Previewing the Texas Rangers with the former Terp on their radio crew

I first met Matt Hicks somewhere I guess it was in 1985 or 1986 maybe as we were both broadcasting high school football and teams we were covering were going to play each other in the Maryland state playoffs. It was Frederick High of Frederick County on my end against McDonough High of Charles County, the team Matt was covering. 

He was an outstanding broadcaster then and remains that many years later as a radio broadcaster in his 11th year with the Texas Rangers. Matt has broadcast baseball play-by-play for 34 years and from 1989-1994 broadcast the games of the O’s Frederick Keys affiliate.

A Washington, D.C. native who grew up following his hometown Senators until they moved, Matt would later get his baseball fix attending games with friends and traveling to 33rd Street watching the Orioles at Memorial Stadium. He grew up in Prince George’s County, is a graduate of Bladensburg High and is a 1983 University of Maryland grad. This Terp is back in the state where he grew up. When we see each other this weekend, neither of us is covering high school football any longer, but those were fun days too.

The Rangers and Orioles play Game 1 of the American League Division Series tomorrow afternoon. The winner of the best-of-five series advances to the AL Championship Series.

The Rangers are on what amounts to a two-week road trip. Starting Sept. 25, they ended the regular season with three games in Anaheim against the Angels and four in Seattle vs. the Mariners. When they failed to win the AL West on the final day, it was a cross-country flight to Tampa where they would beat the Tampa Bay Rays two in a row, and they landed in Baltimore Thursday afternoon.

While he waited for his luggage to arrive at his Baltimore hotel, Matt took a call from a longtime friend. 

I asked Matt about the crazy last few days for the Rangers:

“We secured making the postseason with a win on Saturday at Seattle to get into the playoffs. The guys only celebrated for a few minutes. The Astros and Diamondbacks were on TV and Houston would win 1-0. When Houston won, Game 162 with Seattle had meaning. If the Rangers won it, they would win the division. If the Rangers lose, but the Astros lose, they (Texas) win the division. But we ended up losing a 1-0 game to George Kirby and six masterful innings. Then when Houston’s game was final, we knew we were headed to Tampa.

“This Rangers team this year, you really don’t know what you are going to get on any given series. We had one road trip where we went to Toronto (on Sept. 11) and were not sure how that would go, and the Rangers ended up sweeping Toronto and they blew them out (winning four games by a combined 35-9 score). Then we went to Cleveland and the Guardians swept us.

"Then we go to Tampa and yes they have injuries but also they won 99 games with a good pitching staff and a team that scored some runs late. The Rangers won two games by an 11-1 score. Who can figure this stuff out? To say we’ve had an up and down season is correct. But this team is now definitely on a high after winning those two games the way they won them.”

Matt, the Game 1 starting pitchers have not been announced yet. What is your guess on who that will be for the Rangers?

“I think the most logical answer to that question would be Dane Dunning (12-7, 3.70 ERA). Dane would be pitching on five days' rest. Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi, who pitched Tuesday and Wednesday in St. Petersburg, would likely line up for games two and three. Montgomery for Game 2 Sunday and Eovaldi for Game 3. I think Dane is the logical choice. But another possibility is Andrew Heaney (10-6, 4.15 ERA) a guy who started for most of the year and who has pitched well in the bullpen down the stretch. The best guess though is Dane Dunning.”

Tell me about the incredible rookie Evan Carter, who went 3-for-4 with three extra-base hits and three walks in two games versus Tampa Bay:

“Carter is an amazing story. He just turned 21 in August. He is from Eliazabethton, Tenn. He made a rapid rise through the system this year, spending most of his time in Double-A. Late in the year he got in just more than a week’s worth of games at Triple-A. We saw him a bit in spring training and not too much at the plate, but he played some in center field then, he has been playing left since he came up, but there were several stellar defensive plays he made in spring.

“We’ve seen since he came up, all of his talents. Does a great job covering ground in left field. At the plate, he has advanced maturity, certainly for his age. Plus strike zone discipline and pitch recognition as well. He just doesn’t chase pitches outside the zone. That’s not to say he hasn’t chased a few but not many. It’s everything you want in a player that has played five or six years and is an established star and we’re seeing this from him right out of gate. He is amazing to watch and has helped to electrify the fanbase. (Manager) Bruce Bochy likes him hitting in the nine hole. Then he’s got Marcus Semien and Corey Seager coming up after him.

“Tuesday, in his first-ever postseason game, he reached based four times – had two doubles and he walked twice. He is the youngest player ever to reach safely four or more times in his postseason debut in Major League history. The Rangers think they have something special in Evan Carter.”

What difference has manager Bruce Bochy made and what is it like having someone with that postseason success in the Texas dugout?

“Three World Series rings (with San Francisco in 2010, 2012 and 2014) and to this point he has managed 79 postseason games (going 46-33, .582). He really has been a steadying, mature, calm influence over this ballclub. I think he is a player’s manager, and he makes sure the players get what they need. And he does, along with his staff, take into account all the information that is provided him and uses that to make out the lineup and make his decisions.

“An interesting decision he has made in the postseason, he’s had Robbie Grossman hit third in the order. He started doing that some in early September. He batted third six times in the regular season and twice against Tampa Bay. In those games – not that he has done a terrific amount of damage – but the Rangers are 7-1 in those eight games. That is not to say he will hit third against the Orioles. But it is one of those decisions you go, all right, what is this all about and it ends up in a victory. I don’t think anyone questions the motivations and reasons, it’s just that what Bochy has done so often this year for this club has worked.”

In his last 55 postseason games counting this year, Bochy is 38-17 (.691).

This series will be a contrast from a rested team in the Orioles, with no game since Sunday, facing a Rangers team riding the momentum of the Tampa Bay series which followed a disappointing end to their regular season.

The Rangers will try to hit the ground running Saturday and pick up where they left off at the Trop. The O's have to match that intensity and resume game mode quickly in this best-of-five series. 



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