A SPLIT THAT FEELS REALLY GOOD

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers won both ends of a day/night doubleheader Saturday to gain a split in their four game series with the Oakland Athletics that was played within the span of less than 48 hours.  The Rangers made nine roster moves in the course of the series as the team scrambled to deal with injuries.  The split leaves them in second place in the American League West 9.5 games behind first place Houston and two games ahead of third place Oakland (three in the loss column).  It also places them in the second Wild Card playoff spot, one game (two in the loss column) ahead of the Boston Red Sox.

Saturday’s doubleheader sweep was surely one of the greatest days in Ranger history.  Not only did they win both games, but they conducted the moving tribute to Adrian Beltre prior to the night game, which included retiring his uniform number 29.

It began with a battery that was making their Ranger debut.  Lefty Joe Palumbo was summoned from AA Frisco to make the start, and catcher Tim Federowicz was acquired from the Indians late Thursday.  Federowicz played for Cleveland’s AAA affiliate in Columbus, Ohio Thursday night  and learned after the game that he had been traded.  He scrambled to Texas Friday giving him about 24 hours to prepare for the Oakland A’s with a minor league pitcher making his Major League debut.

Palumbo relied on Federowicz’s pitch calling to start the game with three shutout innings.  Meanwhile, the Ranger offense provided run support to ease the pressure.  Nomar Mazara drove in a run in the first inning with a sacrifice fly, and Asdrubal Cabrera singled home two more to put the Rangers ahead 3-0.   Mazara hit a two run home run in the third inning to extend the lead to 5-0.

Unfortunately, Palumbo’s day fell apart in the fourth inning.  He gave up a two run home run.  Next he hit a batter and gave up a single.  Both runners scored on a sharp line drive to left field that skipped past Hunter Pence.  Surprisingly, it was scored a double rather than a single and an error.  That brought Oakland within one run at 5-4.

Palumbo was able to finish the fourth inning, which ended his day on the mound.  Four earned runs in four innings isn’t an impressive stat line, but for sure Palumbo impressed.  He threw some good pitches and showed good poise on the mound.

Texas went on to win 10-5.  Federowicz, whose nickname is “Fed-Ex”, was the player of the game.  Besides guiding two pitchers making their Major League debut through six of the nine innings, he drove in four runs including three with a home run.  Jeffrey Springs relieved Palumbo and pitched three solid innings giving up a run.  He was credited with the win improving his record to 4-1.  Phillips Valdez, the designated 26th man on the Ranger doubleheader roster, made his Major League debut and finished the game with two scoreless innings.

Saturday’s night game actually started at 8:21 PM (Central) due to the length of the Adrian Beltre pre-game tribute.  The delayed start didn’t bother Ranger starting pitcher Adrian Sampson.  He won his fifth straight game with his best game yet.  He threw a complete game allowing just a run on four hits to go to 5-3 on the season.

Jeff Mathis, Delino DeShields, and Danny Santana each drove in a run in the 3-1 win.  Oakland starter Chris Bassitt surrendered all three runs to take the loss.  He’s 3-2.

When the day began, the Rangers had feared how they would get 18 innings from their pitching staff and how it might wreck the bullpen for days.  It proved to be no problem.  With Sampson’s complete game, only two relievers saw action on the day, neither of whom is considered one of the top four.  In fact, Springs’s recent performances have been so good that he might now be considered the fifth reliable reliever.

Drew Smyly was Sunday’s starting pitcher, and there was some hint that this might be the last chance for the struggling left-hander.  He didn’t make much of a case for staying in the rotation, as he gave up five earned runs in three innings.

Shelby Miller relieved and essentially put the game out of reach by giving up three more runs in his inning of work.

After getting down 8-0, the Rangers’ offense began pecking away at the lead.  Rougned Odor singled home two runs in the bottom of the fourth.  Cabrera homered in the sixth and doubled home a run in the eighth to make it 8-4.  Cabrera then scored on Odor’s double, and Odor later scored on the daring straight steal of home to bring Texas within two at 8-6.

Jose Leclerc unfortunately gave up a ninth inning run, such that the Rangers’ two run rally in the bottom of the ninth fell a run shy making the final score 9-8.  Smyly is 1-5 with the loss.  Oakland’s starter Frankie Montas pitched six solid innings to earn the win.  He’s 8-2, and Blake Treinen closed out the ninth for his 14th save.

One other debut was noteworthy.  Pete Fairbanks has advanced from High-A Down East all the way to the Major Leagues since the start of the season.  He’s noted for a big fastball that often registers triple digits on radar guns, and he showed a dandy off speed curve in the two innings he pitched Sunday.  He didn’t look intimidated at all when he struck out the side in the fifth inning, and he came back to coax three ground ball outs in the sixth.  He may be here to stay.

The series began with a disappointing loss.  Lance Lynn started and pitched well.  He struggled at times, but when the dust had cleared, he had gutted out six innings allowing two runs on six hits.

The Rangers’ batsmen put Lynn in line for a win when they struck for three runs in the bottom of the sixth.  Elvis Andrus tripled home the first run and then scored to tie the game at two.  Pence followed with his 13th home run to put the Rangers in front 3-2.

Miller pitched the eighth and pitched better than the fate he received.  An error led to an unearned run that tied the game and charged Miller with a blown save.  Jesse Chavez pitched the eighth inning, and he still hasn’t allowed a run since April.  Leclerc pitched the ninth though, and gave up a two out, two run home run to put the A’s in front 5-3.

Ranger hitters had the opportunities to win this one, but couldn’t capitalize.  They loaded the bases with one out in both the seventh and ninth innings, but didn’t score as they went 1-10 in the game with runners in scoring position and stranded nine runners on base.

The 5-3 score stood as the final.  Leclerc took the loss to go to 1-2.  Oakland’s Yusmeiro Petit (1-1) was the winning pitcher, and Treinen pitched the ninth to earn the save.

Realistically, a split in the series was probably all the Rangers could have hoped for though they had good chances to win the other two games.  Oakland has a heavily right handed batting order that beats up left-handed pitchers.  The Rangers started two lefties in the series, including Palumbo making his Major League debut.  The Rangers were nursing injuries too.  Isiah Kiner-Falefa was placed on the disabled list and is expected to be out at least two weeks.  That forced the scramble to trade for Fedorwicz.  Shin-Soo Choo was hit on the hand in the Baltimore series forcing him to miss two games.  AAA outfielder Carlos Tocci was flown in to take Choo’s place if an injured list stint had been necessary.

The Rangers now take to the road for four critical games in Boston, their closest pursuer for the second Wild Card playoff berth.  The announced starting pitchers for Texas are Mike Minor (5-4) on Monday night, Ariel Jurado (3-2) on Tuesday, Lance Lynn (7-4) on Wednesday, and Adrian Sampson (5-3) on Thursday.  Start time for Monday’s, Tuesday’s and Thursday’s games is 6:10 PM (Central).  Wednesday’s game was moved to 3:05 PM (Central) in deference to the Boston Bruins’ playoff game that night.

NOTABLE:

*     Former Ranger manager Frank Lucchesi passed away Saturday at the age of 92.  He managed Texas in 1975-77.

*     Shin-Soo Choo was hit by a pitch for the 58th time as a Ranger passing Ian Kinsler on the all-time Ranger list.

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