PHOENIX — Travis Jankowski was reflecting on the Rangers’ resilience before this World Series began when he brought up a text exchange with his former Stony Brook coach Matt Senk. With Texas needing to go the wild-card route, riding a road-warrior mentality through October, the Seawolves’ own shock-the-world charge in 2012 wasn’t far from his mind.
So when Senk sent along a congratulatory message, among many others from his college teammates, Jankowski had the perfect response.
“I texted him, hey coach, remember when we had to win two on the road at LSU and we lost the first one?” Jankowski told Newsday on the eve of the World Series opener. “Thanks for showing us the ropes.”
Those Seawolves went on to beat LSU, of course, knocking off Kevin Gausman to advance to the College World Series. Now Jankowski is back in a World Series again — the World Series — and he got Tuesday night’s Game 4 start in rightfield because the Rangers are again battling more adversity, as both ALCS MVP Adolis Garcia (oblique strain) and Max Scherzer (back spasms) were removed from the roster.
So after taking his kids trick-or-treating earlier in the day with other Rangers families at the team hotel, then listening to Garcia address the hitters in an emotional pregame meeting, Jankowski did plenty to ease the pain of their missing Mr. October.
“You don’t replace Adolis,” Jankowski said. “You play the best version of you that you can and I just wanted to go out and do that.”
The former Stony Brook star went 2-for-4 with a two-run double and two runs scored Tuesday night as the Rangers pounded the Diamondbacks, 11-7, to move within one victory of the franchise’s first World Series title.
When Jankowski returned to his locker postgame, he had 144 messages on his phone. Once the clubhouse door opened, he was swallowed up by an army of TV cameras and reporters. Jankowski, still wearing his uniform, then did his best to take this World Series hero thing in stride.
“Adolis has been a huge part of our success, not only in the postseason, but in the regular season, too, and he deserves to be out there,” Jankowski said afterward. “So that’s when you pull together as a team and you say, hey, let’s do this for the guy who can’t go out there tonight. He’s pulled us along this whole year. Let’s pick him up.”
Jankowski wound up doing a big chunk of that heavy lifting. The former Stony Brook star helped spark a five-run rally in the second inning with a two-out single off last year’s Mets teammate Miguel Castro and later scored on Marcus Semien’s triple. Jankowski also triggered another five-run outburst in the third with a bases-loaded double — again with two outs — off Luis Frias.
“You see your name in that World Series lineup, you get a little bit of nerves,” Jankowski said. “I think you got to use that to your advantage, right? People say, ‘pressure, pressure.’ To me, that’s a privilege. I put a lot of hard work in for this moment. So to be able to go out there and produce means a lot.”
What Jankowski described as a “dream come true” for him personally was the result of a nightmarish scenario involving Garcia. The Rangers’ playoff MVP — who was hitting .323 with eight homers and a record 22 RBIs — suffered the injury on a swing during the eighth inning of Monday night’s 3-1 victory over the Diamondbacks in Game 3. Seeing Garcia clutch at his side before limping off the field was a shocking sight for the Rangers, but they were fortunate to have Jankowski’s experience for handling just these types of emergencies.
“He's done a tremendous job,” manager Bruce Bochy said before Game 4. “Got pressed into a starting role there for a while when we had our injuries and really picked us up when we needed it. Solid all-around. Smart player. Good defender. Speed. He does a good job putting the ball in play, all the little things.”
Coming off last season’s 43-game homecoming with the Mets, Jankowski turned into a valuable $1.25 million winter investment for the Rangers, who used him as a key outfield piece for an injury-riddled roster during their surprise first-half push to the top of the AL West. Jankowski’s speed-defense-contact combo was the perfect complement to the Rangers’ slugging lineup, and he batted .321 with an .834 OPS and 11 stolen bases through his first 53 games (35 starts).
“He's a great table-setter,” Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe said. “He'll probably downplay extra-base hits because he feels like that's not his calling card. But there was a while there when he was rolling and hitting some doubles and running himself into some triples. He hit a homer that he doesn't like to talk about.”
Though that production cooled some in the second half, and Jankowski became more of a bench player down the stretch, the Rangers now will be leaning on him again in trying to close out this World Series. Jankowski had a feeling he’d be in the lineup after replacing the injured Garcia in Game 3, so being primed for this stage wasn’t even a question. He didn’t get the official word until about three hours before the first pitch.
“But I was ready to go,” Jankowski said. “Shoot, I’ve been ready to go — 15 years ago I was waiting for this.”