ARLINGTON -- Ian Kinsler was quick to point out that he didn't consider Thursday's game at Rangers Ballpark to be a big game.
Big games, he said, are played in October.
To get a clearer path to the postseason, though, the Texas Rangers needed to start hitting and keep hitting in the finale of a four-game series against the team closest to them in the standings.
So, it wasn't just that the Rangers scored five runs in the first inning en route to a 9-7 victory over the Oakland A's. The Rangers kept scoring and had an answer all but one time after the homer-happy A's had cut into the lead.
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Kinsler sparked the offense with a leadoff homer, and Mike Napoli hit a two-run shot and finished with three RBIs as the Rangers salvaged a series split that pushed the A's four games back in the American League West.
Oakland didn't gain any ground during a make-or-break series for their division-title hopes, but the A's saw the Rangers' magic number to clinch the West fall to three with six games remaining.
The Rangers, thanks to Seattle's win over Anaheim, also have clinched a tie for a playoff spot, meaning they can do no worse than finish in a tie for the second wild-card berth.
"We know we can play," manager Ron Washington said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy when those guys came in here. The worst we were looking for was a split. We got what we wanted, and now we'll move on."
But it took a breakthrough performance by an offense that entered with six hits in its past 89-plus innings with runners in scoring position. The Rangers had six Thursday by the fourth inning.
The first two came on back-to-back hitters with two outs in the first with the Rangers leading thanks to Kinsler's seventh leadoff homer of the season.
Michael Young delivered a two-run single and went to second on a throwing error. Napoli followed with an opposite-field shot off Travis Blackley for a 5-0 lead.
The A's countered with a run off Matt Harrison in the second on the first of five homers they would hit, but the Rangers countered with a pair of two-out doubles by Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton.
The teams swapped single runs in the third and two-run rallies in the fourth.
"There wasn't any thought of offensive frustration," said Kinsler, who started the Rangers' fourth with a double and scored on an Andrus single. "The key was we responded to these guys. We constantly kept the momentum in our favor."
Harrison (18-10) became the first Rangers pitcher to win 18 games since Kenny Rogers in 2004, but didn't particularly care for his outing. He said he couldn't command his pitches, though he did a nifty job of escaping a scoreless first inning and posted zeroes in the fifth and sixth.
Alexi Ogando worked a perfect seventh, but the A's swatted three solo homers off Mike Adams in the eighth to turn a 9-4 game into a nail-biter. Joe Nathan rolled through the ninth to earn his 36th save and allow his teammates to take an above-average sigh of relief.
Not a big sigh, because the Rangers didn't view Thursday's game as a big one. But their road to a third straight division title got a lot less bumpy, and they are supremely confident they'll be raising another pennant.
"That's why we're the best team in the American League right now," Kinsler said. "I hope you all don't forget that.
"We want to respond. We want to be a team that's tough to put away. Other teams know we're good, but they also know that our chemistry is very good. They have to fight through that also. We're going to fight to the end, and today was a good day for us."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760