September 24, 2013

Rangers hold off Astros to keep pace

Wins by Tampa Bay and Cleveland prevent Texas from gaining in the wild-card race.

The out-of-town scoreboard at Rangers Ballpark sits in plain view of the Texas Rangers’ dugout, and all who were on the bench Tuesday night frequently were monitoring the progress of Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

Those are the two teams the Texas Rangers are trailing in the wild-card race, and though the Rangers had their hands full on the field, they couldn’t keep their eyes off the left-field wall.

“I think every inning I was looking at it,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said.

Things never looked good in New York, where Tampa Bay scored three times in the first, but Cleveland trailed by a run as it headed to the bottom of the ninth. But when the final score showed the Indians had rallied to a victory, the Rangers’ focus snapped back to the field.

After all, they have to take care of their business, which they did against the Astros.

Beltre hit his first home run in the month to snap a sixth-inning tie, and four relievers combined to shut out the Astros over the final 3 2/3 innings of the Rangers’ 3-2 victory.

The victory kept the Rangers two games behind Tampa Bay and one game behind Cleveland with five games left to play. The Rangers, winners of back-to-back games for the first time this month, still like their chances, even though they didn’t like what happened on the out-of-town scoreboard.

“That was not what I was hoping for,” Beltre said. “There’s nothing we could do about it.

“Every game we play right now is going to be so important, we have no place for mistakes. We have to win every game. Today was huge.”

Yu Darvish allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings, and Geovany Soto and Ian Kinsler had RBI singles as the Rangers improved to 16-2 against the Astros this season. But Houston didn’t go quietly Tuesday.

Darvish struggled again early for the second consecutive start, allowing a run in the first after a Jose Altuve single and back-to-back walks filled the bases with one out. Chris Carter delivered a sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.

As was the case in his last start, Darvish had trouble commanding his pitches. He didn’t labor as badly as he did Thursday at Tampa Bay, striking out nine, but he walked four and couldn’t pitch into the seventh inning.

“The first inning aside, I was just trying to survive each inning and do the best job I can in that situation,” Darvish said. “The most important thing right now is to win the game. I was able to keep us in the game.”

The Rangers finally broke through against Brad Peacock, who entered with a 5.24 ERA, in the fifth when Soto singled home Beltre to tie the score. Kinsler put the Rangers out front 2-1 in the fifth with a single that scored Leonys Martin.

Darvish, though, surrendered a homer to Matt Dominguez to start the sixth, and the game was tied. Darvish lasted only two more batters before he was removed at 101 pitches after a one-out walk.

“I wasn’t going to let the game get away right there,” manager Ron Washington said.

Neal Cotts (6-3) finished off the inning, and Beltre delivered with one out in the Rangers’ half. It was his first homer since Aug. 28 at Seattle and his first at home since Aug. 20 against Houston.

The Rangers are 24-3 when he hits a homer.

“I haven’t had that feeling for a long time,” Beltre said.

Cotts, Tanner Scheppers and Jason Frasor combined to keep Houston off the scoreboard the next two innings, though the Astros had the tying run at third base with two outs in the seventh and eighth.

Scheppers was at 32 pitches when Frasor replaced him with two outs in the eighth. Carlos Corporan flied out to shallow left field to end the threat in a situation where Washington never considered going to closer Joe Nathan for a four-out save.

“He’s taken on a pretty big load this year,” Washington said.

There are only five games left. The Rangers know what they have to do — win each night — and then check the out-of-town scoreboard to see if they are getting any help.

“We’ve got to win tomorrow,” Nathan said. “If we start thinking about five games from now, we’re dead. Focus on task at hand tomorrow.”

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