ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers may have stumbled upon the most unlikely duo to help them salvage the final game of the series against the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday.
Right-hander Ross Wolf, in his first major league start, pitched five innings of one-run ball and then handed the baton to Neal Cotts. Before Tuesday, Cotts hadn’t pitched in the majors in nearly four years.
Wolf and Cotts together allowed one run, four hits and struck out six over seven innings as the Rangers topped Oakland 3-1. The win gave the Rangers a winning homestand at 4-3, snapped a two-game losing streak and sends them on the road with a 5 ½-game lead over Oakland in the American League West.
All thanks to a couple of guys who over the last couple of years had wondered if they’d ever pitch in the majors again.
“It ranks up there for my kids being born,” said Wolf, who spent last year toiling in the minors and had made six starts for Round Rock this year. “It’s up there as the high point of my career, just what I’ve went through in the last year and half. Just to be where I’m at right now, if you would have told me in spring training that I’m going to start and contribute to this team and where I’m at now, I’d have said you’re a liar.”
The Athletics wish Wolf’s dream wouldn’t have come true on Wednesday. The 30-year-old, who had his contract purchased before the game, didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning. He then ran into trouble in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
He was able to minimize the damage in the fourth and got a huge defensive play from Elvis Andrus in the fifth. When trouble arose again in the sixth, the Rangers went to Cotts to bail him out and the left-hander struck out the side after the first two runners got on base.
Cotts, whose chance at making the Texas roster out of spring last year was dashed by a lat strain, added a scoreless seventh before veteran bullpen pitchers Robbie Ross and Joe Nathan closed the door.
Cotts, 33, has had success in the big leagues before but Wolf was a reliever with no major-league wins. Wolf relied heavily on the support of his wife Lynn during his march back and was rewarded for that perseverance with a beer bath from his teammates and a cell phone full of congratulatory messages.
“His dream was to come into the major leagues and be successful and today was one of those days that he was successful,” said manager Ron Washington, who stopped short of guaranteeing Wolf another start Monday in Arizona. “He did a great job of going through a hot team. Those guys swing the bat one through nine and make you work. He did it in a very good fashion where he didn’t use a whole lot of pitches. He was just so thrilled for the opportunity when he arrived at the ballpark. We certainly needed what he gave us today.”
It didn’t hurt the cause that after a 1-2-3 first for Wolf the Rangers touched Jarrod Parker for three runs in the bottom of the first on a two-run homer from David Murphy and a solo shot from Adrian Beltre.
Wolf was efficient, throwing just 34 pitches in the first three innings. He allowed a run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly. He was headed for trouble in the fifth after allowing a walk and double to open the inning. But with runners on second and third, Eric Sogard hit a looper to shallow left center that Andrus made a spectacular play on catching the ball over his shoulder. Wolf, who had contemplated retiring at times and has 476 minor-league appearances under his belt, responded to that play by getting two outs and saving the inning.
When trouble arose again in the sixth with two runners on and no outs, Cotts came on and struck out the side. Not bad for a guy who didn’t get called up until yesterday and survived a roster move before the game.
“I’ve been down some roads and battled back,” said Cotts, who has endured both Tommy John surgery and hip operations. “Maybe it’s helped me out in terms of taking things in the present and not worrying about tomorrow. I think that definitely has helped me worry about today and see what happens tomorrow.”
With guys with stories like that pitching in front of them, no one wanted to let them down.
“It’s always fun when someone gets their first win for sure,” Nathan said. “He (Wolf) threw the ball good. Cottsy came in and you can’t say enough about the job he did. Two men on, nobody out, get out of that situation with no runs. That changes the complexion of the whole game and set the tone for us to finish that one up. A lot of credit goes to what they did to get back here.”