BY: Richard W. Humphrey
All the Wild Card action was under the lights Friday night. Texas stayed alive for a playoff berth with a 5-3 win over the Angels. Alexi Ogando has been the Rangers’ best pitcher this month, but wasn’t in top form Friday. After allowing just one run in two starts and four September relief appearances, he gave up three in 5-1/3 innings Friday night. His fastball velocity was down three to four miles per hour from his earlier appearances, but still his performance was good enough to give the Rangers a chance to win the game, which they did.
Still Ogando’s manager Ron Washington told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan after the game, “Ogando was outstanding.”
Former Rangers played a significant part in this game. Texas took a 1-0 lead in the first inning against former Ranger C. J. Wilson, the Angels’ winningest pitcher this year. Wilson arrived in Arlington with a 17-7 record, his career high in wins, but seemed on the verge of imploding in the third inning after his teammates had tied the game at one. Texas managed just one hit in the inning, but scored a pair of runs. A single, a walk and a hit batsman loaded the bases with one out. Another hit batsman drove in the go ahead run. Wilson’s third wild pitch of the inning sent home a second run to give Texas a 3-1 lead.
The Rangers appeared close to blowing the game open, but Wilson righted the ship to strike out Jeff Baker and Mitch Moreland to end the threat.
The Angels came back with two runs in the fifth inning to tie the game at three. They were driven in on a single from former Ranger Josh Hamilton. That turned out to be the Angels last hit of the game, as Ogando finished off the fifth inning and got the first out of the sixth before Washington turned the game over to the Ranger bullpen.
Jason Frasor finished the sixth inning with a pair of strikeouts. Neal Cotts was particularly dominating in pitching a perfect seventh inning, striking out two of three that he faced. Tanner Scheppers also struck out two of three in a perfect eighth inning, and Joe Nathan needed just seven pitches to get three outs in the ninth.
Alex Rios and A. J. Pierzynski had run scoring singles in the seventh inning as Texas re-took the lead 5-3. That made Cotts (7-3) the winning pitcher, and Nathan earned his 42nd save.
Still the Rangers’ elimination number was reduced to two as Cleveland trounced Minnesota 12-6. Tampa Bay finally lost, ending a seven game winning streak. They were beaten 6-3 in Toronto by former Ranger R. A. Dickey (14-13), who has reinvented himself as a knuckleball pitcher since leaving the Rangers. The Indians and Rays are now tied for the top two spots in the Wild Card race, one game ahead of Texas with two games to play.
The Rangers won the division comfortably in 2010 and 2011, and led the division last year by four games with six to play, before losing five of the final six games to slip back into the top Wild Card slot. There was little late season drama in those seasons over the team making the playoffs. This year’s Wild Card race is thus the tightest, most dramatic playoff race in the history of the club. Literally, every play can make the difference in making the playoffs or not. Ranger fans may fret over the tenseness of the race, but it sure beats those horrible seasons early this century, when the Rangers were all but mathematically eliminated by the middle of May.
That race continues today much earlier than originally scheduled. The Rangers moved Saturday’s game time from 7:05 PM to 11:05 AM because of the threat of inclement weather later in the day. It will easily be the earliest start time for a home game in the history of the Rangers, and will be just the third game in Major League baseball this season with a start time before noon. Derek Holland (10-9, 3.33) will face Garrett Richards (7-7, 4.09).
Follow on Twitter @rangerrap.