ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers have been looking for a spark all September after muddling through a month in which they haven’t won more than two consecutive games.
They may have found it Monday night.
Adrian Beltre’s RBI single in the bottom of the ninth capped a rally for the Rangers and lifted them to a 5-4 victory over Oakland in the start of the crucial four-game series. The Rangers now have a five-game lead in the American League West, their biggest since Sept. 6. They also dropped their magic number to 5 for winning their third-consecutive division title.
“That’s old Rangers baseball right there,” said outfielder Josh Hamilton, who returned to the lineup for the first time since last Tuesday and slammed his 43rd homer of the season and scored two runs. “Never say die. The biggest thing was understanding and not underestimating the A’s because they’ve been getting it done.”
The Rangers got it done Monday behind great bullpen work and plenty of Beltre.
Beltre’s two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh tied the game at four and took Derek Holland off the hook after his second-shortest outing of the season. He then won the game in the ninth with a single through a drawn-in infield off Tyson Ross.
Beltre, who is playing despite being slowed by pain caused by scar tissue, went 3-for-5 and was a triple short of the cycle. His big night also came as he tweaked his sore stomach on an at-bat early in the game.
Despite being slowed by his stomach woes, Texas manager Ron Washington never considered removing Beltre. That move paid off.
“I was trying to hit the ball in the air,” said Beltre of the game-winning hit, his American League-best 19th of the season. “I didn’t want to hit a ground ball there. I was thinking up the middle but I wanted a deep fly ball there.”
Like everyone else in the Texas lineup, Beltre had struggled recently. He came into Monday’s game 4 for his last 25 and started the game 0 for 2. But he doubled in the fifth inning and then hit a Pat Neshek pitch 380 feet to right to tie the game in the seventh.
The victory, the sixth walk-off win of the year, denied Oakland a chance of cutting into the division lead and taking some momentum early in the series.
Beltre knows how crucial the game was.
“We all play with the pride that we want to win every game no matter what the position is,” Beltre said. “Knowing that this team is built to win and knowing we have a team right behind us that is closing up to us, I don’t want to feel like a failure that we had this big lead and we lost it against Oakland. We definitely want to clinch as early as we can and then go step-by-step. It doesn’t matter who we play.”
The Rangers did nothing early to make it look like they would build their lead Monday. Holland allowed homers in the second and third inning and Texas trailed 3-1 despite snapping an 0-for-24 slump with runners in scoring position on a Mitch Moreland single in the second.
Holland was gone after three innings, allowing three runs on four hits and walking two. The Texas bullpen kept the A’s in check, allowing just one run over six innings.
That allowed the Texas offense time to get things going. Hamilton, who hadn’t because of ocular keratitis, made it a one-run game in the fifth but Oakland countered with a run in the sixth.
That would be the last run the Rangers would allow though.
The ninth started with Moreland singling to center. Ian Kinsler followed with a single to left and Elvis Andrus moved both runners into scoring position. Hamilton was intentionally walked to set up the dramatics for Beltre, who was serenaded with MVP chants during the game.
Like Hamilton, Washington was pleased with the way the Rangers won the game.
“That’s what the game is about,” Washington said. “Especially, as I said, when you’re playing teams that can go out there and pitch, execution comes into play. You’ve just got to play the game according to the way it’s asked of you to play. Tonight we did that.”