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Sunday, September 22, 2013
No margin for error now for Rangers

By Todd Wills

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Well, the Texas Rangers are up against it now, no longer in control of their destiny to the postseason.

Joakim Soria
Justin Maxwell's two-out grand slam off former Kansas City closer Joakim Soria was the difference in the Royals' 4-0 win over the Rangers.
Faced with needing a win to keep pace with the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians in the American League wild-card race, the Rangers lost in excruciating fashion on Sunday afternoon after holding the Kansas City Royals scoreless for nine innings and ultimately losing.

The problem was the Rangers didn't score for 10 innings, so when Royals right fielder Justin Maxwell clobbered a two-out grand slam off former Kansas City closer Joakim Soria in the bottom of the 10th for a 4-0 victory in the Royals' final home game of the season, Texas had yet another extra-inning loss.

This is getting old.

The Rangers are 3-9 in extra innings. Among many other things, their struggles to win in these situations are as much of a reason as any as to why they go into the final week two games behind Tampa Bay and 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the two American League wild-card spots.

If the Rays and Indians win out, the Rangers will be out of the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season, but they aren't thinking about that. The Texas players are focused on finishing strong at home with three games against last-place Houston and then four games against the Los Angeles Angels.

The Rangers lost all six games on their past homestand and have lost seven straight at Rangers Ballpark. They need to own their home stadium.

"We go home, and now is the best time to get everything together and have an amazing homestand," Elvis Andrus said. "It's going to be a great challenge to see how much we want it and how much we want to be in the postseason."

The Rangers return home down 1.5 games to Cleveland instead of a half-game because, again, their offense didn't do anything. After hitting seven home runs in two wins in Tampa Bay, the Rangers didn't hit one in three games in Kansas City.

When they had a chance to manufacture runs on Sunday, they failed.

The big one came in the top of the ninth. Alex Rios reached first base to open the inning on a strikeout and wild pitch and then stole second. Adrian Beltre, who had two hits in his first two at-bats, tried to hit the ball to the right side but couldn't. With two strikes, he lined a deep fly ball to left field.

Knowing that the Rangers weren't scoring runs, Rios decided to gamble against the big arm of Royals left fielder Alex Gordon in a 0-0 game. Gordon made a perfect throw, and Rios was out easily at third base. Instead of two more chances with a runner in scoring position, the Rangers had two outs and no one on. A.J. Pierzynski grounded out to third to end the inning.

"We're struggling to score runs," Rios said. "Because of that, I took that bet."

Manager Ron Washington saw Rios' attempt to get to third as a pretty big gamble.

"You've got to read the throw," Washington said. "If the throw is online, you stop and go back. But he kept running."

That didn't lose the game, as the Rangers nearly scrambled out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in the bottom of the 10th. Soria almost wiggled out of the inning after getting Mike Moustakas to pop out to third. Pinch hitter George Kottaras then hit a grounder to second base, and Ian Kinsler, who was playing in, came home for the second out.

That left Soria to deal with Maxwell, who had struck out 68 times in 209 at-bats this season. Soria got the count to 2-2 and tried to go up to get Maxwell, missing badly. That forced Soria to challenge Maxwell, and on a windy afternoon when the ball wasn't carrying well, the Royals' right fielder hit a moon shot.

Ballgame.

Soria said after the game that he had to challenge the free-swinging Maxwell.

"At 3-2, I have to throw a strike," Soria said "You can't give the umpires a chance to call a ball. You have to make sure and throw a strike. It was a homer or a walk. I want him to swing at it and have an out. He hit it well."

And so the Rangers' struggles continue. They haven't won a series since they swept Seattle at Safeco Field Aug. 26-28. They've lost six three-game series since then, in addition to splitting four games with Tampa Bay.

In a month the Rangers began with a two-game lead in the American League West, they are 5-15. Oakland did the inevitable Sunday and clinched the AL West with Texas' loss.

The sad thing is the Rangers played better on this road trip. Their starting pitchers pitched beautifully in the past six games of the trip, capped off by Alexi Ogando's masterpiece on Sunday.

Ogando allowed two hits in seven innings. He was economical, throwing 77 pitches when he was on a limit of around 80. The Royals had one runner get to second base before the 10th inning, when Maxwell singled to start the third and Alcides Escobar sacrificed to move him to second. Ogando quickly got out of the inning.

The problem was Royals starter James Shields matched Ogando inning by inning, even though the Rangers had more scoring chances. They had a runner at second after Beltre's double in the fourth and didn't move him. Craig Gentry had a double with two outs in the seventh but was stranded when David Murphy struck out.

Texas made crucial outs on the bases when Andrus was caught stealing in the first inning trying to get to third with one out. And Leonys Martin, too, in the fifth, trying to get second off Royals catcher Salvador Perez.

That didn't stop the Rangers' aggressiveness with Rios' gamble and loss in the ninth inning.

Texas is in a precarious situation. There's no margin for error now with seven games to go.

"We have to play the string," Washington said. "We have to win some ballgames."