TWO IN A ROW!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers won their second series in a row, sweeping the Detroit Tigers in three games to start the week. Martin Perez turned in another strong outing on Monday, the Ranger offense pounded Justin Verlander on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Cole Hamels pitched good enough to win on a night when he didn’t have his good stuff.

Manager Jeff Banister intimated last weekend that he had not given up on catching the Astros for the division title. It is definitely a long shot, and for the Rangers to take the West crown for the third year in a row, they will need a lot of help from the Astros. Certainly Houston provided that help two years ago, and they are reeling in the month of August. They are 3-6 since the start of last week. That has enabled the Rangers pick up 3.5 games (four in the loss column) to cut the deficit to 14.5 games (14 in the loss column).

That’s still a huge mountain to climb, but the Rangers are on a good roll now. They have six games of head-to-head competition to make up some of that ground. The Rangers’ offense is getting consistent at last. Texas has had a plus run differential that exceeds last year’s pennant winning team’s for most of the season. The problem is consistency. They rough up a pitcher for a double digit score one night, then lose 2-1 the next.

Tuesday’s game is a good example of the turnaround. They raced out to a 5-1 lead riding three home runs from Joey Gallo,Mike Napoli and Robinson Chirinos. However, starter A. J. Griffin had high pitch counts in the first two innigs that forced him out of the game after five with 93 pitches. Four innings from this year’s bullpen is scary, and the noose felt a little tighter when the Tigers touched up Tony Barnette for two runs in the seventh inning to cut the deficit to 5-3.

However, it was the offense that picked up the slack. Ranger hitters came back with a run in the seventh and four more in the eighth to put the game away. 10-4 was the final score.

The lone run in the seventh inning may have been the most interesting run of the season. The Rangers plated the run without benefit of a hit, and without benefit of a batter advancing a runner. Rougned Odor walked, which is a rare occurance in itself. He then stole second base and advanced to third when the catcher’s throw on the steal attempt went into center field.

From there he executed the most daring and perhaps the most exciting play in baseball. He stole home! Unfortunately, it didn’t get scored as a steal of home, as the pitcher failed to come to a complete stop in his throwing motion when he saw Odor moving, and a balk was called. However, we saw the steal. Odor slid across the plate and the catcher was unable to maintain possession of the ball as he attempted a tag. Exciting to witness no matter how the official scorer put it down in the books.

In the series finale Wednesday, Cole Hamels wasn’t good. He walked five batters and missed his spots badly on balls that were hit. Detroit knocked him around for eight hits, two of which were home runs. The Tigers took leads of 1-0 (on Ian Kinsler’s lead-off home run), 2-0, and 4-2 in the first three innings.

The offense again came to the rescue, scoring 10 unanswered runs to take a 12-4 lead to the ninth inning. It was another big night for the long ball. Nomar Mazara, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Joey Gallo homered. Jhan Marinez struggled in his Ranger debut giving up two ninth inning runs before the game ended with a 12-6 final score.

In game one on Monday, Martin Perez gave up two runs in the top of the first inning on a Justin Upton home run, but the Rangers came back to tie the game in the bottom half and proceeded to score in five of their eight at bats. Perez shut out the Bengels the rest of the way, completing six innings of six hit ball for a quality start.

Three relievers shut down Detroit over the final third of the game. Ricardo Rodriguez made his Major League debut to pitch the seventh inning. He was spectacular setting the Tigers down in order on 12 pitches, while striking out two of the three batters he faced.

Rodriguez started the season with the high A Down East Wood Ducks based in Kinston, North Carolina. He had moved up recently to AA Frisco before joining the Rangers. This is the first year that the Rangers’ high A team is in Kinston, so Rodriguez gets the honor of being the first Wood Duck to appear in the Majors.

The Rangers need to keep the roll going this weekend. The White Sox, with the worst record in the American League are in town for four games. The A. L. West championship may be a real long shot, but the current streak of six wins in the last seven games has moved the Rangers to within two games of the second Wild Card slot. There are still a host of teams, literally nine, that are within 3.5 games to capture one of the two Wild Card playoff spots. Over the past two weeks, no less than five have sat in the that second Wild Card seat based on the then current standings.

NOTABLE:

* Joey Gallo hit a home run in each of the three games against Detroit to bring his August home run total to 10. That leads the American League for the month.

* Robinson Chirinos set a new career high with his 14th home run in the second game of the series.

* Wednesday’s victory was the 1,000th since Jon Daniels took over as general manager prior to the 2006 season. Brian Cashman at New York with 1,868 and Billy Beane at Oakland with 1,674 are the only two current general managers that have presided over more wins than Daniels.

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