Wednesday, September 11, 2013
September's downward spiral continues
By Todd Wills
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers are running out of games to stop what they've started since the calendar hit September:
A 2-7 record for the month. A 3-8 mark if you go back to Aug. 30. And four consecutive series losses after Tuesday's 5-4 decision against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Rangers had better get back on track in what has been a thoroughly forgettable September so far, if they hope to avoid being swept by the Pirates.
This isn't what the Rangers had in mind after winning 20 games in August, even if they knew the schedule was going to be tougher in the final month. Bottom line: They haven't responded.
They've lost the lead in the American League West -- from three games up on Aug. 30 to two games down to Oakland.
Even with all this, there's no panic in Rangerland.
"It’s not hard to keep the morale up; we’re still out only two games," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "What we have to keep doing is to keep grinding, and pretty soon things will turn. But we just have to keep fighting.
“We’ll show up tomorrow and play again, and hopefully tomorrow if we got those situations out there, we can deliver and make a difference."
The Rangers have to hope what they did in the final two innings Tuesday will be a springboard to a victory Wednesday afternoon against A.J. Burnett to close out the series with Pittsburgh at Rangers Ballpark. Trailing 4-1 entering the bottom of the eighth, Texas scored a run on Adrian Beltre's two-out RBI single and had the tying runs on base after A.J. Pierzynski socked a double down the right-field line.
Jeff Baker, who had been a lefty killer for the Rangers, had pitches to hit against Pirates southpaw Tony Watson. But he fouled three off in a row before swinging and missing at a fastball for his third consecutive strikeout. The Rangers need Baker to get going.
"I'm just a click off," said Baker, who is batting .205 in his past 21 games.
Actually, the Rangers need all of their bats to start clicking. This was the 11th consecutive game in which they scored five runs or fewer.
They did have four consecutive singles in the bottom of the ninth, as they cut the Pirates' lead to 5-4. Texas had the tying run at third and the winning run at first with its best hitter, Beltre, at the plate.
That should have had the Pirates shaking in their shoes.
But this isn't the Beltre of July and August. He showed signs of awakening with two hits Tuesday, but he struck out on the three pitches against Pirates closer Mark Melancon to plummet to 2-for-his-past-24 with runners in scoring position.
It's a stunning turnaround considering how great Beltre had been this season.
"Right now, the game is finding him, and he’s challenged," Washington said. "He’s the kind of guy who always rises to a challenge, so I’m looking forward to him coming back. I’m not concerned about Beltre."
Washington insists he's not worried about his team, either.
The Rangers did put up a fight in the last two innings, collecting seven of their 13 hits. If Joakim Soria had started the ninth inning instead of Robbie Ross -- who walked the leadoff batter, leading to a huge Pirates run -- maybe the Rangers would have managed to force extra innings.
Instead, it was a quiet clubhouse, even with the A's losing to Minnesota -- and Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Cleveland, all wild-card contenders, also getting beat.
"No one said this was going to be easy," Pierzynski said. "No one said this was going to be a walk. We have to fight. We have 18 games left or whatever it is. Do the best we can and see what happens. I like our chances. I like where we're at and I like our team."