Saturday, September 28, 2013
Rangers make Game 162 matter
By Todd Wills
ARLINGTON, Texas -- When this week started, all the Rangers could ask for was a chance.
They didn't control their own destiny. They were behind Tampa Bay and Cleveland for the two American League wild-card spots. The Rangers were 5-15 in September.
Look at them now.
They've won six straight games, keeping their wild-card hopes alive with Saturday's 7-4 victory over the Los Angeles Angels, a game that ended in a torrential downpour with closer Joe Nathan striking out Howie Kendrick.
The Rangers reached 90 wins for the fourth consecutive season. Getting win No. 91 on Sunday will ensure that they'll play at worst another game Monday or Tuesday against the Rays or Indians.
Texas and Tampa Bay are tied for the second wild-card spot with identical 90-71 records. Cleveland can take a one-game lead over both teams with one game left -- and guarantee at worst a play-in game -- with a win over Minnesota on Saturday.
How have the Rangers made Game 162 matter? They have rallied the troops.
Remember, last Sunday in Kansas City the Rangers lost 4-0 on a walk-off grand slam by the Royals' Justin Maxwell to fall behind Cleveland by one game and Tampa Bay by two in the wild-card race. The Rangers needed to win every game and get some help.
They were still being doubted by their own fans and on local talk shows.
"The talk of last year, the collapse, the same thing happening this year," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "That helped bring us together and give us that extra push. We took it personally. We were ready to go."
The Rangers swept three games from the pitiful Houston Astros but picked up no ground. The Rangers won Thursday against the Angels on Jurickson Profar's dramatic walk-off home run, but Tampa Bay and Cleveland won. Still on the outside looking in.
The Rangers finally got their opening Friday night when they held on to beat the Angels 5-3 and the Rays lost to Toronto. Texas pulled even with Tampa Bay on Saturday as a surging offense provided an early lead and the Blue Jays again pounded the Rays.
The Rangers took advantage of five Angels errors -- maybe a product of the early start time -- and key hits from Alex Rios and Craig Gentry, a key trade acquisition and a player off the bench who have been in the middle of everything this week.
Rios put the ball in play in the bottom of the first to score Ian Kinsler. He had a sacrifice fly in a four-run bottom of the second as the Rangers took a 5-1 lead. When the Angels cut the Texas lead to 5-4 in the fifth inning, Rios started the bottom of the inning with a double. He scored on A.J. Pierzynski's RBI single, the first of two huge insurance runs in the inning.
Rios has hit for the cycle in a game this week. He has eight RBIs. He's scored six runs. He's stolen three bases. He's playing his best with everything on the line.
"He's come up with a lot of big hits," manager Ron Washington said. "He's kept a lot of innings alive. He's stolen bases. He runs the bases extremely well. That's exactly what he's done. He's right in the middle of it."
Gentry has started every game this week and is 7-for-20 with six runs scored and four stolen bases. He drove in the second run of the fifth inning to give the Rangers a 7-4 lead.
The bullpen closed the game out. With Derek Holland exiting in the top of the fifth and the club's top relievers carrying a heavy workload, Joakim Soria and Robbie Ross delivered seven outs.
It kept Washington from having to use Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts, who warmed up but will be a little fresher for Sunday's game.
"It did save us a couple of pieces down there," Washington said of what Soria and Ross did Saturday.
There was no avoiding Tanner Scheppers and Nathan for a third straight game. Scheppers needed seven pitches for a scoreless eighth.
Nathan had a much tougher task. He had to get the final out in a driving rainstorm that started after he retired the first two batters in the top of the ninth.
Pinch hitter Josh Hamilton extended the inning against his former teammates with a two-out double. Mike Trout walked. That brought up Kendrick, who was going to be the final batter before the game had to be stopped because of unplayable conditions.
Nathan fanned him to end the game.
Remember this game was moved up eight hours from 7:05 p.m. to 11:05 a.m. to give the teams the best chance to get the game in. Nathan ended it just at the right time.
"I was thinking we have to stop this game," Washington said. "Those guys in the infield, I can't see them throwing it across the infield. But we didn't have to worry about that because Joe got him out."
Now the Rangers wait for Sunday, another must-win game.
And another chance to prove there's no collapse happening on their watch.