ARLINGTON -- Every game is big this time of year, say Texas Rangers players and coaches, but it would serve them well to win their matinee this afternoon against the Oakland A's.
The Rangers' goal entering their four-game series this week was to make a three-game series next week at Oakland irrelevant to the pennant race.
The hope was to lock up the American League West title during the final homestand of the regular season. Oakland, though, is making that awfully difficult.
The A's won again Wednesday at Rangers Ballpark, scoring five times in a messy first inning against Martin Perez and putting away the Rangers a few innings later en route to a 9-3 victory.
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The result dropped the Rangers' division lead to three games and kept their magic number at five for a second straight day. That's as close as they want the A's to get.
"If we come back tomorrow and win a ballgame, they leave out of here the way they came in," manager Ron Washington said. "We feel like we're going to win a game tomorrow."
The Rangers will try to earn a split in the series this afternoon. The Rangers are back to the top of the rotation, with 17-game winner Matt Harrison scheduled, and the key pieces in the bullpen got a day of rest after a game that was over early.
"Our bullpen is in good shape," Washington said. "We need Harry to go out there and do what he always does, and that's keep us in the ballgame."
The A's tallied six hits against Perez, who recorded only two outs and was plagued by three misplayed balls in the outfield.
Five of the first six A's collected hits. That included leadoff man Stephen Drew, whose double twisted right fielder Nelson Cruz off his route and one-hopped the wall.
No. 6 hitter Josh Donaldson delivered a single up the middle that went under Josh Hamilton's glove for a two-base error that allowed two runs to score.
Derek Norris followed two batters later with a liner to center that Hamilton appeared to have tracked down, but it went over his head for an RBI triple.
"They were just misplayed," Washington said. "That's all the explanation you're going to get out of me."
Hamilton said nothing was wrong with his vision, which was affected last week by too much caffeine intake. He simply made two bad plays.
"Here the ball snakes, so you've go to watch the ball all the way into your glove," Hamilton said. "I peeked too early, and the ball went right around it. The ball in the gap, I went to a spot it was going to be, and it took off."
That was it for Perez, who threw 18 of his 24 pitches for strikes. That's 75 percent, but 75 percent (6 of 8) of the A's he faced got hits.
The Rangers, meanwhile, were left to fight from the mound largely with rookies and September call-ups, and that went about as well as could be expected.
Texas closed within 5-3 after two long innings against Jarrod Parker. But Oakland countered with three runs in the third and fourth against Wilmer Font, who walked the only two batters he faced, and Tanner Scheppers.
The Rangers had only one hit over the final six innings and were outhit 16-5. That's not going to win many games, and a repeat performance today could bring the A's even closer.
"Every game we play for the rest of the season is going to be important," said Michael Young, who had two hits. "That's why September is the best time of the year to be playing baseball. Every time we step on the field, it's an important game."
Said Hamilton: "Hopefully, it'll be four [games ahead] tomorrow, and that will make everyone feel better."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760