BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – Texas beat the Mariners 5-3 Friday night, clinching a tie for the West Division Championship and lowering the magic number to one. It was the Rangers’ 14th win of the month and brought their record to a season high 25 games over .500, the most since finishing 1999 at 28 games over. The win also kept Texas tied with Detroit for the number two seed in the playoffs, as the Tigers beat Baltimore 4-3 in 11 innings.
Adrian Beltre continued his torrid hitting streak since returning from the disabled list earlier this month. He staked starting pitcher Matt Harrison to an early 2-0 lead with a second inning blast to left field after Michael Young had opened the inning with a single. It was his 29th round tripper of the year and increased his RBI total to 100, the third season he has reached triple digits in RBIs. He has now homered in nine of the last 12 games.
After the game, Manager Ron Washington said about Beltre, “He always said he’s a great second half player, and he’s showing that.”
Josh Hamilton increased the lead to 3-0 with a monstrous solo home run in the third inning estimated at 433 feet. Hamilton is torrid himself, having homered in six of the last 10 games, and in four consecutive home games.
Craig Gentry closed out the Rangers’ scoring on the night and chased Mariners’ starting pitcher Anthony Vasquez in the fourth inning with an inside-the-park home run with Nelson Cruz aboard to extend the lead to 5-0. It was Gentry’s first Major League home run; and ironically, Cruz was the last Ranger to hit an inside-the-park home run five years ago.
On the pitching side, Harrison was extremely sharp early. He retired the first seven Mariners’ batters before allowing their first hit. He then proceded to retire the next eight in a row before getting into trouble in the sixth. He walked Alex Liddi leading off the inning. Liddi scored on an Ichiro Suzuki single, and a pair of sacrifice flies brought the M’s total to three before Harrison could finish the inning. Harrison (14-9) finished the evening with six innings pitched, allowing three runs on three hits. He struck out one and walked two, and at the end of the day, his ERA was 3.46.
Washington said later that they had expectations for Harrison, but admitted, “We couldn’t have expected what he and Holland and Ogando have done this year.”
Four Rangers’ relievers shutout the M’s the rest of the way. Mike Adams pitched the eighth for his 31st hold, and Neftali Feliz pitched the ninth for his 30th save of the year.
Cruz started at DH again Friday night. Washington had earlier indicated that Cruz would start in the outfield Friday, but before the game, he said, “I didn’t feel this is the time. We got in late last night.” He was referring to the Rangers’ trip from Oakland that landed around 11:00 PM, getting the players home around midnight. Cruz did say his leg felt fine, and that he would have gladly played in the outfield Friday night. He is likely to start Saturday, and Washington indicated when he did start in the outfield, he would likely play less than the full nine innings.
Also in anticipation of the playoff lineups, Hamilton started in center field Friday even with Gentry in the lineup. Washington said his thought was, “To get Hamilton some repetition out there. He hasn’t been over there (center field) in a while.” This was Hamilton’s first action this month in center field.
43,874 fans attended Friday’s game to bring the Ranger season total to 2,863,199. That’s the fourth best total in Ranger history. It was announced that about 6,500 tickets remain for Saturday’s and Sunday’s games, and those two crowds should re-set the Ranger season attendance record.
When the smoke had cleared in Arlington, the Rangers had done all they could do to win the championship on Friday. Most of the players were watching the Oakland – Los Angeles game in the clubhouse to see if they will clinch the championship Friday night. Texas will either start Saturday’s nationally televised FOX game needing a win against the Mariners if Los Angeles beats Oakland, or take the field as American League West Champions if Oakland wins.