It's funny how the solution to your problems can be the last place you look.
The Rangers were looking for a way to end Tuesday night's game before a massive thunderstorm materialized over the Ballpark and before their bullpen's run of good luck went south. Inning after inning melted away without a run and no one much expected Mitch Moreland to change that when he led off the 11th.
Moreland was 0-for-4 on the night, continuing a recent downturn in Moreland's offensive production, and didn't look particularly good in any of his at-bats. But Enerio Del Rosario left a pitch up in the zone and Moreland pounced for a walk-off homer and just the second Rangers victory this season when they trailed after six innings.
Unlikely hero? Maybe, but at some point people are going to have to stop looking at Moreland as Mr. Unlikely.
Moreland came up to the Rangers last season as something of a last resort for a team desperate to find a regular first baseman. They had every reason to be at the end of their rope. Ever since Mark Teixeira was sent to Atlanta, the Rangers had run through all manners of stopgaps, failed prospects and faded veterans without finding anybody who could handle the job for more than a brief period.
Moreland's arrival wasn't met with much hope that he could change the pattern. His minor league numbers were solid, but they didn't scream future star or Chris Davis and Justin Smoak would never have gotten such long ropes with which to hang themselves. He looked like just another stopgap, as evidenced by the move for Jorge Cantu at last year's trade deadline.
Sometimes a guy just needs a shot, though, and Moreland made the most of his. His 124 OPS+ over the final months of the season was more than anyone expected and he kept on hitting throughout the playoffs. That production didn't make many people into Moreland believers, though. You heard a lot of talk about him not being the team's first baseman of the future because he is a league average hitter or a second-division starter which seemed odd given how well he'd done for a World Series team in 2010.
It seems even odder now. Even with his recent slump, Moreland has been better this season than he was last year and over his brief big league career he's posted a weighted runs created figue of 126. For those without degrees in sabermetrics, that's about 26 percent above league average or roughly the same as what Ryan Howard has done over the same period.
That's better than league average, obviously, and it works just fine for a starter on a team with playoff aspirations. He's not a perfect player. You'd love to see more power and better defense, but for a team like the Rangers those aren't deal killers. They have plenty of other power hitters and the rest of the infield defense is good enough to carry a mediocre glove at first.
What's more, Moreland isn't going to get expensive for a few years which means the team can spend their money to fill other holes instead of chasing better (and more expensive) options at first base. All in all, that sounds like an awfully good solution to a problem that was causing the Rangers to lose so much sleep this time last year.