EIGHTH INNING BLUES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers took a lead into the bottom of the eighth inning in all three games this weekend, but couldn’t finish the deal in two of them as they dropped two of three to Seattle and completed the six game road trip with a 4-2 record. It was the third series the Rangers have lost this season, all on the road. They have won the other five. Texas began the week in second place, trailing Oakland by 2.5 games; but returned to Arlington after Sunday’s game tied with the Athletics for the division lead with a 15-10 record.

Sunday’s game was the return of Matt Harrison; his first start in more than a year. Last season, he underwent more surgeries (three) than starting assignments for the Rangers (two). He’s battled through the back problems to be ready for Sunday’s start, and he was magnificent. He retired the first nine batters he faced and completed six innings while allowing two runs on three hits. He struck out four, walked two and coerced seven groundouts, needing 95 pitches to get through the six innings.

Texas gave Harrison an early lead with two second inning runs. Mitch Moreland singled home Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios scored on the same play after Mariners right fielder Stefen Romero booted the ball. The offense ran the lead to 5-0 with three more runs in the fourth inning. Leonys Martin singled home two runs and later scored on a Michael Choice double.

The Mariners cut the lead to three with single runs in the fourth and sixth innings. Robinson Cano was involved in both runs, driving home the fourth inning run with a double and scoring in the sixth on a wild pitch.

Harrison departed after six as the pitcher of record to get the win. Kyle Seager foiled the plan. He homered off Shawn Tolleson leading off the seventh. An inning later, he clobbered the second pitch he saw for another home run, this time with two runners on base to give the Mariners a 6-5 lead.

Fernando Rodney zipped the Rangers in the ninth striking out Josh Wilson and Elvis Andrus, and getting a fly out from Choice. It was his fifth save of the year. Alexi Ogando gave up the eighth inning damage, as he struck out the side, but gave up four hits between the second and third out. He took the loss to move his record to 1-2 and drive his ERA to 6.39.

Texas has now given up 18 runs in the eighth inning of games, most of any inning. Obviously, last year’s set-up men, Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers are missed.

The first loss on Friday was another game in which an eighth inning lead got away. Texas took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth, as Robbie Ross moved his ERA to 2.45 with a quality start of six innings pitched and two earned runs allowed. He gave up six hits and struck out five without walking a batter. His pitch count was a touch high at 101.

Neal Cotts started the eighth, but failed to retire any of the five batters he faced, four of which ultimately scored. Ogando relieved Cotts with three runs already in and promptly allowed the fourth run of the inning to score on a wild pitch. From there, Ogando put out the fire with a strikeout, pop out and fly out.

That gave the Mariners a 6-3 lead, which they almost and perhaps should have coughed up in the ninth inning. Two singles and hit batsman loaded the bases for the Rangers with one out in the ninth. Michael Choice and Elvis Andrus followed with consecutive bases on balls issued by Mariners’ closer Fernando Rodney to force home two runs and cut the lead to 6-5. For an instant, the Rangers appeared to be ready to take the lead, as Adrian Beltre hit an opposite field line shot. It was not to be though. Mariners’ first baseman Justin Smoak stabbed the line drive and completed the double play by stepping on first to end the game.

6-5 was the final score. Cotts (1-2) was credited with his third blown save and took the loss. Seattle’s Yoervis Medina (1-1) was credited with the win in relief. The Rangers’ offense consisted of eight hits, only one, a J. P. Arencibia double, was for extra bases; as Mariners’ lefty Roenis Elias pitched another outstanding game against Texas as he had the previous weekend in Arlington.

On Saturday, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez looked untouchable early. He gave up one questionable hit through the first four innings, a hit that was originally scored an error. Meanwhile the Mariners were building a 3-0 lead with home runs to lead off the first and second innings and a sacrifice fly in the fourth.

That all changed in the fifth though. Mitch Moreland, Donnie Murphy and Leonys Martin opened the top half with singles to load the bases. A walk (Robinson Chirinos), single (Michael Choice) and sacrifice fly (Elvis Andrus) drove the three of them home to tie the game.

Starters Colby Lewis and Hernandez were gone after five and six innings to leave the decisions to the bullpen. Mitch Moreland broke the tie in the eighth inning with a sacrifice fly. In the ninth inning, the Rangers added two more with Leonys Martin scoring on a wild pitch, followed by an Elvis Andrus double and Prince Fielder single. That ran the score to 6-3, which proved to be the final.

The Rangers’ bullpen was spotless. Aaron Poreda took over for Lewis in the sixth with the bases loaded, but got three outs without a Mariner crossing the plate. He also pitched a scoreless seventh inning to become the pitcher of record. He’s 1-0 with the win, just his second Major League win and first in five seasons. Cotts and Ogando combined to strike out the side in the eighth inning. Joakim Soria ran his save total to six with another perfect ninth inning – three up, three down, one strikeout, 13 pitches.

The Rangers are home for a brief three game set with Oakland beginning Monday night. There are tremendous pitching matchups for all three games. Yu Darvish (1-0) opens the series against former Vanderbilt Commodore Sonny Gray (3-1), who is quickly turning into the Athletics’ ace. Tuesday’s game is a matchup of undefeated left-handers – Martin Perez (4-0) verses Scott Kazmir (3-0). Robbie Ross (1-1) finishes up the series Wednesday on “Dollar Hot Dog” night against Jesse Chavez (1-0). Ross’s 2.45 ERA is the highest among those six pitchers.

INJURY UPDATE: Sin-Shoo Choo did not play in the Seattle series, but the Rangers believe he will be ready to play soon enough to avoid a disabled list stint. He may be in the lineup at some point during this week’s series with the Athletics. Derek Holland threw his first live bullpen session and reports that he has already participated in pitchers’ fielding practice drills. He appears to be coming back sooner than anticipated, though no time table has been set for him to begin minor league rehab starts. Pedro Figueroa was earlier placed on the disabled list and is out for the season with a torn ligament in his elbow.

ROSTER MOVES: Hector Noesi was claimed on waivers Friday by the White Sox after being designated for assignment earlier in the week. Adrian Beltre was activated from the disabled list, and Kevin Kouzmanoff was placed on the disabled list to make room for Beltre. Kouzmanoff left the team during the road trip and returned to Arlington to be evaluated, which indicated a herniated disk. Surgery is a possibility. On Sunday, infielder Luis Sardinas was sent to AA Frisco to make room on the active roster for Matt Harrison, Sunday’s starting pitcher.

NOTABLE:

* When Aaron Poreda earned the win in Saturday’s game, he became the 11th Ranger pitcher to record a win this season. It was the ninth bullpen win for Texas this year, which tied for the Major League lead with Philadelphia and San Francisco for the most in the Majors.

* Texas is now 9-4 against A. L. West teams this season.

* The ERA of Rangers’ starting pitchers over the last 20 games is 2.86.

* Texas is 11-3 in games started by catcher Robinson Chirinos.

* The Rangers have 10 players on the disabled list (five on the 15-day and five on the 60-day) after Matt Harrison was activated on Sunday.

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