- Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Staff Writer
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- You can blame third base umpire Andy Fletcher for the most brutal of calls Friday night at Rangers Ballpark.
Yes, Fletcher stymied the Rangers' opportunity to tie the score or go ahead when he called Alex Rios out at third -- the final out of the eighth inning -- as the left fielder tried to go from first to third on Adrian Beltre's single to left.
Fletcher made a terrible call. Awful. Putrid.
Replays showed the play wasn't even close. Rios easily slid in under third baseman Josh Donaldson's tag. If the proper call had been made, the Rangers would have had runners on first and third with A.J. Pierzynski batting.
Instead, Rios was ejected for arguing the call and the inning ended.
The reality, though, is that when you go through the motions for much of the game and trail by seven runs in the eighth inning, it requires a miracle to come back.
Any time a team puts itself in a position that it needs a miracle to win, can you really be surprised when it doesn't happen?
Oakland 9, Texas 8.
The win allows the Athletics to increase their lead over Texas in the American League West to 4 1/2 games. The Rangers' September record is now 2-9.
None of that has anything to do with Fletcher's horrible call.
The worst thing the Rangers can do now is use Fletcher's mistake as a reason to throw a massive pity party.
Oakland, playing its best baseball of the season, essentially clinched the division Friday night. Nothing but scrub teams remain on the schedule after the next two games against the Rangers -- and Oakland buries bad teams. Oakland arrives at the ballpark each day expecting to win.
Meanwhile, your Rangers are playing some of their worst baseball of the season. They look like a team hoping it can sneak into the playoffs and start the postseason with a clean slate.
Well, it doesn't work that way.
These Rangers must win their way into the playoffs. There are too many teams with a shot to make the playoffs for the Rangers to back into the postseason.
"We're not out. We still have fight in us. We'll come back tomorrow and fight some more and we'll finally get it right," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We didn't get it totally right tonight. I don't think anyone thought we were coming back from a 9-2 deficit.
"We never quit. Maybe of you guys thought we did. We just didn't win the game."
The last 16 games of this season have nothing to do with Rangers general manager Jon Daniels or Washington.
It's all about the players.
Let's be clear: It's about the highest-paid pitchers and hitters on this team -- the ones making well over seven digits -- leading the way. They're the ones paid to deliver when it matters most.
Derek Holland is one of those guys. He failed spectacularly Friday night. Holland needed just nine pitches and nine minutes to suck the energy out of Rangers Ballpark and his teammates.
Single. Walk. Homer.
Four batters into the game, Oakland led a team with an abject offense 3-0.
Holland was gone in the fourth inning as Oakland lit him up for eight hits, six earned runs and two homers.
Pathetic or ridiculous?
"I just haven't done my job," Holland said. "It's embarrassing."
Holland's performance in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series -- 8 1/3 innings, two hits, no runs and seven strikeouts -- is the best-pitched postseason game in franchise history, so it's silly to think he couldn't handle the pressure of a regular-season start in September.
However, during his last four starts, Holland has allowed 21 runs and six homers in 19 1/3 innings, with 11 walks and 12 strikeouts.
But at this point, it doesn't matter.
Seriously, all that matters is that the best players on this team must play at a much higher level or the club will have yet another September collapse on its resume.
This isn't about effort. This team plays hard, but it must play better.
Holland never gave his teammates a chance to win Friday. He was responsible for runs in the first, third and fourth innings, and Oakland added to its lead in the fifth and sixth after he was gone.
The Rangers pulled within a run after scoring six runs with two outs in the eighth. But Jurickson Profar struck out in the ninth, ending the game with the tying run at second base.
This time we can't blame the Rangers' free fall on Josh Hamilton quitting on the team three times in the last three weeks. We can't blame Washington, because this must be the most rested team in the AL, considering it had four consecutive Thursdays off.
And don't blame Daniels, who acquired the best pitcher (Garza) available at the trade deadline and added a solid, if unspectacular bat (Rios), in August.
The fate of the season rests solely with the players.
Either they'll collectively find the mental fortitude to push through these difficult days and make the playoffs. Or their shameful September will continue and they'll spend the offseason contemplating another late-season collapse.
The choice is theirs.
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