Despite all the injuries and hitting woes the Texas Rangers had faced ahead of the All-Star break, they entered Sunday with an outside shot of finishing the first half atop the American League West for a fourth straight season.
Justin Verlander, though, put an end to that by carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning, and three Detroit Tigers swatted solo homers against Martin Perez to send the Rangers to a 5-0 loss.
But as players hurriedly fled Comerica Park to begin their All-Star break, they did so knowing that they had put themselves in position for a fourth straight playoff appearance by not folding when the opportunity presented itself time and time again.
“I’m very proud of the way we withstood everything,” manager Ron Washington said. “We took some punches, but we got back up and kept fighting. That’s what the game of baseball is all about.”
The Rangers used 22 pitchers over their first 95 games, and had 11 players from the Opening Day roster make 13 appearances on the disabled list. They endured a six-game losing streak in which the offense did a disappearing act, and they have had three rookies in the rotation for much of the season’s first 3 1/2 months.
But they are 13 games above .500, two games behind first-place Oakland, and holding down one of the two wild-card spots. Four of the injured players will return during the second-half-opening homestand, and others are moving toward August returns.
“We’re sitting in a good spot right now,” said second baseman Ian Kinsler, who missed 25 games in May and June. “We’ve been able to sustain the winning. Hopefully in the second half, our health fortunes will be better.”
Another positive in the second half is that the Rangers don’t have to return to Detroit. The Tigers won two of the three games over the weekend thanks to Verlander, who didn’t issue a hit until Mitch Moreland roped a double off the wall in right-center field with two outs in the seventh inning.
The Rangers weren’t completely helpless against Verlander, the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner, but all but one of the balls they hit well against him either went directly to a Tigers defender or was chased down.
He walked three and struck out only three before leaving because of tightness in his right quadriceps muscle before the eighth inning.
“He’ll probably tell you he didn’t have his best stuff,” Kinsler said.
Said Verlander: “My stuff wasn’t great. My off-speed wasn’t very good at all today. My saving grace was that I had good fastball control. I didn’t get a lot of punchouts because my off-speed wasn’t very crisp. They did hit a couple hard, but the ones they did put in play were usually kind of weak.”
Three of the balls the Tigers put in play against Martin Perez cleared the fence, and a two-out single in the sixth drove in a fourth run against the left-hander.
Perez’s long-ball troubles started early, as the second hitter he faced, Torii Hunter, launched a hanging slider for a homer. Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta went back-to-back with two outs in the fourth, and Perez was removed after Peralta’s two-out RBI single in the sixth.
He allowed five runs — an inherited runner scored against Cory Burns the batter after Perez exited — on four hits in what rates as his worst start of the season. He hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs in his previous five starts.
Four of the runs against Perez (3-2) came with two outs, and he opened the sixth with nine straight balls as he started to fatigue despite finishing with only 74 pitches.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “I left a couple balls up. At this level you have to throw the ball where you want to throw it.”
But he and the Rangers are still standing after a difficult first half to the season. They like their chances going forward.
“It just shows the character of these guys in that clubhouse,” Washington said. “There’s a lot of good baseball ahead.”