Rangers edge closer to AL West crown
OAKLAND – For the past few days, as their offense struggled, the Texas Rangers tried not to think about winning their first division title in more than a decade.
After beating their closest competition and reducing their magic number to two, the Rangers are completely focused on the task at hand.
“Before, it was like we could smell it and now we can taste it,” said second baseman Ian Kinsler after Texas beat the Oakland Athletics 10-3 on Friday night. “It’s getting closer and closer. We definitely understand the situation that we’re in. We want to close this thing out as quick as possible.”
The Rangers held a 10-game lead over Oakland a week ago before dropping four of five. The A’s won four of five, including a 5-0 blanking of Texas on Thursday, to keep things interesting.
Now up by eight games with nine left, the Rangers are within reach of securing their first division title since 1999 after a tough offseason that included manager Ron Washington admitting during spring training to using cocaine once. The franchise also underwent an ownership change in August when Bill Hicks sold the club to an 18-member investment group led by team president Nolan Ryan.
Texas can clinch the AL West by beating Oakland in either of the final two games of this four-game series.
“We felt as soon as we could start picking up some of those runs that were out there on the bags that things would work out good for us, and tonight it did,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “We feel good about ourselves and we’ll see what happens in the next couple of days. We hope it’s tomorrow but if it’s not we’ll continue to do the same thing.”
One night after getting shut out for the second time in three games, the Rangers snapped out of their offensive slump in a big way with 18 hits while Tommy Hunter and five relievers combined to handcuff the A’s.
Hunter pitched effectively into the sixth inning to earn his career-high 13th victory while Vladimir Guerrero was a triple shy of the cycle and drove in four runs for the Rangers (85-68).
Hunter is a key reason why Texas turned things around.
He scattered six hits over 5 1-3 innings and didn’t allow a runner past second base until the sixth when the A’s scored their first run. Hunter (13-4) struck out four and didn’t walk a batter for the fifth time this season.
Hunter’s 13 wins lead the Rangers.
“Hopefully we can win another ballgame here,” Hunter said. “That’s what we came to do. I don’t think pressure is anything that we have to deal with.”
Guerrero homered to right-center leading off the second against Oakland starter Bobby Cramer (2-1). It’s only Guerrero’s third home run in September but his 28th this season, his most since hitting 33 in 2006 while with the Los Angeles Angels.
Texas went up 2-0 after Kinsler doubled and scored on Jeff Francoeur’s sharp grounder that glanced off Oakland shortstop Cliff Pennington’s glove and rolled into left field. Francoeur, who went 3 for 4, later homered in the seventh and Guerrero added a bases-loaded double to drive in three more to make it 7-1.
Oakland scored on Pennington’s RBI double in the seventh and loaded the bases with one out against reliever Darren Oliver before Kurt Suzuki fouled out and Jack Cust grounded out to end the threat.
“Obviously we’re not real thrilled about it,” said Oakland outfielder Gabe Gross. “We don’t want them doing any kind of celebrating at our expense, especially at our place. We’ll come out and play hard tomorrow, there’s no doubt about it.”
Bengie Molina and Michael Young each had RBI doubles in the eighth for Texas.
Cramer had won both of his starts since being called up from Triple-A Sacramento on Sept. 10 but was in trouble early and often against Texas. The left-handed rookie allowed eight hits and four runs.
Jeremy Hermida matched his career high with four hits for Oakland.
NOTES: Guerrero needed only a triple to become the second Texas player to hit for the cycle this season. Catcher Bengie Molina did it against Boston on July 16. … Cramer was attempting to become the first A’s pitcher to win his first three starts since Dave Hamilton won four straight in 1972. … Texas is 8-9 against the A’s this season. … The Rangers played their 19th straight game without OF Josh Hamilton, who is still nursing two broken ribs. Hamilton will be re-evaluated in the next 2-3 days. … Oakland extended its player development contract with Triple-A Sacramento through 2014. … The 18 hits by Texas are two shy of its season high.