via Texas Rangers
KANSAS CITY — Just a few years ago, Austin Bibens-Dirkx was pitching in an independent league and Isiah Kiner-Falefa was trying to keep his fading prospect status alive by attempting to become a catcher for the first time in his life.
The odds they would one day become the first hyphenated battery in Major League history were astronomical, but there they were together on Wednesday night against the Royals on Kauffman Stadium.
They turned out to be a winning pair as Bibens-Dirkx allowed just one run over 6 2/3 innings and the Rangers concluded a three-game sweep with a 3-2 victory. They have won five straight overall while the Royals have lost nine in a row.
This was Bibens-Dirkx’s ninth Major League start and third this year. But this was Kiner-Falefa’s first start as a catcher in the big leagues.
“It just feels great,” Kiner-Falefa said. “It was more of a team win to get the sweep here. This takes a lot of nerves off of my chest. I was really nervous before the game, but after the first inning, I felt better. I thought our pitchers threw the ball well. Bibbs did a great job.”
Bibens-Dirkx wasn’t in the game at the end, but Kiner-Falefa threw out Hunter Dozier trying to steal second with two outs in the ninth to end the game, just missing reliever Jake Diekman with his throw.
“That was close,” Kiner-Falefa said. “I didn’t know what to say. I was kind of in shock that he was out and I was kind of in shock that it — I’m just glad that it didn’t hit him, honestly. That was — I tried to adjust my throw last-second, so I kind of bounced it, but that was close.”
According to Elias, Kiner-Falefa is the first catcher to throw out a runner stealing to end the game in his first Major League start since such records started being kept in 1951.
“It was really exciting,” manager Jeff Banister said. “For Kiner to be behind the plate and his first Major League start, to throw a guy out to end the game, it was incredible to watch. Start with Austin, he did a great job. First-pitch strikes were the key to him, fastball-changeup combo, fastball-slider combo were really effective. Never repeated location with the fastball. A lot of weak contact. Kiner-Falefa … really caught the ball well, received the ball well, had some tough blocks, really called a solid game, handled the pitching staff really well.”
Bibens-Dirkx, who was 0-1 with a 6.55 ERA in two previous starts for the Rangers, allowed five hits and a walk in outdueling Royals starter Jakob Junis. Bibens-Dirkx did not record a strikeout, but he benefited from solid defense, including a couple of nice plays by Jurickson Profar in his third start of the year at third base. Bibens-Dirkx also threw 55 of his 81 pitches for strikes.
“Yeah, they’re an aggressive team,” Bibens-Dirkx said. “I knew that I would have to make some quality pitches. I think the last time I faced them, I made some quality pitches, and they still got hit, so I knew that I just had to stick with our game plan that Kiner and I put together before the game. I was able to do that, and Kiner did a heck of a job back there.”
Even as little as a week ago, a pairing between Bibens-Dirkx and Kiner-Falefa seemed highly improbable. Bibens-Dirkx was in Triple-A and Kiner-Falefa had taken advantage of the high number of injuries in the Rangers’ infield to carve out a niche as a utility player.
But Carlos Perez’s sprained ankle swayed the Rangers to commit to Kiner-Falefa as the backup catcher and rookie pitcher Yohander Mendez’s transgressions earlier this week got him scratched from Wednesday’s start. Bibens-Dirkx was summoned to replace him and that’s how he hooked up with Kiner-Falefa to face the Royals.
“Yeah, he called a heck of a game,” Bibens-Dirkx said. “He did a really nice job back there. I think I threw to him in [Spring Training], so it wasn’t completely new, so I think that helped out a lot. He knew what I like to do, and — yeah, like I said, he called a heck of a game, and did really well back there. It’s really nice. After the first two [starts] didn’t quite go as I wanted, so to get an opportunity to do what I feel like I can do on a pretty consistent basis was nice.”