BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Texas Rangers took sole possession of second place by winning their sixth straight series, as they took two of three from the Royals in Kansas City this weekend. They cashed in three strong starting pitching performances, as the Rangers’ bullpen threw just three innings in the series. The Rangers are now three games over .500 at 30-27, trailing Houston by 3.5 games. The Rangers’ lead over third place Los Angeles, which has lost five games in a row to fall under .500 is two games. Seattle and Oakland bring up the rear of the West Division with losing records.

The series started with the finest pitched game of the Ranger season as rookie Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez followed his winning debut the previous Saturday with a complete game, three hit shutout. He was far from dominating as he struck out just two Royals, but inning after inning, he took the mound and got outs. He finished with 116 pitches, the most he’s thrown this season in any game, but said afterward that there was little thought given to take him out after eight innings. The day off for the Rangers’ bullpen was welcome, as it had thrown five innings the night before in an 11 inning game, including a two inning stint from closer Shawn Tolleson.

The score was 4-0. The Rangers put up a first inning run to give Gonzalez the early lead as they had done in Gonzalez’ first start. Delino DeShields led off with a triple and Shin-Soo Choo grounded to second base to score the only run that Gonzalez would need to win the game. It again was a run that scored largely because of DeShields’ plus-plus speed. Mitch Moreland doubled the lead in the sixth inning with a solo home run, his sixth. Robinson Chirinos doubled the lead to 4-0 with a two run single later in the sixth inning.

Gonzalez is now 2-0, while former Ranger Edinson Volquez took the loss to fall to 4-4.

Wandy Rodriguez followed with seven strong innings in his Saturday start as Texas clinched the series win with a 4-2 victory. Rodriguez allowed a run on six hits. He walked no one and struck out six. Tanner Scheppers and Sam Freeman got through the eighth inning, and Shawn Tolleson earned his eighth save, despite allowing a run in the ninth inning.

The game ended on a controversial strikeout with Alcedes Escobar trying to check his two strike swing at a pitch in the dirt. The pitch skipped away from Chirinos, the Rangers catcher. Escobar apparently thinking the pitch was a ball, stayed in the batters’ box, while Chirinos retrieved the ball and tagged Escobar to record the game’ final out.

The Rangers scored early – two runs in the first inning and two more in the second. Mitch Moreland singled home one run, and Elvis Andrus hit a sacrifice fly to drive in a second run in the first inning. Sin-Shoo Choo doubled home two runners in the second to complete the Rangers’ scoring on the day.

Rodriguez is now 3-2. Surprisingly, all three wins have come on the road, and he is 3-1 with a 1.89 ERA in six road starts. Kansas City starter Yodano Ventura suffered the loss. He’s 3-5.

Colby Lewis made the strong start in Sunday’s finale, going seven innings and allowing three runs on eight hits. His Kansas City counter part, Jeremy Guthrie, was perhaps even better. He completed six shutout innings, but was knocked out in the seventh having given up two runs on just three hits. The KC bullpen failed Guthrie though as the Rangers tied the game at three in the seventh inning, with the big hit coming from Leonys Martin – a two run single.

That left the games fate in the hands of the bullpens. Wade Davis shut down Texas in the top of the eighth, facing four batters and giving up a hit. Keone Kela was the Rangers’ victim in the bottom of the inning, as he surrendered a solo home run to Salvadore Perez, his eighth of the year and second of the series. Closer Greg Holland finished off the Rangers with a one-two-three ninth inning on nine pitches.

4-3 was the final score. Kela (4-2) was the losing pitcher, while Davis (3-1) was the winner for the Royals. It was Holland’s ninth save of the season.

The Rangers continue the road trip with three games in Oakland after an off day on Monday. This will be the third series between the two clubs this season, and the A’s hold a 4-3 edge over the Rangers in the first two. Nick Martinez (4-2) starts Tuesday, followed by Yovani Gallardo (5-6) on Wednesday and Chi Chi Gonzalez is scheduled to start Thursday afternoon’s getaway game matinee. The Athletics counter with their ace Sonny Gray (7-2) on Tuesday, Jesse Hahn (3-5) on Wednesday and lefty Scott Kazmir (2-4) on Thursday.


* The Rangers are up to sixth this week in Buster Olney’s (ESPN) weekly power ratings.

* Matt Harrison makes his second minor league rehab start on Monday for Round Rock at the Dell Diamond against Oklahoma City.

* Hanser Alberto’s six game hitting streak came to an end on Friday night with an 0-3.

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