Ryan Dempster was sensational for the first four months pitching for a team going nowhere. The Texas Rangers hope he can bridge that success to a club in the midst of a playoff drive with World Series aspirations.
A night after the Rangers pulled out an improbable win, he'll get his first taste of the wild AL West race in his Texas debut in Thursday night's series finale against the Los Angeles Angels.
Dempster jumped 16 games in the standings just before Tuesday's non-waiver trade deadline, going from the fifth-place Chicago Cubs to two-time defending AL champion Texas (60-43).
"It's a great opportunity over there," he said. "It's not going to be easy. There are a lot of teams out there that are really good. I think they have as good a chance as anybody."
Texas moved four games ahead of the Angels (57-48) on Wednesday after it appeared all but certain that lead would be cut to two.
The Rangers rallied from a 7-1 deficit, scoring four in the fifth, one in the eighth and one in the ninth on an Ian Kinsler homer to send the game to extra innings. The Angels scored three runs in the 10th on Chris Iannetta's solo shot and Albert Pujols' two-run homer - his second of the contest for his second straight multihomer game - but Texas rallied again.
Nelson Cruz opened the bottom of the 10th with a homer and Mitch Moreland's RBI single brought the Rangers within one. Two batters later, Elvis Andrus had a game-ending two-run single to send Texas to an 11-10 victory.
"Our mentality was to win no matter what," said Andrus, who went 4 for 6 with three RBIs.
The Angels had outscored Texas 21-10 in winning the first two in this four-game series, but they hope the loss doesn't haunt them.
"It was a lot of fun," Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said. "But at the same time, it broke my heart."
C.J. Wilson (9-7, 2.88 ERA) takes the ball Thursday aiming to move past the loss and a disappointing July personally.
After going 5-0 with a 1.30 ERA over a seven-start stretch May 22-June 26, Wilson was 0-3 with a 4.23 ERA in six July starts. History suggests the left-hander could fare a bit better this month, as he was 7-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 August starts the last two years.
Wilson, who left Texas in the offseason as a free agent, made his return to Arlington in May and started consecutive games due to a rain delay. Against the Rangers in Anaheim on June 2, he gave up five hits in six shutout innings of a game the Angels won 3-2.
Dempster went 5-5 in 16 starts for the Cubs, but that hardly represents how well he pitched. His 2.25 ERA ranks second in the majors and six times he permitted two runs or fewer but didn't get a win. All of his wins came over a five-start stretch June 5-July 14 in which he threw 33 scoreless innings.
Two of those victories came over AL clubs - Minnesota and Boston - and the right-hander is 4-3 with a 2.67 ERA in eight games against Junior Circuit teams since 2010.
"He might have an advantage off the bat because not many guys in this league have seen him much at all," Texas outfielder David Murphy said.
While that is true of most of the Angels - the only major league team he has never faced - he is plenty familiar with Pujols, a Dempster nemesis in his days with St. Louis. In 55 career at-bats against Dempster, Pujols is batting .327 with seven homers, four doubles and only two strikeouts while also walking 11 times.