THE BATTLE FOR THIRD PLACE

RANGERS TAKE SERIES WITH THREE WALK OFF WINS

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels battled for third place in the American League West this week.  The Angels arrived with a one game lead over the fourth place Rangers, but Texas won three of four games to pull ahead of Los Angeles by one game – two in the loss column.  In each of the wins, the Rangers scored the winning run in their final at bat.  Two of the victories came in extra innings games.

Monday night’s game looked like it was decided shortly after the game began.  The Angels put five runs on the board in the top of the first inning, a rally capped by a three run Albert Pujols home run.  After two innings, the Angels led 7-1.

Kolby Allard was the Ranger starting pitcher that gave up the seven runs.  With a doubleheader staring the Rangers in the face on Tuesday, manager Chris Woodward elected to stick with Allard to save his bullpen, and he rewarded Woodward’s faith.  He held the Angels scoreless over the next three innings, facing just nine batters.  He retired eight of them, and the one that walked was erased by a double play.

Meanwhile, the Rangers’ offense began to chip away at the Angels’ lead.  Catcher Jose Trevino hit his first Major League home run in the fourth inning.  The Rangers loaded the bases in the fifth inning, and proceeded to unload them with a double and a ground out.  That brought the score to 7-5, and it was game on!

In the eighth inning, the Rangers tied the game on a pair of run scoring singles from Hunter Pence and Rougned Odor.  Four Ranger relievers held the Angels off the scoreboard in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

That sent the game to extra innings, and Rafael Montero continued the fine bullpen work on this night with two scoreless innings.  In the Rangers’ half of the 11th inning, Trevino walked with two outs.  He advanced to third on Shin-Soo Choo’s single, and scored on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s infield hit for the walk-off win.

Montero goes to 2-0 with the 8-7 win, while LA reliever Noe Ramirez took the loss.  He’s 4-2.

The Rangers split Tuesday’s doubleheader, but there was reason for optimism.  Nick Solak was summoned from AAA to replace Nomar Mazara on the active roster.  Mazara was placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained quad.  Solak had been tearing up AAA pitching since the Rangers acquired him in a July trade with Tampa Bay.  He had at least one hit in all 18 games he had played at Nashville after the trade.  Ten of his hits were home runs.

In the day game of the doubleheader, Solak got his first hit, and then he hit his first Major League home run in the nightcap.  Solak’s home run was a solo shot in the fifth inning.  Two batters later, Trevino doubled and ultimately scored on Danny Santana’s single, making the score 2-0.

The two runs were good enough to lead the game because another rookie making his Major League debut – Brock Burke – pitched a masterful game as the starting pitcher.  He shut out the Angels over six innings, facing the top of the Angels’ batting order – which is about as good as any in baseball – three times.  He gave up four hits, walked two batters and struck out four.  Burke is now scheduled to start again on Sunday.

In the eighth inning, Shawn Kelley gave up a run, cutting the Rangers’ lead to 2-1.  In the ninth inning, Jose Leclerc was charged with a blown save when he gave up a home run to Brian Goodwin that tied the game.

It was extra innings again.  Emmanuel Clase still another rookies zipped through the Angels in the 10th and 11th innings.

In the Rangers’ 11th, Delino DeShields singled and stole second with two outs.  That brought Solak to the plate again.  In this day and age, most analytics indicate strikeouts don’t matter, and batters are definitely striking out in record numbers.  Solak however proved the analytics wrong.  He put the ball in play – a ground ball to first base.  It wasn’t a difficult chance for Pujols, but it somehow eluded the future Hall of Famers’ glove.  The speedy DeShields had no trouble scoring from second.  Ballgame!

Clase earned his first Major League win to go to 1-2.  Angels’ reliever Ty Buttrey took the hard luck loss to go to 6-6.

The afternoon game had gone to the Angels.  Joe Palumbo, still another rookie, was the Ranger starting pitcher, and a blister ended his outing in the second inning.  He was charged with three runs and the loss to go to 0-2.

Phillips Valdez followed Palumbo and gave up two more runs.  Willie Calhoun homered in the sixth for the only Ranger score of the day, making the final score 5-1.

Angels starting pitcher Andrew Heaney was spectacular.  He completed eight innings, allowing just four hits and striking out a career high 14 Rangers.  At one point, he retired 16 batters in a row.  He’s 3-3 with the win.

Mike Minor was Wednesday’s starting pitcher, and he was very good for three innings.  Calhoun homered again in the third inning to put the Rangers on the scoreboard.  Solak followed with a double, and he later scored on DeShields’ single as the Rangers took a 2-0 lead.

The Angels tied the game in the fourth inning, but the Rangers immediately answered with two runs in the bottom of the fourth.  Calhoun and Solak again scored the runs.  Calhoun led off with a double.  Solak drove him in with a single and later scored on a DeShields’ single.

The Angels though tied the game with two runs in the fifth inning and scored three in the sixth to take a 7-4 lead.  Pence singled home two runs in the seventh as the Rangers pulled to within a run at 7-6.  Choo singled home a run in the eighth inning to tie the game.

That set the stage for the ninth inning walk off win.  Elvis Andrus singled leading off the inning.  Two wild pitches moved him to third base, and Pence singled him home for the 8-7 win.

The Rangers are in the midst of playing four straight four game series.  They continue this weekend in Chicago beginning Thursday night.  The announced starting pitchers for the series are Ariel Jurado (6-9) on Thursday, Lance Lynn (14-8) on Friday, Kolby Allard (1-0) on Saturday, and Brock Burke (0-0) on Sunday.  Game times (Central) are 7:10 PM Thursday and Friday, 6:10 PM on Saturday, and 1:10 PM on Sunday.

NOTABLE:

*     Willie Calhoun hit .433 (13-39) on the home stand with three home runs.

*     Sam Huff was named the Rangers’ minor league Player of the Year.  He’s hitting .288 with 28 home runs and 79 RBIs at Low-A Hickory and Advanced-A Down East.

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