By Larry Fleisher, The Sports Xchange
NEW YORK — Austin Bibens-Dirkx spent over a decade in the minor leagues and often needed an offseason job.
After the 2010 season as a Chicago Cubs minor leaguer, Bibens-Dirkx figured he might as well get work playing baseball in the offseason.
So, he headed to the winter league in Venezuela and began not only getting experience but also learning how to pitch effectively.
It took nearly seven more years for the experience of his offseason employment in Latin America to pay off in a major league setting, but it did Saturday when Bibens-Dirkx allowed a run and five hits in seven effective innings for the Texas Rangers in an 8-1 victory over the New York Yankees.
“More experience for one,” Bibens-Dirkx said. “It’s better pay than in the minor leagues. You make literally nothing, half the time you pay to play. It was a little boost. I was going to have go get a job anyway, might as well go do baseball.”
In the winter leagues in front of festive crowds, Bibens-Dirkx made 63 starts and won a pair of championship rings. He began going there five years into a professional career that started when he was a 16th-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2006.
It was those experiences that made pitching in Yankee Stadium for the first time easy to handle and it showed for someone who including winter leagues and independent baseball has pitched for 21 teams.
Bibens-Dirkx (3-0) tied his career high for distance and did it on another big stage against a divisional leader. Nearly two weeks after allowing one run and three hits in seven innings against the National League East-leading Washington Nationals, Bibens-Dirkx was equally as effective.
“It is remarkable,” Texas manager Jeff Banister said. “When you think about that, 12 years of experience and he’s been all over the place. He’s pitched in a number of different places where some guys wouldn’t want to go to try to hone their craft. For him to be as calm as he is out on the mound, I really think he draws off of that experience.”
In his estimation, Bibens-Dirkx only made two mistakes.
The first was a four-pitch walk to Mason Williams to begin his fourth career start. It occurred after the Rangers scored a run in a 16-minute inning off Luis Cessa (0-2), and the 32-year-old right-hander said it was from not loosening up better while his teammates were batting.
The second was a 1-1 pitch to slugger Aaron Judge with one out in the sixth. The pitch turned into a 439-foot homer over the left-center field fence.
“I’ll remember the home run. Aaron Judge is a very large human being and he’s very strong,” Bibens-Dirkx said.
After Judge’s major league-leading 26th home run, Bibens-Dirkx quickly finished the sixth with two groundouts and was even quicker in the seventh. He gave up a single to Didi Gregorius but two pitches later was in the dugout accepting congratulations from his teammates after Tyler Austin bounced into a double play and Ronald Torreyes flied out.
“It just seemed like he stayed off the barrel of the bat with some sliders changeups and cutters,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We weren’t really able to square him up today.”
By then the Rangers held a 4-1 lead on an RBI single in the first by Elvis Andrus, a two-run homer by Carlos Gomez in the fourth and a solo homer by Robinson Chirinos in the seventh.
Texas then broke it open in the ninth against struggling reliever Tyler Clippard and did not need a save situation. Gomez scored on a wild pitch, Shin-Soo Choo ripped a two-run double and Andrus capped the scoring.
Judge’s 26th homer was the lone highlight for the Yankees, who lost for the ninth time in 11 games.
Cessa yielded three runs and three hits in five innings but Clippard permitted four more runs, making it 11 earned runs allowed in his last seven appearances.
“He’s really in a funk and we’ve got to get him out of it,” Girardi said.