ARLINGTON — Willie Calhoun and Joey Gallo are among the last survivors of what the Rangers used to be, back when they could brag about a “core four” and were so flush with good vibes, their best infielder was still a catcher. Now Jose LeClerc is done for the season, Nomar Mazara is on his second team since and Roogie Odor is hitting cleanup for the Yankees, of all things.
Back then, Calhoun broke out with an .848 OPS and Gallo was an All-Star. Life was good for the best buds.
And then it wasn’t.
Calhoun took a 95-mph fastball off his jaw last year and Globe Life Field caved in on Gallo, and it was hard to tell who suffered the most damage.
But further evidence in the Rangers’ 5-3, series-clinching, come-from-behind win Sunday over Boston in front of 29,190 at GLF indicates Calhoun is recovering nicely. Even better, his old roomie made progress Sunday, too.
Calhoun, once again leading off, extended his hitting streak to a career-high nine games with a couple of singles, raising his average to .347 in 13 games after starting the season on the injured list. The pulled hamstring was simply another setback to pile on top of the disaster that was 2020 for Calhoun, what with a broken jaw and the pandemic and social justice issues particularly troubling for a Black man as well as the son of a corrections officer.
Among other things it was easy to forget over the last year was that Calhoun hit 21 homers in just 83 games two years ago.
“I think he’s kinda back to where he was in ’19,” Chris Woodward said. “He’s just in a more positive state. I know he and Joey talked about it before the season.”
They talked a lot, Willie and Joey. They were close before, but the collapse of the “core four” has only made them closer. Roommates in spring training this year. Gallo, a neat freak, complained in March that Calhoun apparently didn’t know what drawers and hangers were for and slept on a pile of clothes. When they weren’t going on like Felix and Oscar, they sat on the couch and hashed out the previous day at the office.
No matter what came up, this was the mantra:
”Hey, let’s go be positive. Don’t say anything negative.”
Easier said than done for Gallo, who entered Sunday’s game with a .218 average and just three of his 19 hits for extra bases. His home run Tuesday against the Angels had snapped a 20-game homer-less streak, the longest of his career.
He still leads the league in walks with 24, but no one’s putting a happy face on that anymore.
Needing something, anything, to shake things up, Woodward dropped Gallo from third to fourth in the order Sunday. They came to the decision mutually. Hitting Nate Lowe in front of him might give Gallo a way to see how opponents pitch other power-hitting lefties.
Because, well, nothing else is working.
“Joey’s not a hundred percent right now,” Woodward said before the game. “I wouldn’t say it’s a hundred percent physical. He’s working through some things mechanically.
“His swing isn’t exactly how he’d like it, I guess.”
Gallo’s frustration was evident in the sixth inning Sunday, when he argued a called third strike on the inside corner and got ejected by home plate umpire Brian O’Nora. The thumb came so quickly that Woodward had barely made it out of the dugout. Pretty soon O’Nora tossed the manager, too.
Brock Holt, who singled in the winning runs in a three-run eighth, said it would be a stretch to say the twin ejections rallied the team. It would be enough if it got Gallo going.
Before his early exit, he led off the fourth by flailing at two sliders and taking a third before doubling to right center, only his fourth extra-base hit.
But also his second in five days.
“Yeah, I think so,” Woodward said after the game. “It was nice to see him stay through that pitch and hit it to right center. He might be really close to taking off and hopefully that gave him a little bit of confidence heading into Minnesota.”
If the Rangers are still guessing about Gallo, it’s easier to see where his roommate is headed, even if the process seems a little murky. Before the game, he ran post routes and caught footballs in the outfield. Lord knows how that helps, but I’m sure Tom House would appreciate it.
For you kids out there, House was once the Rangers’ pitching coach, and his charges threw footballs before games and . . . never mind.
Anyway, safe to say Calhoun has come a long way. Worked with Doug Latta in Los Angeles in the off-season and hung out on the beach. Talks daily to his best friend, Alex Verdugo. Verdugo told him to go back to using the whole field instead of trying to pull everything. Probably not a coincidence that Calhoun put up such a good series against Boston, which features Verdugo second in the lineup.
Woodward has seen Calhoun mature greatly over the last year, from getting over the fear of facing left-handers to his peace of mind in general.
“He got through it,” Woodward said. “I’m proud of him. Because that’s something that some guys never really come back from. They always have that fear in the back of their minds.
“He took it head on and he’s in a good spot right now. He’s swinging the bat well.”
One roomie down. One to go.