The ninth inning Tuesday night rates as the craziest inning of the Texas Rangers’ season, and their 5-4 victory rates as one of their most improbable in recent memory.
It’s not so much that they scored twice with two outs in the ninth, but that the rally came after a bungled bunt play with the potential tying run thrown out at home and was fueled by an unlikely cast of players.
Josh Wilson, a journeyman playing because of injury, delivered the game-tying double. Michael Choice won it moments later with a single up the middle, but he was in that spot of the lineup because the Rangers’ best player to date is injured.
Nick Martinez, who should be in Double A and will be again this weekend, pitched well enough to keep the Rangers in the game. So did Aaron Poreda and Shawn Tolleson in relief.
None of that trio was on the 40-man roster last month. Neither was Wilson.
But the Rangers’ April magic, and their late-inning magic, continued on a chilly night at O.co Coliseum.
“They play nine innings. That’s what I like about those guys,” manager Ron Washington said. “It’s not the best team that wins. It’s the team that plays the best. Tonight we played better.”
The Rangers trailed 4-3 entering the ninth, but Mitch Moreland led off with a pinch-hit double and went to third on a bunt by Robinson Chirinos. Moreland, though, was an easy out at home as he tried to score on a Leonys Martin bunt to the mound.
Washington wouldn’t say what happened afterward, citing a miscommunication. Moreland said that he thought Martin might have believed a squeeze play was on, but wasn’t entirely sure of that, and then decided to try to score even though he didn’t break when the ball was bunted.
“We won the ballgame,” Washington said.
But Martin stole second, and Wilson smacked a hanging two-strike slider from Luke Gregerson over the head of left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and off the wall to plate Martin. Wilson charged home on a single to center by Choice, who beat the team that drafted him with the 10th overall pick in 2010 and traded him in December.
“It means a lot,” said Choice, who started in left field and batted first as Shin-Soo Choo was out with a sprained ankle. “To be in the situation was huge. I was just looking to get Willie in.”
Wilson atoned for a key error in the fourth inning only three batters after he had moved to third base after Kevin Kouzmanoff exited with tightness in his back. Oakland scored two unearned runs to erase a 3-2 deficit and put Martinez on the hook for a loss.
Martinez, who was making his second career start, allowed only two earned runs in five innings. The Rangers staked him to a 2-0 lead in the first with two two-out runs on a bases-loaded infield single by Donnie Murphy and a bases-loaded walk by Chirinos.
The A’s, though, struck for two of their own in their half of the first. Jed Lowrie doubled off the wall in right-center field for a double and scored as Josh Donaldson followed with a single.
After Brandon Moss bounced out to third, Cespedes dropped a double into left field for a 2-2 tie.
“It’s not the kind of start you want,” Martinez said. “But you’ve got to trust your stuff and trust the guys behind you.”
The defense gave Martinez got a huge lift in the second after the A’s loaded the bases with one out. But they didn’t score thanks to Martin, who caught a Lowrie flyball and threw out John Jaso as he tried to score.
“That gave me a jolt,” Martinez said.
The Rangers added a run in third, a frame that started with singles by Alex Rios and Prince Fielder. Kouzmanoff bounced into a double play, but Rios scampered home to put the Rangers up 3-2.
Kouzmanoff, though, left the game an inning later as a precaution. After a one-out single in the fourth by Jaso, Josh Reddick sent a chopper to third that scooted away from Wilson as he charged it.
“I just didn’t quite get there,” Wilson said.
The error put runners at second and third, and both would score as Eric Sogard lifted a sacrifice fly and Coco Crisp followed with a two-out double that fell in just ahead of a slide Rios in right field.
Martinez pitched around a two-out walk in the fifth and was done at 92 pitches. He allowed six hits and walked three, but it was another effective spot start for the rookie who has never pitched in the minors above Double A.
“You’ve got to give Nick a lot of credit for what he did,” Washington said.
Poreda worked out of trouble in a scoreless sixth, and Tolleson got the next five outs before being replaced by Pedro Figueroa. The left-hander threw one pitch, hitting Reddick, and then left with soreness in his elbow.
Alexi Ogando (1-1) entered, and got one out for the win. Joakim Soria earned his fifth save with a 1-2-3 ninth, restoring order after a crazy top half that resulted in a crazy Rangers win.