ARLINGTON, Texas – Texas left-hander Matt Harrison did nothing to hurt his All-Star chances Friday night against the Oakland Athletics.
He has two players who aren’t All-Stars to thank after he picked up his 11th victory over the season and further enhanced his chances of pitching in Kansas City July 10.
Craig Gentry’s three-run triple in the eighth inning put Harrison in position for a victory and rookie Tanner Scheppers picked up his first career save as Texas edged the Athletics 4-3 in front of the 23rd sellout of the season at Rangers Ballpark.
Texas has now won 16 of 20 games and upped its lead to 5 ½ games over the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West.
Harrison (11-3) has been huge in the hot streak as he’s now 5-0 in June and has dropped his ERA by more than a run to 3.16.
His first five starts in June were big, but Friday’s was gutty as he threw a season-high 121 pitches on a night when neither Joe Nathan nor Mike Adams were available and Mark Lowe went on the disabled list before the game.
“He was strong,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “He did exactly what we needed to do in the situation we were in. We found a way to win the ballgame and Harry gave us that opportunity.”
Harrison would have been a strong All-Star candidate with 10 wins but the Rangers got him to No. 11 with a rally in the eighth inning. Texas trailed 2-0 before loaded the bases against reliever Grant Balfour in the eighth. Nelson Cruz drew a two-out walk to push across the team’s first run.
That was it for Balfour as Ryan Cook came on to face Gentry. Cook, who hadn’t allowed a hit to Texas batters this year, delivered a fastball that Gentry was able to line over the head of left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, clearing the bases and raising his average to .356 and putting Texas up 4-2.
Gentry thought Cespedes was going to be able to make the play when he hit the ball. He was happy to reward Harrison for his start.
“It’s exciting,” Gentry said. “Harry did a great job and we couldn’t really get anything going offensively against their guy (starter A.J. Griffin). In that type of situation that guy (Cook) is a great pitcher that came in. It’s exciting and a great confidence booster.”
Scheppers was able to complete the win for Harrison. He allowed a two-out homer to Chris Carter but got Seth Smith to ground out to second to end the game.
The guy the Rangers couldn’t get anything going against was Griffin, who allowed just two hits in his six innings as Texas got just five balls out of the infield against him. Oakland fared better against Harrison, scoring runs in the fourth and fifth innings and appearing to set Harrison up for a hard-luck loss.
But Harrison, who surrendered eight hits, walked one and struck out a season-high seven, got two double plays behind him and allowed just two singles over his final three innings. He pitched long enough to give the Texas offense a chance to get going.
As for his All-Star chances, Harrison said he’s not even thinking about it. But he is proud of his effort on a night when the Rangers needed an ace-like performance from their starter.
“I’ve been able to be consistent lately,” said Harrison. “I just tried to keep us in the game. Griffin was doing an outstanding job. He didn’t give up a run in six innings. I knew with the two runs our offense would eventually fire up and come around. It did in a big way in the eighth inning.”
While Harrison said he’s not thinking about the All-Star Game, his manager is. And Washington, who will have a say in the All-Star selections, left no doubt about Harrison’s candidacy.
“Without a doubt he’s been pitching like an All-Star all year,” Washington said. “Tonight he stepped up big for us in a situation where we needed it. We were drained in the bullpen, especially with our big horses. Someone else had to get it done and Harry helped get it done by giving us eight and Schepp came in and in a very tough situation shut it down for us.”