Saturday, September 28, 2013
No questioning this team's fight
By Todd Wills
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington calls this fighting for your life. In baseball terms, that's exactly what the Rangers are doing this week. And they are doing it extremely well.
Five must-win games and five wins, the latest a grind-it-out 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.
Rangers right fielder Alex Rios was as impressive on the bases as he was at the plate, where he drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
It's been one heck of a week for Washington and his baseball team, which finally gained ground on one of the teams in front of it.
The Rangers will get things going again early Saturday, at 11:05 a.m. CT, a start time moved up by eight hours because of potential rain in the Arlington area forecast for the early afternoon.
The Rays and Indians play their games -- at Toronto and at Minnesota, respectively -- just after noon CT. It's going to be one wild day in the American League.
"We're excited to be where we are," Washington said. "We still have a chance. It would be different if we didn't. The only thing you can do is stay focused and do what you have to do."
The Rangers have elevated their game this week after suffering through a painful first three weeks of September. They're running the bases. The bullpen has been brilliant. And the clutch hits have finally started coming in waves.
Rios drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh, when he slapped a single into right field to score Ian Kinsler for a 4-3 lead. Kinsler had put himself in scoring position by walking and drawing an errant pickoff throw to first base by Angels reliever J.C. Gutierrez to move up a base. Elvis Andrus moved Kinsler to third with a perfect sacrifice bunt.
Rios, who has been everything the Rangers could have hoped for when they got him in a waiver-period deal from the Chicago White Sox, took advantage of the infield being in and picked up his 17th RBI of the month.
He wasn't done. Rios has been a force on the bases. He scored a huge insurance run when he came home from second base on an infield hit by A.J. Pierzynski. Rios expected Angels shortstop Erick Aybar to throw to first to get Pierzynski, a slow runner, and that allowed Rios to scramble around third and score when Aybar's throw was off line at first.
Rios has gone from out of the playoff race in Chicago to being in the middle of things in Texas.
"It's exciting to be a part of something," Rios said. "We're fighting to get a spot to get in the playoffs through the wild card. Whenever you're able to contribute in winning, it makes you feel good."
Scheppers was the standout on a night when all four Rangers relievers -- Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts and Joe Nathan along with Scheppers -- were beyond dominant. The fearsome foursome faced 11 batters and retired them all -- six on strikeouts.
Scheppers had the most difficult task. He drew the Angels' 3-4-5 hitters -- Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Howie Kendrick -- in the top of the eighth, right after the Rangers had taken a 5-3 lead.
Scheppers didn't blink. He won the battle with the MVP candidate Trout, blowing a 98 mph fastball by him. Scheppers went upstairs against Hamilton and made him strike out on more 98 mph cheese. Kendrick grounded out to second to end the inning.
It was electric stuff from Scheppers.
"I'm not surprised," Pierzynski said. "We've seen him do that all year. Those are three darn good hitters he got out. That was important, especially after we had just scored. He shut it down and got us back in the dugout."
Cotts got the win, his seventh of the season. Nathan picked up 42nd save. So what did Scheppers get?
"He gets the hold, a win and a save," Washington said. "So he picked up the triple crown tonight."
The Rangers picked up another massive win. They were 5-15 for September when this final week started. They were listening to collapse talk all around them.
They've responded by elevating their play at a time when they can't afford to lose.
"When you get in this situation, you're starting to compete," Andrus said. "Everybody is giving it their all. Everybody is focused. They're willing to do whatever it takes. Hopefully it will get us in the playoffs."