BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – Oakland beat the Rangers 7-1 Sunday to take two of three games in this weekend’s series. There were improbable games with contributions from improbable players; but in the end, the results were the usual. Texas lost its sixth series to go with two splits, and the Rangers have still not won two consecutive games this season. The Rangers have fallen 9.5 games out of first place taking a solid clamp on last place in the American League West with an 8-16 record.
The Athletics arrived having lost six of their last seven games, like the Rangers, and like the Rangers they arrived having committed 21 errors, the most in the American League. Their hottest pitcher, lefty Scott Kazmir, opened the series Friday night. He was 2-0 in four April starts – all quality starts of at least six innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs allowed. His ERA was 0.99, fourth best in the Major Leagues.
Colby Lewis opposed Kazmir, and on this night, Lewis pitched the better game. Lewis zipped through six innings, shutting out the A’s on the scoreboard and striking out eight, allowing two hits, while walking two. The eight strikeouts are the most in a game by a Texas pitcher this season.
Meanwhile Kazmir gave up a pair of home runs – one each to Lance Blanks and Prince Fielder. Jake Smolinski drove in a third run with a sacrifice fly. The three runs matched the scoring off Kazmir in four April starts combined. Kazmir completed six innings, giving up the three runs on six hits. He struck out six and walked only one. His ERA moved to 1.62.
In the end neither starter figured in the pitching decisions. In the seventh inning, Alex Claudio retired the A’s in the top half, while the Rangers tagged the Athletics bullpen for two more runs in the bottom half to take a 5-0 lead into the eighth inning.
It looked like the Rangers like the calendar, had turned a new page, as they were two good innings away from playing perhaps their best game of the year. It wasn’t to be. From there the roof fell in on the Ranger bullpen. Sean Tolleson, Ramon Mendez and Neftali Feliz could not stem the tide as the A’s sent 10 men to the plate and scored seven runs in the eighth inning.
7-5 was the final score. Mendez (0-1) took the loss, while Dan Otero (2-1) was the winning pitcher for Oakland. Tyler Clippard earned his second save by closing out the Rangers with a perfect ninth inning.
Nick Martinez, the Rangers best pitcher in April started for Texas on Saturday with a 2-0 record and 0.35 ERA, best in the Major leagues. He got into hot water quickly as he gave up two hits on the first three pitches he threw to put Oakland runners on second and third. He limited the scoreboard damage though to one run and got out of the inning on just 14 pitches. He went on to pitch well, taking a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning.
The seventh inning however closely resembled Friday night’s eighth inning. Defensive lapses contributed greatly to the Athletics scoring six runs to take a 7-3 lead. Martinez was charged with five runs on the evening, but only two were earned. He still qualified for a quality start, his fifth in five starts.
Martinez got off the hook for the loss when the Rangers improbably came back to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh. The big blow of the inning was a three run home run, the first of the season for Texas, which was improbably hit by Sin-Shoo Choo.
The Rangers took the walk-off 8-7 win in the 10th inning when Rougned Odor improbably singled home the game winner with the bases loaded. Odor’s struggles at the plate are almost as mighty as Choo’s. He finished the weekend with a .148 batting average and should probably be headed to AAA, but the Rangers really have no plan B for second base at this point.
Keone Kela (1-0) was the winning Ranger pitcher, his first Major League win.
Sunday’s Oakland win was predictable, as Sonny Gray, who always dominates the Rangers, was the Athletics’ starting pitcher. On this day though, he improbably had control difficulties. He set career highs in walks (seven) and pitches thrown (119) in a game. In the end though, Texas could not take advantage of the opportunities Gray presented. They managed just two hits off Gray, who lasted 6-2/3rds innings, and four in the game, going 1-13 with runners in scoring position.
Ranger starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo took the loss to fall to 2-4, 4.50. Gray, who has now thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings at the Rangers, improved to 4-0, 1.67. Half of those wins are over the Rangers, as he also beat Texas on opening day in Oakland.
The Rangers now go on the road starting with three games in Houston. The Astros improbably are the hottest team in baseball having won their last 10 games. They lead the West by seven games over second place Los Angeles, the largest lead in any division. Texas will send out Ross Detwiler, Wandy Rodriguez and Colby Lewis as their three starters. Houston counters with Dallas Keuchel (3-0, 0.73), former Ranger Scott Feldman (2-2, 4.31), and Samuel Deduno (0-0, 2.70).
* Saturday night’s game was the annual “Bark at the Park” night in which fans could bring dogs to the game. The official dog attendance was 461.
* Nick Martinez was voted the Rangers’ Player of the Month for April. He started four games, winning two. The Rangers won all four, all of which came after a Ranger loss. His 0.35 ERA was the lowest monthly ERA for a Ranger pitcher ever.
* Sin-Shoo Choo snapped an 0-21 streak at the plate with a fourth inning double in Friday’s game. It boosted his batting average over .100, hopefully for the rest of the season. He drove in four runs on Saturday and Sunday with his second home run and a double to raise his average to .141.
* Elvis Andrus had an eight game hitting streak end Sunday by going 0-2 with three walks. That’s the longest hitting streak for any Ranger this season.