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Friday, April 12, 2013
Rangers do little things for big win over King Felix

By Gregg Bell
Special to ESPN Dallas



Fill-in starter Justin Grimm did just enough squirming and escaping to keep the Rangers in it against Felix Hernandez.

Then his teammates did the little, often-overlooked things that win scrappy games like this one on a cold Thursday night at Safeco Field – plays that make their fundamentally based manager proud.

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There was 37-year-old Lance Berkman, with chronically aching knees on which he had dual surgeries last summer when he was with St. Louis, barreling down the first-base line to beat out the back end of what would have been a double play. That extended the top of the fifth inning for David Murphy and Nelson Cruz to drive in the go-ahead runs off Hernandez.

“I didn’t want to be a rally killer,” Berkman said later with a smile. “I wanted to give us a chance to score. I just got down the line as fast as I could.”

After Seattle had closed to 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth, reliever Robbie Ross charged the plate as Brendan Ryan put down a suicide-squeeze bunt. Ross fielded the ball, bunted hard and directly at him, on the run and in one motion flipped it option-quarterback style to catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

“Yeah, that’s what I was trying to do, run the option,” Ross joked. “Just instinct.”

In a mini clinic on how to defend as a catcher, Pierzynski deftly dropped his shin guards and blocked the plate. That kept pinch-runner Endy Chavez from ever reaching home. Pierzynski tagged the former Ranger for the second out.

A.J. Pierzynski
A.J. Pierzynski's block of home plate after catching a shovel pass from Robbie Ross proved huge in the Rangers' 4-3 victory.
Ross then struck out Franklin Gutierrez with a man on to end Seattle’s last threat. Joe Nathan got his 301st career save with a perfect ninth, preserving Joe Ortiz's first major-league victory as the Rangers won for the seventh time in 10 games to begin the season. Nathan immediately gave Ortiz the game ball.

Rangers manager Ron Washington has been drilling fundamental plays such as Thursday’s since his major-league career than ended in 1990, before he began coaching in 1991.

“That’s baseball, and you like to see it being executed at the highest level like that,” Washington said. “It came down to us making a play.

“Robbie made a helluva play. That’s all the work they put in on Field 7 in Surprise (during spring training).

“And the key play was Berk beating the back end of that double play to get two more guys to the plate. If Berk doesn’t beat that out who knows what might have happened.”

For one, Hernandez might have stuck around another inning or two beyond the 6 2/3 he lasted.

Instead, the Rangers spoiled the 2013 Seattle unveiling of Hernandez, who was pitching at home for the first time since signing a seven-year, $175-million contract extension this winter. The Rangers ignored the gold, “King’s Court” T-shirts, matching K cards and royal chants swirling from the 22,917 fans around them – “We were all like, ‘Man, this is pretty cool, the yellow signs,’” Pierzynski said.

The catcher’s second home run as a Ranger began Texas’ attack of “King Felix” for eight hits and four runs in the first five innings.

Murphy’s two-out, RBI single in the fifth broke a 2-2 tie. Then Cruz golfed Hernandez’s split-fingered fastball into the left-field corner for a double that put Texas ahead 4-2.

“We scored some runs off of Felix, which doesn’t happen very often,” Pierzynski said.

Indeed, the Rangers’ 10 hits off Hernandez were more than they had against him in all of 2012. He allowed them one run and nine hits combined in two victories last season.

Hernandez lost for the fifth time in seven decisions against Texas.

Grimm, starting on the day he was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock and Matt Harrison went on the 15-day disabled list, wasn’t remarkable. Yet he left the game tied on the road against the 2010 Cy Young Award winner.

“When you look at it like that, yeah, that’s a positive,” said Grimm, who struggled in spring training before a good start to begin the season at Round Rock.

“It was a battle. It was just a matter of trusting it. Then when I had to trust it, I did.”

Eight of the first 13 batters he faced reached base. By two batters into his third inning pitching coach Mike Maddux had already visited the mound twice to try to right the 24-year-old right-hander. Veteran Derek Lowe, thought by some to be a candidate to fill in for Harrison, was warming up by the third.

Grimm was teetering in the second with Mariners at first and third and a 3-0 count on Kyle Seager, but used off-speed pitches to rally to a full count. He then got Seager to weakly chop a breaking ball back to him for the final out of the second. That kept the score tied at 2.

The first two Mariners reached to begin the third, but Grimm got Ibanez to bounce out, he struck out former Rangers first-round draft pick Justin Smoak with a full-count changeup and got Montero to fly out to keep the game tied.

“He just was erratic,” Washington said. “He made some pitches in certain situations that he had to, because it could have gotten ugly. It’s a learning experience for him.”

With an off day Monday between this series and three games at the Chicago Cubs, the Rangers could choose to skip Grimm’s next turn in the rotation.

Or they could see right away how much he learned from Thursday by starting him next week at Wrigley Field.