That’s all it took for the Texas Rangers to give Matt Harrison all the offensive support he’d need Friday night against the San Francisco Giants.
Harrison, the new stopper for the Rangers, did the rest after an Ian Kinsler home run as he pitched a complete game five-hitter guiding Texas to its first-ever victory at AT&T Park.
Harrison’s third complete game shutout was filled with enough highlights that the left-hander called it his best pitching performance with the Rangers.
He would get little argument from anyone after he allowed just four balls to get out of the infield on a night in which he recorded 18 ground-ball outs, struck out four and threw just 111 pitches while tying Tampa Bay’s David Price for the American League lead in victories with eight.
“Throughout the whole game everything was right there where I wanted to put it,” said Harrison, who has won his last four starts with the last three following Texas losses. “Fastballs were down in the zone. The sinker was moving a lot. I was able to throw my offspeed for strikes and my changeup was really good tonight.”
The Giants broke more bats (seven) than they had base runners (five) as Harrison allowed just five singles and didn’t walk a batter. He struck out four and closed the game with a fist pump after striking out Hector Sanchez to end the game in a tidy two hours, 33 minutes. It helped that he was a strike-throwing machine, with 77 finding the zone.
Kinsler started the game with a homer to left off Barry Zito and then Harrison did the rest, letting his defense do the work behind him as the Giants continually beat the ball into the ground.
“I thought he had a great sinker tonight,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “He stayed ahead of the hitters all night. I think he only went to two 3-2 counts, pounded the strike zone. That infield defense was outstanding. They made all the plays. They certainly were picking up the ball for him tonight.”
Harrison followed Kinsler’s early run by setting the tone in the bottom of the first. He struck out Gregor Blanco to start the game and then got groundouts from Ryan Theriot and Angel Pagan. He didn’t allow a hit until Brandon Crawford singled to left in the third inning.
That inning also marked the only time the Giants got a runner in scoring position. Blanco singled with two outs but Barry Zito was out at second after oversliding the base and being tagged out by Ian Kinsler.
The Texas defense was alert all night because of Harrison’s pitching.
“As a defender it’s always good when he’s pitching because he gets a ton of ground balls and he keeps everybody in action,” said shortstop Elvis Andrus, who went 1 for 5. “He did a terrific job. He’s really quick out there. Every time he comes with his A game, he’s going to be really tough to hit. He was throwing the ball really well today and he’s got a really good sinker. That’s why you see so many ground balls.”
While the Giants were flailing away at Harrison, a dormant Texas offense showed signs of life after a rough four-game series in Oakland. Texas had 23 games against the Athletics in those four games but fared much better on the other side of the Bay Bridge, collecting 14 Friday night.
While Kinsler got things going, it was outfielder Craig Gentry who had the big night.
Gentry had a career-high five hits and raise his batting average from .301 to .341. He also scored a run in the sixth inning and his ninth-inning single scored Michael Young with the game’s final run.
“I was going out there and sticking with my approach all night and tried to relax,” said Gentry. “I thought Harry came out and did a great job. We weren’t out on defense very long. I think Kinsler getting that leadoff homer set the tone for the whole game. I’m excited to do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Gentry wasn’t the only one to get going at the plate. Josh Hamilton, who had just four hits on the trip, snapped an eight game homerless drought with his fifth-inning shot to center. Kinsler, who had two hits and two RBIs, hadn’t hit a homer since May 27.
Every Texas batter except Harrison had at least one hit and even Harrison contributed. He had two sacrifice bunts and his five plate appearances were the most ever by a Texas pitcher in a game.