On a night the Texas Rangers celebrated 40 years of what's been (until very recently) mostly forgettable baseball, it's only fitting the team's newest player stole the show.
With two on and two out and the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Ron Washington pulled Mitch Moreland in order to get a right-handed bat up against lefty Phil Coke.
That bat just happened to be Mike Olt's, the Rangers highly-touted rookie who was called up a little over a week ago. Texas fans began hearing about Olt, a powerful 6'2 210 3B/1B, almost as soon as he was drafted out of UConn in 2010. Once he became a professional, the No. 49 overall pick wasted no time tearing through the minor leagues.
In 2010, he hit .293/.390/.464 at Low A Spokane. In 2011, he hit .264/.381/.500 at High A Myrtle Beach. In 2012, he was hitting .288/.398/.597 at Double AA Frisco when he got the call to the show.
Every seller at the trade deadline wanted him. The Milwaukee Brewers dangled Zach Greinke, the Philadelphia Phillies were willing to talk about Cole Hamels and the Miami Marlins offered Josh Johnson. The Rangers front office held firm.
Instead of moving him for a front-of-the-line starter, Texas made Olt one of their big in-season acquisitions. As a result, expectations are sky high, but there are no guarantees in baseball. Just because a player has a sterling reputation among scouts and stellar production in the minors doesn't mean they're going to cut it in the majors.
Sometimes, a prospect's trade value is never higher than on the day before they get called up to the major leagues. Just ask Justin Smoak. Two years ago, the Rangers moved a corner infielder being touted as the next Mark Teixiera for a rent-a-pitcher in Cliff Lee. Only two weeks into his time in Arlington, there's no way to know whether the front office did as good a job in evaluating Olt's potential correctly.
When he came to the plate against Coke on Saturday night, it was the highest-leverage at-bat of his short MLB career. Coke had already cleaned up most of the mess Brayan Villarreal had left him. He had held both runners, popped up Craig Gentry and struck out Geovany Soto.
It had been a game dominated by starting pitching, with Derek Holland rising to the occasion against Justin Verlander. His only mistake came on a lead-off HR by Austin Jackson; he retired 22 of the next 24 batters he faced. With both starters rolling, neither offense could get much going until the late innings.
Texas nearly gave the game away in the top of the ninth, allowing the Tigers to load the bases before Mike Adams worked his way out of the jam. And when Olt took two straight pitches to fall behind 1-2, it looked like Coke would do the same. But instead of swinging wildly at the next chance to make contact, as Rangers batters have done seemingly since they stepped off the plane from Washington in 1972, Olt dug in.
He took a ball and fouled off four pitches, bringing the capacity crowd of 48,303 to their feet. "For a young kid, he looked calm to me. He didn't look overwhelmed," Washington told reporters after the game. "He recognized that Coke was trying to get him out with breaking balls and he made an adjustment."
On the ninth pitch, Olt slapped a ball through the infield, more than enough to bring Nelson Cruz home and send his delirious teammates sprinting out of the dugout to mob him as he rounded first base.
It was only a single and it was only one game out of 162, but big things can have small beginnings (Prometheus). 40 years after they came to Arlington, the Rangers future has never looked brighter, and Mike Olt is one of the reasons why.