By Mark Miller
With every game having major meaning and in the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Texas Rangers picked a great time to rally for a victory Sunday.
Thanks to a home run and run-scoring double by Alex Rios, the Rangers salvaged the final game of an otherwise dismal week in California. The 4-3 decision was the only win in three games against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after losing two of three in Oakland.
The 2-4 week moved the Rangers from on top of the American League West division to 1.5 games behind the Athletics. Texas also lost ground in the wild card race as its cushion now stands at two games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians.
“It was a very important win for us; we needed it bad,” Rangers manager Ron Washington told mlb.com. “We went out there, got on the board first, fought back, didn’t give in and made things happen.”
The victory snapped a streak where the Rangers yielded 11, 6 and 8 runs in their three losses. That followed 32 straight games where Texas pitchers had given up five or fewer runs, most in the American League since 1972. The Rangers had a 23-9 record in that time.
Rookie left-hander Martin Perez pitched the final game of that streak, giving up just one run in seven innings against Oakland. It was the sixth straight win for Perez, who has an earned run average of 2.54 in those starts and is 9-3, 3.41 overall.
“He’s a pitcher,” Washington said. “He’s certainly showing he can pitch. He kept it down in the zone, moved the ball around. …The thing I liked is I looked up and he’s in the seventh inning with 70-something pitches. He’s growing up in front of our eyes. He realizes he can pitch up here, and he’s going out and pitching.”
Key homestand lies ahead
With the West coast part of the Rangers’ schedule behind them, it’s back home this week to face two of the best teams in baseball.
Up first are the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are battling with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central division. Then it’s the final chance for Texas to directly pick up ground on Oakland.
This year’s Pirates, who like the Rangers have an 81-61 record, are unlike any in the past two decades in that they are guaranteed not to have a losing season. Under former Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh is also closing in on its first postseason action since the Barry Bonds days.
Ironically, if the playoffs started today, both Texas and Pittsburgh would be hosting wild card games. This marks the first time the teams have met since 2010 when the Rangers won all three games at home. Texas also won all three in Arlington in 2004.
Pittsburgh is led offensively by All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Pedro Alvarez. McCutchen has the team’s best batting average at .322 average with 19 home runs and 76 runs batted in while Alvarez leads in homers with 32 and RBI with 87.
On the mound, former Minnesota Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano is the starting ace with a 15-7 record and 2.98 earned run average. All-Star Jason Grilli recently returned from six weeks on the disabled list after converting 30 of 31 save opportunities. Mark Melancon picked up for Grilli with 11 saves in 13 tries.
Oakland won eight of its previous 10 games entering this week including those against the Rangers and the final three at home against the Houston Astros. Texas would love nothing better than to avenge not only last week’s series but what happened in 2012 when Oakland swept the Rangers to win the A.L. West on the season’s final weekend.
“Right now every win is important; we are playing for the pennant,” Rios said. “What we did today in coming from behind was great. Hopefully it will boost our confidence and keep us going.”
9/9 Pirates 7:05 p.m.
9/10 Pirates 7:05 p.m.
9/11 Pirates 1:05 p.m.
9/13 Athletics 7:05 p.m.
9/14 Athletics 12:05 p.m.
9/15 Athletics 2:05 p.m.