This happened in the eighth inning of the Texas Rangers' 2-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, just another game out of 162 but a game with some built-in extra drama, as the Rangers faced Jose Bautista for the first time since his blast, glare and bat flip gave the Jays the clinching win in Game 5 of the division series and created a culture war:
1. Nomar Mazara, the 21-year-old right fielder for the Rangers and American League Rookie of the Month for April, broke a 1-1 tie with a home run off Gavin Floyd by blasting a 1-1 cutter to center field.
2. The Blue Jays put runners on first and second with nobody out against Sam Dyson, which created the rematch everyone hoped to witness: Dyson versus Bautista, beard versus beard, old-school versus new-school. The script couldn't have called for a juicier scenario. It was a potentially game-deciding situation, with no room for the Rangers to fool around with hitting Bautista -- just our guy against your guy. The 25,000-plus in attendance all rose to their feet, with the anticipation acute. Except Dyson won this battle when he got Bautista to line out to right field on a 2-1, 98 mph fastball. Maybe that extra mph was the difference: Last October's home run came on a mere 97 mph heater.
3. After Edwin Encarnacion walked to load the bases, Troy Tulowitzki lifted a lazy fly ball down the right-field line -- not too shallow, not too deep, the right distance for a close play at the plate if the right fielder makes a good throw. Well, Mazara unleashed a great throw, and Michael Saunders was thrown out.
Just like that, Mazara stole the show from Bautista and Dyson and potential beanballs. Baseball -- not retribution -- was the story of this game.
Mazara turned 21 last week, and he reached the majors sooner than expected when Shin-Soo Choo landed on the disabled list. He's hitting .333/.386/.486, and he isn't going back to the minors if he keeps hitting like this -- not after he produced the best April by any rookie in franchise history. That eighth inning highlighted three of Mazara's tools: the hit tool, the power potential and the arm. The only thing he lacks is elite speed, which limits him to right field instead of center, but he already looks like the game's next big young star.
As you're probably aware, we're in the midst of a great era for young players. Last season was the best ever for rookies in terms of cumulative WAR. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs just wrote a piece that outlined how in 2015, young position players (25 and younger) accounted for the highest percentage of WAR since 1974. After factoring in playing time, however, he writes that "when you look at the performance relative to the number of plate appearances, 2015 was the best year ever for young hitters."
We're seeing more of the same in 2016. Trevor Story received much of the hype in April, but Mazara might prove to be the better all-around hitter, with superior contact skills that should produce consistent .300 batting averages. At 6-foot-4 and 200-plus pounds, he has the build to hit 25 to 30 home runs as he grows into his power. Most importantly, he has that sweet, left-handed swing.
That's something the Rangers saw when they signed Mazara to a $4.95 million bonus in 2011. At the time, it was the largest bonus paid for an international amateur player. Not every team believed he was that kind of talent. In the 2014 "Baseball America Prospect Handbook," Mazara was ranked as the Rangers' 24th-best prospect -- hard to believe in retrospect, but he hit just .236 at Class A Hickory in 2013 -- and his bonus "was seen throughout the industry as an overpay for a player no other team seemed to have as the top player available."
However, Mazara erased doubts about his prospect status with 22 home runs in 2014, and last year, he hit .296/.366/.443 between Double-A and Triple-A. Since signing, he has eliminated a giant leg kick, thus creating more balance at the plate. His strikeout rate that first season at Hickory was 26 percent. Last year, it was down to 18 percent. So far in Mazara's time in the majors, it's at 17 percent. He seems to have a smart approach at the plate, and he seems to be getting better.
Plate coverage: pic.twitter.com/l7JHHkQLat— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) May 3, 2016
Choo hopes to begin a rehab assignment from his calf injury in the next week or so. Josh Hamilton just played his first rehab game (although is now out again with a sore knee). Add in Delino DeShields Jr. and Ian Desmond, and the Rangers outfield is about to get very crowded.
Who plays? I say go with the kid. This has become a young man's sport.