I felt like we continued to grind at-bats out against a premier pitcher," Banister said. "We did something today we weren't capable of doing last year."
Hernandez was 5-0 with a 1.83 ERA against Texas in 2015, so there's that. He sailed into the fifth inning on Monday with a 2-0 lead.
But Hernandez issued three walks in that inning thanks to some very close pitches and nice at-bats by the Rangers. The Mariners also made two errors.
And the one hit was Fielder's big, looping run-scoring fly ball that fell in front of left fielder Norichika Aoki. Fielder smiled and called it "soft serve."
"Against Felix, you can't wait on a solo home run or a three-run home run," Fielder said. "You've got to keep the line moving. We were able to capitalize on an error, and that's how we won it. Against guys like that, you've got to play baseball Little League style."
In winning this way, the Rangers showed off a couple of ways their club has been transformed since a 38-22 stretch run to the American League West title last season and why they believe they've got a great chance to go back-to-back.
Hamels' arrival gave Texas a top-of-the-rotation guy, a true ace. He showed that again by allowing two runs in seven innings on Monday. Hamels' presence is that of a guy who accepts the responsibility of ending losing streaks and resting the bullpen.
The Rangers still have questions about their rotation, especially Yu Darvish, who is expected back from Tommy John surgery in May or June.
Holland is another guy with No. 1 stuff, or close to it. He has made just 15 starts the last two seasons, but he is finally is back to a point where his health may allow him to be the guy who was 38-21 with a 3.98 ERA from 2011-13.
If the Rangers get Holland, Darvish and Hamels rolling out quality starts in the second half of the season, they're probably going to the postseason for the fifth time in seven seasons.
And the bullpen.
It was the AL's worst for the first four months of last season (4.64). Then it was the AL's second-best 'pen for the final two months (2.97).
That happened because general manager Jon Daniels acquired left-hander Jake Diekman in the Hamels deal with the Phillies and got right-hander Sam Dyson from the Marlins.
Daniels then added another right-hander, Tom Wilhelmsen, during the offseason, and along with closer Shawn Tolleson and right-hander Keone Kela, Texas has a bullpen that will match up with almost any in the game.
When Hamels turned a 3-2 lead over to the 'pen in the eighth inning, Diekman and Tolleson got six straight outs to finish it.
"We picked up some awesome pieces," Tolleson said. "Just so many good arms down there. It's fun to watch those guys compete."
An Opening Day like this one, with all its nooks and crannies, is just one day. But the Rangers left the park hoping some of their good fortune was an omen.
"Sometimes, you come away with a team victory," Hamels said. "When you win because everybody kept plugging away, that's a victory in itself."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.