Texas Rangers: Hank Blalock
The Rangers have made a habit of engineering big innings en route to wins this month. They have had at least a four-run inning in five straight games.
Their latest offensive explosion began with the Rangers trailing 2-1. Nelson Cruz reached first base on an error, the first of two that would put runners on base in the fifth inning. Mike Napoli then hit a single and Yorvit Torrealba reached first on a fielder's choice.
In one of the key plays of the inning, Cruz was caught in a rundown between third and home during Torrealba's fielder's choice. But Cruz made sure to make his rundown last long enough to move Napoli to third and Torrealba to second.
Craig Gentry would have been the one to bring the two runners home, were it not for an impressive leaping grab by Brandon Hicks of Oakland. That brought Ian Kinsler to the plate with two outs.
Kinsler had struck out in his two previous at bats but came through in the fifth with a two-RBI single to put the Rangers up and extend the inning.
"We expect to score and we expect to put pressure on a team consistently throughout the game," Kinsler said. "Getting a two-out RBI and putting us up in that game was big."
Kinsler said that his previous struggles at the plate had no bearing on his performance in the fifth.
"You don’t carry one at bat into the next at bat," He said. "I wasn’t up there thinking I need to get this done because I struck out twice. I was thinking I need to get this done because we’re down by one."
Rangers manager Ron Washington said he was pleased that Kinsler could come up with a hit in that situation.
"Two-out base hits are tough to come by, but we're getting them right now and we're not going to complain about it," Washington said.
Kinsler was moved over to second when Elvis Andrus reached base on an error in the next at bat. That set up Josh Hamilton for a three-run bomb, his 25th of the season and fourth of the month, to put the Rangers up, 6-2.
"We've always had at least one big inning, that's kind of been our deal," Hamilton said. "We got key hits with guys in scoring position. We've had guys in scoring postiion all year, but we've had trouble getting them in."
Hamilton became the faster player in Rangers history to reach 25 homers in a season (79 games) and is just fifth player in club history to have 25 home runs in four or more seasons. He joins Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira in that category.
"I'm excited about it,"It's one of those things. I haven't tried to hit home runs. The biggest thing is to try to hit the ball hard, not far. It works."
The inning ended in the next at bat, but at that point the Rangers had already built a lead that the A's could not catch. The five-run fifth also assured that Martin Perez would get credit for the win in his first career major league start. Washington said that the Rangers resourcefulness was key for their success.
"Tonight, they made a couple of errors and we made them pay for it," Washington said. "We're trying to continue to play good baseball and we are. It takes everybody to continue it. We're playing hard, making things happen and take advantage of it."
Perhaps Kinsler put it best when he sat down in front of his locker and was greeted by a throng of reporters.
"We're just good man," He said. "We're really good at baseball."
What it means: The Rangers took the series with the A's, winning the first three in the four-game series with a chance to sweep Sunday. The Rangers improved their lead to 6.5-game over the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West, tying their biggest edge of the season. Texas also retains the best record in the majors, at 50-29, and is the first team to reach 50 wins this season.
Perez's first start: Perez looked good in his debut as a major league starter. He threw 103 pitches in 5 1/3 innings and showed good command of his breaking ball. He allowed six hits, including a home run, two earned runs, and one walk. He struck out five.
Riding the stream: The Jet Stream was in full effect Saturday night. Each team hit a solo shot to right field in the second inning. Chris Carter struck first for the A's and then Adrian Beltre followed for the Rangers. Nelson Cruz also gave a ball a ride to right field in the second, but it fell short just before the wall for a fly out.
Five in the fifth: The Rangers engineered another one-inning offensive explosion to go ahead against the A's in the fifth. Down 2-1, the Rangers put two men on base to start the inning. Yorvit Torrealba reached on a fielder's choice when Cruz was caught in a rundown between third and home. But Cruz made sure to make the rundown last long enough to get Mike Napoli to third and Torrealba to second. With runners in scoring position, Brandon Hicks made an impressive leaping grab to keep red-hot Craig Gentry from tying in the runners. It looked like the Rangers might leave the runners on base when Ian Kinsler stepped up to the plate with two outs. Kinsler, who had back-to-back strikeouts to start the game, came through with a two-RBI single. After Elvis Andrus reached base on an error, Josh Hamilton blasted a three-run homer to center field. Hamilton's fourth home run of the month capped off a five-run fifth that put the Rangers up 6-2.
Home run Hamilton: Hamilton's home run in the fifth inning was his 25th homer of the season, which matches his total from last season. He is the fastest player in Rangers history to reach 25 home runs in a season, hitting the mark in 79 games. He is just the fifth player in club history to hit 25 home runs in four or more seasons, joining the likes of Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira. Hamilton finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs.
Error message: The Rangers took full advantage of three key errors made by the A's, two of which came during the fifth-inning run. Both Andrus and Cruz reached base on errors which sustained the inning and gave the Rangers the chance to score as many runs as they did. Michael Young also reached second base on an error in the sixth inning, although he was not driven home.
Napoli's strikeout streak: Napoli struck out swinging in the sixth inning to extend his streak to 11 games with at least one strikeout. He had struck out 25 times in his previous 10 games, including three strikeouts against the A's on Friday night, two of which ended innings with runners in scoring position. Napoli finished 1-for-4.
Eighth-inning scare: With Michael Kirkman on the mound, the A's put two men on base with an error and a walk to lead off the eighth inning. Kirkman escaped with no runs thanks to two flyouts to center and a pop-up to second base. Kirkman and Yoshinori Tateyama saved the bullpen after Perez's exit, combining for the remaining 3 2/3 innings and allowing no runs.
Up next: The Rangers have a chance to complete the sweep when they close out their four-game home series with the A's on Sunday. RHP Yu Darvish will take the mound against LHP Travis Blackley at 6:05 p.m. on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM/1540 AM/FSSW. Some 2,500 reserved seats remain for Sunday's game.
Tue. at CWS: RHP Roy Oswalt (2-0, 4.26) vs. LHP Chris Sale (9-2, 2.27), 7:10 p.m., ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM/1540 AM/FSSW.
Wed. at CWS: RHP Scott Feldman (2-6, 6.13) vs. RHP Dylan Axelrod (0-1, 4.50), 6:10 p.m., ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM/1540 AM/FSSW/ESPN.
Thu. at CWS: LHP Matt Harrison (11-3, 3.16) vs. LHP Jose Quintana (3-1, 2.19), 1:10 p.m., ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM/1540 AM/FSSW.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A Rangers team that has struggled against the good teams this season made a nice comeback to beat the Tampa Bay Rays, who own the majors' best record. The Rangers are now one-third through the season and are on pace to win 87 games, the same number as last season.
Oakland's 5-4 loss to Minnesota in extra innings Friday put the Rangers back up by a game in the AL West.
A few thoughts:
* What a big fourth inning for the Rangers. After falling behind, 4-0, they came all the way back. They got seven runs in the fourth inning. Three key singles up the middle and a three-RBI double by Vladimir Guerrero were the difference. They knocked starter Wade Davis out of the game with one out gone in the inning. In came Andy Sonnanstine, who gave up the long double to Guerrero (Vlad was thrown out at third trying to stretch it to a double). It was the most runs the Rays allowed in one inning this season. It was also the most runs and hits (7 runs, 7 hits) in one inning since last September against Tampa Bay here in Arlington (11 runs, 9 hits). More on some of the individual efforts late in this post.
* Tough second inning for C.J. Wilson. He breezed through the first in 12 pitches, but needed 42 to get through the second. Two walks certainly hurt. But he also got some tough luck. Ian Kinsler had an error on a ground ball that looked like a double play with the bases loaded. Instead, no one was out and the Rays got a chance to put up four runs eventually. The big two-RBI single from Carl Crawford was a bouncer the other way that found a hole. Still, Wilson didn't have the control we saw from him earlier this season and that inning was an example. He was also very slow in the inning, something he normally doesn't do.
* But to his credit, he bounced back with a quick third and fourth and then got a bunch of run support. And when the Rangers needed the shutdown inning in the fifth after that big fourth, Wilson got a 1-2-3 inning to the 2-3-4 hitters. Then, as he neared 100 pitches, he struggled with consecutive walks in the sixth to load the bases with no outs. Darren O'Day came in at that point. Wilson left the mound with a shrug, clearly not happy with how his start ended. Matt Harrison came in after O'Day got one batter and ended up giving up one run on a ground ball that was nearlya double play to end the inning. He walked B.J. Upton and then struck out Carl Crawford on a 3-2 pitch. Tampa Bay got only one run despite loading the bases with no outs.
* We've talked the last few days about Justin Smoak and I become more and more convinced he's figuring things out. He went after a high fastball in the second and blasted it to the upper deck in right field. He then followed with two more infied hits for the first three-hit game of his career. Smoak's swing looks good and he's showing good plate discipline. Maybe he's found the approach he needs. He was 7-for-25 on the road trip and kept that going on Friday.
* Josh Hamilton matched his home run total from last year on Friday, hitting a solo shot on the first pitch of the fourth. It brought the Rangers within one run after falling behind 4-0 in the second. Hamilton hit the homer off a righty. He was hitting .317 against right-handers coming into the game (and just .234 against lefties). Hamilton hits well on the first pitch. He was 10-for-33 on a 0-0 count before the homer. He also had a double in that same fourth inning.
* 3B Michael Young knows what to do with men on base and in scoring position. He singled up the middle to drive in two runs to give the Rangers the lead in the fourth. He is now 4-for-7 with 10 RBIs with runners in scoring position this season.
* OF Julio Borbon had a nice night with three hits -- two singles up the middle and in infield hit on a bunt. He's quietly starting to hit. Borbon has seven hits in his last five games. He looks to me like he's not trying to do too much and going with the pitches much better than he did earlier in the season.
* Former Ranger Hank Blalock pinch hit in the sixth and stayed in the game in right field. It was the first time he's played the outfield in his professional career (majors or minors). The Tampa Bay guys tell me he's been working out there. He did get a nice hand when he was introduced at home plate in the fifth.
* Don't underestimate Darren Oliver's value to this team. He's the most overworked in a very overworked bullpen, but is productive. He came in with runners at first and second with two outs in a three-run game in the seventh and got a key strikeout.
* Washington was thrown out for the third time this season after arguing a call at second base in the eighth inning. Borbon thought he was safe and was called out on a steal attempt. The replays were close, but I think the umpire got it right. Jackie Moore took over the duties in Washington's absence.
* Frank Francisco got through a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts. It was a solid performance. Neftali Feliz hit two batters with two outs, but got the final one for the save.
"I don't know. I know Andrew [Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations] is taking care of all that stuff," Maddon said. "I anticipate that it's going to get done relatively soon. I just don't know exactly what's going on. I did talk to Andrew yesterday."
How do you think Blalock will do in Tampa?