ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ervin Santana had been the best pitcher in the American League since the All-Star break and was riding a six-game winning streak.
The Texas Rangers had him on the ropes in the eighth inning Wednesday, with bases loaded and no outs. They needed one more hit against Santana to push their winning streak to six games, but the right-hander was one pitch away from a remarkable escape.
The Angel Stadium crowd was loud. Rangers manager Ron Washington was wound tighter than he’s been all season. Ian Kinsler was just trying to find a hole in the stingy Angels defense.
Kinsler and the Rangers prevailed.
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The second baseman floated a soft line drive into left field to score two runs and make a winner of C.J. Wilson, who shut down the Angels over his final six innings and allowed the Rangers to erase a first-inning deficit en route to a 4-3 victory.
The Rangers’ lead in the AL West now sits at seven games after opening a key four-game series with three wins over the second-place Angels.
“It was a pennant-race atmosphere,” third baseman Michael Young said. “It was fun. Both teams were scratching and clawing. They scored first, and C.J. did a great job after that. This was his game. He threw up a bunch of zeroes after that and gave us a chance to get back in the game.”
Wilson (12-5) was the deserving winner after the Angels jumped him for two runs in the first, which included a Mark Trumbo double that was inches short of leaving the ballpark for a 3-0 lead.
But the left-hander allowed only three hits over the next six innings. He pitched around his only walk with two outs in the seventh, by which time the Rangers had pulled even.
“When you have an offense like we do, you have a chance to come back if you just hold them right there,” Wilson said.
Santana (9-9) never cruised, but he had stranded six runners through the first four innings. The Rangers twice got a runner to third, but Mike Napoli was thrown out at home in the second and Josh Hamilton was stranded with two outs in the third.
The Rangers started to chip away in the fifth. Elvis Andrus went to second after a two-base throwing error on shortstop Erick Aybar with one out, and Hamilton followed with a single that easily scored Andrus.
Mitch Moreland tied the game in the sixth, leading off with a solo shot into the seats in right-center field.
Santana was at 99 pitches when he started the eighth. He walked Nelson Cruz, and Napoli followed with a double to put runners at second and third.
Moreland was walked to load the bases, but Santana rallied. He struck out Yorvit Torrealba on a 3-2 slider and got Endy Chavez swinging, then had a 2-2 count on Kinsler.
Santana threw a slider, and it caught just enough of the plate for Kinsler to dump it into left field as Cruz and Napoli scored. Santana was done at a career-high 129 pitches.
“He was beating me with the heater, and he was beating me with the slider,” said Kinsler, who entered the at-bat in an 0-for-9 mini-funk. “As a team, we were getting a lot of guys on base and getting chances, but we couldn’t break through. I was just trying to find a hole somewhere, and I got lucky and found one.”
Said Washington: “I’m worked up tonight more than I’ve ever been worked up so far. That was a great atmosphere out there tonight. Two great pitchers going at it.”
Wilson was done as well. Koji Uehara replaced him, and Howie Kendrick got him for a solo homer with two outs.
Feliz, though, nailed down his 24th save after pitching around a leadoff single by Trumbo in the ninth. He got to third with two outs, but Aybar popped out to shallow right field.
“That little Aybar is dangerous,” Washington said. “He could have very easily jumped that ball out of the ballpark. I’ve seen him do it.”
Young said that the Rangers realize the importance of winning this series, but they won’t be going through the motions tonight against Jered Weaver. The West race, Young said, is nowhere close to being over.
“We’ve played well so far, but it’s not really in our DNA to play with house chips,” said Young, who had his third straight three-hit game. “We don’t consider this to be a done series. We’ve got to come out tomorrow and play hard, and we will.”
How Rangers pitchers fared: C.J. Wilson got stingy after allowing two runs in the first inning. He allowed only three hits and a walk over the next six. Neftali Feliz got the call in the ninth even though he had worked three of the past four games and warmed up in the game he didn’t pitch. It worked out just fine after he issued a leadoff single.
How Rangers hitters fared: The Rangers collected 12 hits, 10 of which came against Santana. They made the right-hander work but had stranded seven runners before Ian Kinsler’s two-run single on Santana’s 129th pitch. Michael Young had his third straight three-hit game.