Rangers show baseball’s best could be in Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers started Sunday with their best pitcher on the mound against the team with the best record in baseball.

They ended it when their best clutch hitter came through in the clutch as Adrian Beltre’s walkoff single lifted the Rangers to a 4-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

Now the Rangers are tied with the Red Sox for the best record in the American League after completing a three-game sweep. They also matched the 1996 and 2012 teams for the best 31-game start in club history at 20-11.

In between Sunday’s start and the finish, the Rangers got a career-high matching 14 strikeouts from Yu Darvish, rallied from the 3-0 deficit and kept the Red Sox off the board for the game’s final seven innings. The Rangers also managed to chip away against Boston lefty Jon Lester, tying the game in the sixth inning.

And finally in the ninth, they were able to get their first hit with a runner in scoring position on Beltre’s blooper to right, which scored Elvis Andrus from second.

“Obviously we faced the best team in the American League, the best record,” said Beltre, who got to bat in the ninth after Clayton Mortensen intentionally walked Lance Berkman with two outs. “To sweep them, that says something. We have a really good team. We believe in it.”

The sweep came on a day in which Darvish once again struggled early, allowing a two-run homer to David Ortiz in the first and a solo homer to David Ross in the second. But the homers didn’t faze Darvish, as he pitched seven innings and threw a career-high 127 pitches.

His 14 strikeouts made him the first pitcher to have at least two games of 14 strikeouts or more since 2000 and he joins Nolan Ryan as the second pitcher in club history with at least two of those games.

Darvish allowed just one hit after the second inning and finished the seventh by striking out Pedro Ciriaco with the go-ahead run at second in a 3-3 game.

The early struggles didn’t affect Darvish, who has allowed nine of his 13 runs in the first inning.

“The game goes on,” he said. “My job is to keep the team in the game. I tried to forget about it and that’s what I did.”

He also wanted the ball for the seventh despite a pitch count that was at 105 after six innings. Texas manager Ron Washington didn’t even think about going to get Darvish in the seventh even though Michael Kirkman was ready and Darvish had allowed one-out walk. He responded to striking out Stephen Drew and Pedro Ciriaco and left with a fist pump.

“I don’t know what Darvish would have done to me if I would have taken him out of the game,” Washington joked.

The Texas offense did just enough against Lester, who didn’t allow a hit until Mitch Moreland’s opposite-field homer with one out in the third. The Rangers finally tied the game in the sixth when Nelson Cruz hit a two-run homer to center.

Once Darvish left, the Rangers survived some dramatics in the eighth and ninth innings as the Red Sox had two runners on in each of those frames. In the eighth Jason Frasor got a fielder’s choice to end the threat. It was Joe Nathan getting Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out in the ninth that ended the inning with the go-ahead run at second base.

Texas also squandered scoring chances, going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position in the first eight innings. But Andrus singled with one out and went to second on a wild pitch. The Red Sox intentionally walked Berkman in the seventh inning to get to Beltre and the move paid off, with Beltre grounding out with a runner on third.

It didn’t work in the ninth as Beltre now has 12 career walkoff hits.

“Anytime they intentionally walk someone to get to Adrian I expect Adrian to come through and he expects himself to come through,” Washington said. “I don’t think that’s the first time we’ve seen that happen. He came through for us tonight at the right time.”

Now the Rangers embark on a four city, nine-game road trip with an extra pep in their step. Not that they really needed it.

“It’s three ballgames,” Washington said of the sweep. “We in Texas can play baseball. It’s three game and we won three games. We’re not going to get overwhelmed because there’s a lot of baseball to be played. But we can play baseball on any given night when we’re playing our best game with anybody.”