Monday, July 29, 2013
Pierzynski, Soto rally Rangers
By Todd Wills
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A.J. Pierzynski, stuck in a 4-for-27 rut, went to the Texas Rangers' clubhouse before his at-bat to lead off the bottom of the ninth and ran into injured veteran Lance Berkman, who, like Pierzynski, has seen it all in baseball.
"I was like, 'Lance, just say something to make me feel better,'" said Pierzynski, first to bat with the Rangers trailing the Los Angeles Angels 3-2. "He just looked at me and laughed, and I said, 'Thanks for the pep talk, Lance.'"
Turns out Pierzynski didn't need one. But he sure got his teammates pepped up. The veteran catcher led off the bottom of the ninth with a game-tying home run, then took part in a big celebration at home plate after fellow catcher Geovany Soto hit the Rangers' first walk-off home run of the season for an emotional 4-3 victory over the Angels on Monday night.
It ended a four-game losing streak.
Geovany Soto was swarmed by his teammates after delivering a 4-3 walk-off win Monday night.
It also ended hours on hours of frustration for the Rangers, who had been shut out in two straight games and had dropped three games in the standings in three days to the Oakland Athletics, leaving them six games back in the American League West.
Losing takes it toll. Losing when you're not scoring any runs -- something the Rangers had been doing with great success while losing 12 of 15 games -- crushes even the strongest ballplayers.
"It's draining," Pierzynski said. "It's frustrating. It's everything. This game is so hard, and it really tests you mentally and physically. Every day is a grind, and it's not an easy job. Sometimes people think it is but it's not an easy job."
The Rangers hadn't led since Wednesday and had one last chance to change that when Pierzynski stepped to the plate against Angels closer Ernesto Frieri.
Pierzynski fell behind 1-2 in the count and then got a pitch from Frieri in his hot zone, down and in. Pierzynski lofted Frieri's fastball 383 feet to tie the game. Of Pierzynski's 11 home runs this season, nine of them have either tied the game or given the Rangers the lead.
"He was trying to go up, and he came down and in," Pierzynski said. "I was just trying to make contact."
That set up Soto, who came to the plate with two outs after David Murphy hit a smash to second base for a double play.
Soto had a great at-bat, working the count full before connecting with a 94-mph fastball that went high into the night, twisting inside the left-field foul pole for the second walk-off home run of his career.
"I was just hoping it would stay fair," Soto said. "When I saw it, I prayed to God it was fair, and it was fair. I was the happiest guy on the field."
The Rangers had to grind their way to this victory, which is what manager Ron Washington asked of his team in a 40-minute team meeting after Sunday's listless and lifeless 6-0 loss at Cleveland. Washington, who said it felt like his team was sleeping during the game, asked the Rangers to be tougher.
So they went out and rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the sixth inning, something that, if you've been watching this team since the All-Star break, seemed about as likely as Rangers fans not booing Josh Hamilton.
The comeback started in the bottom of the sixth when the Rangers ended a streak of 26 consecutive innings without scoring. Leonys Martin had a bunt single with one out, and Elvis Andrus moved him to second when he tried to bunt for a hit.
Ian Kinsler, who had the Rangers' last RBI in the eighth inning Friday against Cleveland, ripped a single to cut the lead to 3-1. It halted the Rangers' flirtation with the 1972 Rangers, who had a streak of 28 innings without a run during a 54-100 first season in Texas.
"The big hit was Ian," Pierzynski said. "At least he got us the run. We hadn't scored a run in so long, we had forgotten what it was like to score a run. It gave us a little confidence."
The Rangers' confidence grew in the bottom of the eighth when Andrus extended his hitting streak to 11 games, then stole second and went to third base on a throwing error by Angels catcher Hank Conger. Kinsler came through again with a sacrifice fly to cut the Angels' lead to 3-2 and get the Rangers closer.
They broke through thanks to their catchers in the ninth inning.
"Our intent was to play our kind of baseball," Washington said. "We came out and kept grinding and grinding, and we got it done. I'm very pleased with the way they came out and played. I'm pleased that they got it done."
Pierzynski's reactions after his home run and Soto's said it all. He held on to his bat for a few seconds after connecting with his homer and then flipped his bat toward the Rangers' dugout.
He leaped into the air after Soto's walk-off and hugged Kinsler as all of the Rangers spilled out to home plate to greet Soto.
This was an emotional win, and Pierzynski, who wears his heart on his sleeve, felt the love with his teammates.
"I know to see the smiles on guys' faces in here was special," Pierzynski said. "It's been a while since you've looked up and seen smiles on guys' faces and seen happiness. It never carries over because of pitching, but it can carry over in the attitude. It gives you that, 'Hey, guys, we can do this.' That's something that can carry over."