BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Texas beat the Tigers 3-2 in 11 innings Sunday to win three out of four games with Detroit this weekend, the fifth consecutive series win to start the season. Texas now stands at 13-3, the best record in baseball, after going 8-1 on the road trip concluded Sunday. It is the franchise’s best record for a road trip of seven games or more. The Rangers are the only team in the West over .500 and hold a 5.5 game lead over Oakland, a 6.5 game lead over Seattle, and a seven game lead over the Angels, who lost a late lead and subsequently lost in 10 innings to Baltimore Sunday afternoon.
Texas took the early lead Sunday with a first inning solo home run from Josh Hamilton. It was Hamilton’s seventh of the year to lead the American League. He drove in a second run in the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly to push his league leading total to 17. His 3-3 day at the plate moved his batting average to .418, which trails only Boston’s David Ortiz (.436) in the American League.
The game winning run in the eleventh came across on a squeeze play. Alberto Gonzalez got the bunt down with the bases loaded and Nelson Cruz running from third on the pitch. Replays later showed the bunt should have been called a foul ball as it struck Gonzalez coming off the bat in the batters box. However, the call was fair ball, Cruz’s run counted, and Gonzalez beat out the bunt for a base hit.
On the pitching side, Robbie Ross in relief won his third game of the road trip. The rookie that came to spring training with virtually no chance to make the Ranger opening day roster, then out-pitched every left-handed relief candidate in camp to earn a spot, continued his fine work by pitching a three up three down 10th inning, which lowered his ERA to 3.38. Joe Nathan wrapped up the game facing four batters in the bottom of the 11th to secure the win and his fourth save of the year. On the day, the Ranger bullpen tossed four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit. Alexi Ogando and Mike Adams turned in the other two scoreless innings.
The four relievers followed another outstanding performance from Colby Lewis, who scattered seven hits over seven innings, allowing two runs. It was his fourth quality start of the year, and his ERA is now a sparkling 2.02. Lewis walked no Tiger batters tsee tend his walk-less streak to 25-2/3rds innings. (The club record is 29-1/3 innings set by Jon Matlack in 1978.). He has not walked a batter since Adam Dunn in the first inning on opening day.
A Friday rainout forced the Rangers’ first double header of the season on Saturday. Texas split the pair, winning the first game easily by lambasting Tiger starting pitcher Rick Porcello with eight first inning runs. They scored just four more over the final 17 innings of the day. The final score was 10-3 in game one, and the loss in game two was 3-2 at the hands of Justin Verlander, last year’s Cy Young and MVP Award winner.
Amazingly, the Rangers used just three pitchers on the day. Matt Harrison turned in seven more fine innings in game one to collect his third win of the year. Koji Uehara finished the game, and as usual, gave up a home run. In the night cap, Neftali Feliz allowed just three hits and pitched a complete game, the Rangers first of the year. With Verlander holding the Ranger offense in check, Feliz was tagged with the loss, the first for a Ranger starting pitcher this year. The loss also brought an end to the Rangers’ eight game winning streak.
Texas returns to Arlington this week with three games against the Yankees on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and three more next weekend against the Rays. Monday’s game will start an hour earlier than usual at 6:05 PM Central to accommodate ESPN’s national telecast. The Rangers have ceremonies planned to begin at 5:30 to honor Ivan Rodriguez, who announced his retirement from baseball last week.
The Yankees were rained out in Boston Sunday night, which makes CC Sabathia available to start Monday night against Derek Holland. That pushes Hideki Kuroda to Tuesday, where he will face Yu Darvish. Either Philip Hughes or Ivan Nova will pitch Wednesday’s finale for New York. Texas will counter with Scott Feldman, making Wednesday’s game the first this year that will be started by a pitcher other than the original starting five. This was precipitated by Friday’s rainout in Detroit.