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Sunday, May 2, 2010
Game thoughts: Rangers lead AL West

By Richard Durrett

SEATTLE -- David Murphy delivered a timely single and sacrifice fly to help lift the Rangers to a 3-1, 11-inning victory and a series sweep. The Rangers now lead the AL West by half a game over the A's. Texas travels to Oakland for a three-game set starting Monday. Some thoughts:

* Murphy was huge late in the game. He got a single in the ninth inning to score Elvis Andrus and then a sacrifice fly to plate Julio Borbon in the 11th with the go-ahead run.

David Murphy
David Murphy knocked in the tying and go-ahead runs to help the Rangers complete a three-game sweep of the Mariners.
* The Rangers' speed really showed up late, too. Andrus drew a patient walk (nine pitches) to lead off the ninth and then stole second. Murphy's single scored him. In the 11th, Borbon singled and went to second on a passed ball. Andrus put down a bunt that the Mariners couldn't get to, then Murphy scored Borbon with the sac fly. Andrus also scored later as he went to third on a Josh Hamilton hit and came home on a passed ball.

* The ninth-inning rally came off closer David Aardsma, who came in after starter Doug Fister allowed just three hits and no runs and threw 100 pitches in eight innings. Fister put on a clinic. He's not an overpowering pitcher, topping out around 92 mph Sunday. But his location was exceptional, and he mixed up his off-speed and breaking stuff. When Fister did go to a three-ball count, a rarity, he battled back. Only one runner even got into scoring position, and that was pinch runner Craig Gentry with two outs in the eighth as the Rangers put runners at first and third with two outs. And Fister didn't walk anyone. He was perfect through 5 1/3 innings before Max Ramirez got hit to break it up.

* But once again, a Rangers starter came up with a solid effort to match the opposing pitcher. C.J. Wilson did it with flair, getting out of some jams. He wiggled out of a major one in the fourth. He gave up two singles and a double to start the inning, putting the Mariners on top 1-0 with runners at second and third and no outs. But he found a way to get out of it, thanks in large part to Borbon's catch in center. He sprinted back and reached over his head near the warning track to make the play. Wilson sure knows how to get out of trouble. 

* Wilson seems to find a way to get through innings. He had only two 1-2-3 innings but made key pitches when he needed to so that the Rangers could stay in range of the Mariners. He ended up going seven innings (he walked the first batter of the eighth and was taken out) and allowed one run on five hits. It was Wilson's fifth straight quality start to begin the 2010 season. He's only the fifth Ranger to have five or more quality starts to begin a season. Kevin Brown started the 1993 season with six quality starts. Wilson would get a chance to match that Friday against Kansas City.

* Wilson threw 114 pitches, his most this season (he threw 112 against the Yankees on April 16).

* Another thing Ian Kinsler brings to this lineup is an ability to work a pitcher when necessary. Fister had thrown just 12 pitches in getting through the first, and Kinsler made him work in the second. Kinsler struck out, but not before he saw nine pitches. That's the kind of thing that can help teams later in games. Kinsler had three-ball counts in all three of his at-bats against Fister (a strikeout and two groundouts). He had a single and a walk in extra innings, too.

* The reports on Ramirez were that he had improved his defense at Triple-A Oklahoma City and throughout the spring. On Sunday, he threw a bullet to second base to get Milton Bradley trying to steal with two outs. The throw was perfect and Kinsler applied the tag and immediately headed toward the dugout, even before the call was made by the umpire.

* Manager Ron Washington talked before the game that 1B Justin Smoak is still working on the nuances of the defensive game. He's had some trouble digging at balls at times, something that came up again on a throw by Andrus in the second inning. In fairness to Smoak, it's not easy to stretch out and try to scoop a ball out of the dirt, but that was one he could have had (it hit his glove, but he couldn't hold it). The Rangers will be patient with Smoak as he learns the speed of the game in the big leagues and figures all of that out. BTW, Bradley, who hit the ball, was given a single (correctly ... it was not an easy play for either Andrus or Smoak).

* 3B Michael Young had some trouble with a few throws this series and he had another wide throw Sunday, missing Smoak with one with two outs in the seventh. Young was charged with an error, his fifth of the season (Wilson got the next batter, Ichiro Suzuki, on the next pitch). Washington said before the game that he thought one really good throw would get Young's rhythm back. "You can lose rhythm in the field just like you can at the plate," Washington said. Young did have a couple of nice throws early. He charged a ball and threw on the mark, off-balance in the third inning to get Eric Byrnes. It seems that it's the longer throws, after he has to get a ball against the line, that give him more trouble. He had a tough day at the plate, too, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.

* The Rangers showed some good outfield defense in the fourth inning to help Wilson limit the damage in what could have been a big inning. Hamilton caught a fly ball in left with runners at second and third and threw one well enough toward home to keep them from advancing. With two outs and the bases loaded, Borbon ran to the warning track and caught a tough ball to end the inning.

* Washington pinch hit Vladimir Guerrero for Ramirez in the eighth inning, a move that resulted in a hit for Guerrero as the Rangers tried to generate some offense. He then put Ryan Garko at first base from the DH spot, meaning the Rangers lost the DH position (so the pitcher was now batting in the eighth spot in the lineup). Matt Treanor came in to catch. That move paid off in that Garko made a great leap on a Jose Lopez liner and threw to second to get Figgins for a double play.

* In the 10th, Washington pinch hit Andres Blanco for Chris Ray, using his entire bench in the game.

* The bullpen did its job again. It was another good inning of relief for Ray. He came on with a runner on and no outs and walked the first batter he faced. But he got Lopez to line out into a double play and struck out Bradley to get out of the eighth. Dustin Nippert pitched well and Neftali Feliz got the save, hitting 97 mph on a strikeout of Bradley. In fact, Feliz needed just eight pitches on his 22nd birthday.