BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Texas earned a split in the four game series with Tampa Bay Thursday night with an 8-2 win over the Rays. The game was much closer than the score indicates. Yu Darvish started after two outstanding performances in which the Rangers lost 1-0, but he struggled with command problems Thursday night. The Major League leader in strikeouts K’d just four and ended up walking six batters to run up his pitch count to 109 over five innings. However, the Rangers supported Darvish with four home runs, including three in the third inning, which turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead that the Rangers never relinquished.
Five Ranger batters had multi-hit games as Texas mounted a 16 hit attack. Craig Gentry put in a strong bid for playing time over the final 10 games with four hits, including a triple. Mitch Moreland was the only left-handed bat in the lineup against Tampa’s Matt Moore, and he popped three hits, which featured his 23rd home run. Elvis Andrus has just four round trippers this season, but half of them came in this series, one in each game the Rangers won. Alex Rios and Geovany Soto hit the other two big flies.
Darvish (13-9) was the winning pitcher, while Moore (15-4) took the loss. Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan finished the game with encouraging performances. Collectively they allowed two hits and struck out four batters over the final four innings. Ross was especially encouraging, as he has struggled mightily in recent outings. He threw two spotless innings, including the sixth in which he struck out the side. Nathan was an odd choice to pitch the ninth with a six run lead, but manager Ron Washington that Nathan pitched at his own request. He wanted to get the bad taste out of his mouth from Wednesday’s poor performance in which he was charged with his third blown save of the year.
Splitting four games looks especially good as Texas came into the series having lost six in a row and 13 of 16. The Rangers hopefully have some momentum after winning two of the last three games in the series to gain the split. The pair of wins makes the Rangers’ road record 44-34, which is the most road wins and best road winning percentage (.564) in the Majors.
Oakland also won, beating Minnesota 8-6, to maintain their 6.5 game lead over the Rangers in the West Division. Oakland has nine games remaining, and their magic number is down to four. The Ranger win tightened up the Wild Card race. Texas and Tampa Bay are now tied for the top two spots, and in case they finish in a tie, Texas will host the Wild Card game by virtue of winning the season series with the Rays four games to three. Cleveland stayed one-half game behind with a 2-1 win over Houston. Baltimore trails by two games after a 3-1 loss to Boston, which clinched a playoff berth with the win. (The Dodgers are the only other team to have mathematically clinched a playoff berth, as they beat Arizona to 7-6 to win the National League West.)
Texas plays their final 10 games in the Central Time Zone starting with three games in Kansas City this weekend. The Rangers won two of three from the Royals in Arlington earlier this season. The pitching matchups are Martin Perez (9-5, 3.64) against Ervin Santana (9-9, 3.23) on Friday, Matt Garza (9-6, 3.15) against Jeremy Guthrie (14-11, 4.08) on Saturday, and Alexi Ogando (7-4, 3.15) against James Shields (12-9, 3.33) on Sunday.
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