Baseball, it is often said, is a funny game, and nights like Thursday give life to that adage.
The kind of laughter rolling through Rangers Ballpark, though, varied from the kind that comes with disbelief to the kind that would put a man in the nuthouse to, at the end, both.
Somehow, the Texas Rangers managed to have the last laugh, when one swing of Jurickson Profar’s bat kept hope alive.
Profar started the bottom of the ninth with a pinch-hit home run to right field, and the Rangers overcame the sloppiest defensive inning in club history to walk off with a 6-5 victory over the Angels.
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The win kept the Rangers two games behind Tampa Bay in the wild-card standings and a game behind Cleveland with three to play in the race for two playoff berths. The walk-off was the Rangers’ fourth straight against Los Angeles at Rangers Ballpark.
“We know what’s at stake,” manager Ron Washington said. “We’re fighting every night. I think they showed you that tonight.”
The Rangers had to pull off an escape in the ninth inning after a top of the inning in which Neal Cotts walked Josh Hamilton, who moved to third with one out. Joe Nathan, though, struck out Kole Calhoun and Mark Trumbo to set the stage for Profar.
He was the choice over Lance Berkman, who was prepared to pinch-hit in the eighth. The Rangers were hoping Profar could get on base ahead of Leonys Martin and the top of the order.
“He gave me the opposite of what I was looking for,” Washington said.
Profar, who had had only one at-bat the past eight days, jumped on a 1-1 pitch from Michael Kohn and lifted it into the seats above the 349-feet sign in right field.
“I was just looking to have a good AB, get on base, and made a perfect swing and it went out,” Profar said.
The Rangers surpassed 3 million fans (3,019,430) for a second straight season on a night they drew their smallest crowd (26,198). Many were primed to leave early.
Four errors in the second inning, the most in an inning in club history, led to three unearned runs against Matt Garza. Each gaffe came with two outs only moments after the Rangers had scored three times in the first to take a 3-1 lead.
Garza had retired the first two batters of the second easily. The third, No. 9 hitter Andrew Romine, hit a two-hopper toward first, and the ball smacked Mitch Moreland in the ankle for an error.
J.B. Shuck followed with a single, but Garza got Erick Aybar to hit a roller to second base. It got through Ian Kinsler, though, as Romine scored, and Kinsler’s throw to third got away from Adrian Beltre and allowed Aybar to go to second.
Beltre committed the fourth error as Mike Trout sent a short chopper to third. Beltre bare-handed the ball, then threw wildly while trying to get the speedy MVP candidate. Two more runs scored, and the Rangers were suddenly and inexplicably down 4-3.
“We had one inning there that was uncharacteristic of what we’re about,” Washington said. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘That’s not us.’ That’s the way baseball is. Sometimes it does that to you.”
Garza posted zeroes the next three innings, including an impressive escape act in the fifth. He got help, as Craig Gentry gunned down Howie Kendrick at home for the first out, then got two outs with the bases loaded.
“Just keep your team in the game as long as you can and for as far as you can,” Garza said. “That was my job tonight. We made a couple mistakes on the field tonight, but my job is to keep going.”
But Jerome Williams upstaged him with an even better dodge in the Rangers’ half. They loaded the bases with no outs after Martin and Kinsler singled and Elvis Andrus reached on an error.
Alex Rios, though, struck out, and Beltre bounced into a double play to kill the inning and leave the Angels up.
The Rangers, though, jumped ahead in the sixth with a two-out rally that Gentry jump-started with his third single. He stole second and pinch hitter Jeff Baker took a walk ahead of Martin, who lined a single to right-center to score Gentry and pinch-runner Adam Rosales.
The lead, though, lasted only about two minutes. Calhoun started the seventh with a triple off Tanner Scheppers and scored two pitches later on a single by Trumbo.
The Rangers, though, had a couple more chances, including one in the ninth. That’s all they need, it seems, against the Angels.
“The way you win doesn’t matter,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “To see Profar do that is an awesome sight and awesome feeling. We tried to give it to them early, but we bounced back and scored some runs.”