ANAHEIM, Calif. — What Adrian Beltre did in the ninth inning Thursday night doesn’t rate alongside Willis Reed or Kurt Gibson, who dramatically gimped to heroic moments in championship series.
Beltre’s two-run homer off Ernesto Frieri didn’t even clinch a playoff spot, just a 3-1 victory in the Texas Rangers’ 149th game of the season.But it did all but bury the Anaheim Angels in the American League West.
Yet, from his point of view, which over the past two days has been blocked by MRI machines and a battery of doctors trying to figure out the cause for his abdominal pain, there was nothing special about his game-winner.
“It’s not dramatic,” he said. “I’m supposed to be doing something like that.”
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His teammates didn’t call the moment dramatic, either.
But they praised everything about the MVP candidate, who wasn’t even in the original Rangers lineup but showed the type of player he is.
“He’s just an absolute gamer,” veteran Michael Young said. “The easy thing is to say Adrian is a great player. We all know that. AB’s just a great teammate.”
The home run gave the Rangers their ninth series victory in their past 10 and made a winner of Yu Darvish, who allowed one run in eight strong innings and also earned a degree of respect from Rangers players as he continued a recent dazzling stretch.
Beltre’s blast also allowed the Rangers to maintain a four-game lead over Oakland in the AL West with 13 games remaining. The third-place Angels slid 8 ½ games back and pushed their elimination number to five.
“I don’t really count out anything about the Angels right now,” manager Ron Washington said. “We’re through here. My mind is on the Seattle Mariners. You can never count anyone out until the last game.”
Darvish (16-9) was locked in a duel with Zack Greinke, who allowed perhaps a phantom run in the fifth inning as Nelson Cruz scored on a sacrifice fly even though replays showed he never touched home plate ahead of Torii Hunter’s throw from right field.
The Angels pulled even in the sixth as Hunter’s broken-bat grounder was hit too slowly for an inning-ending double play and allowed Peter Bourjos to knot the game at 1.
That was all the Angels would get against Darvish, who struck out nine and now ranks second all time for strikeouts by an AL rookie pitcher with 214.
He also became only the fourth rookie in major-league history to record 16 wins and 200 strikeouts.
Most importantly, he improved to 4-1 with a 1.84 ERA, a .136 opponents batting average and 52 strikeouts in his last six starts. He has thrown seven straight quality starts to steady a debut season that was headed the other direction.
“I was learning about myself before this stretch, when I was inconsistent and wasn’t performing to my ability,” Darvish said. “That’s when I realized the way I have to think and the preparation for each start.
“During this stretch, I think, in a way, these outings are something that the team expects and people expect. That’s why they acquired me, to pitch like this.”
While Beltre downplayed his impact on the game, saying only that he felt good enough to help his team win, he spoke glowingly about Darvish.
“It looks like the more he pitches in the big leagues, the stronger he gets,” said Beltre, who has 34 homers and 95 RBIs to go with a .316 average. “He knows how to pitch. He knows how to get guys out. He’s got so many pitches he can pick and choose what he uses.”
Darvish returned the compliment on a night when he and Beltre lifted the Rangers and all but buried the Angels.
“A couple days ago he was feeling very ill. We all saw that,” Darvish said. “For him to come back and get in that lineup, just being in the lineup alone, gives the rest of us strength and courage to fight through these times. It was a great day for him.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760