Quiet bats, shaky bullpen send Rangers into off-season

ARLINGTON -- Move along, folks, the show is over.

How quickly it came to a stunning conclusion.

The Texas Rangers' season is finished. They lost their final four games and six of their final seven to meekly bow out of the 2012 season after it seemed improbable to think only a week ago that they wouldn't be a postseason force.

Instead, they lost the first ever American League wild-card game 5-1 to Baltimore on Friday night as the offense turned in one of its worst performances of the year, especially considering the circumstances, and the bullpen offered minimal relief.

No one in the Rangers' clubhouse afterward could believe that they won't be going to a third straight World Series.

"I don't know if stunned is the right word," outfielder David Murphy said. "It's disappointing.

"It doesn't really feel like we played a playoff game. I'm going to be watching games next week on TV, and I know that we're good enough to be where those guys are. But we didn't get it done, and for that we don't deserve to be there."

Not even another strong effort by Yu Darvish could keep the Rangers alive. The right-hander allowed three runs (two earned) in 62/3 innings and struck out seven. He also had his first major-league game without a walk.

But the first play of the game served as an indicator of how the night might unfold. First baseman Michael Young booted a Nate McLouth grounder for an error, and McLouth stole second base and scored an unearned run as J.J. Hardy followed with a single.

However, the Rangers' first two hitters, Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus, reached first and third after a walk and a single. A big inning was looming with Josh Hamilton up, but he grounded the first pitch he saw into a double play.

The game was tied, but the missed chance would become a theme against Joe Saunders. The left-hander entered with a 9.38 career ERA in six starts at Rangers Ballpark, but he got three double plays behind him and snuffed out a first-and-third, one-out threat in the fourth.

The Orioles took the lead for good in the sixth, an inning that started with singles by McLouth and Chris Davis. Adam Jones followed with a sacrifice fly for a 2-1 lead.

Rangers trainer Kevin Harmon then hustled to the mound to check on Darvish, even summoning translator Joe Furukawa to the mound after he showed signs of discomfort in his shoulder. Neck stiffness cost him a start Sept. 25.

"He threw a slider and felt a pinch," manager Ron Washington said. "He tried to throw through it, and he was able to do just that."

Darvish hung around until getting the second out in the seventh. Washington went to Derek Holland to get McLouth in a lefty-lefty matchup, but, after a wild pitch moved pinch runner Robert Andino to third, McLouth singled.

"I wanted to match up right there," Washington said. "I thought Derek could come in and make some pitches on McLouth. It just didn't work out."

Saunders, though, made his pitches against the only lefty hitter he faced, retiring Hamilton three times on five pitches in what could be the final game for the five-time All-Star in a Rangers uniform.

Hamilton, who becomes a free agent five days after the World Series, later represented the tying run with two outs in the eighth, but he was gone in three pitches.

Hamilton went 0 for 4 and struck out twice and was booed loudly after his final at-bat.

"It was just one of those things where I didn't get hits," said Hamilton, who supported the fans' rights to boo him. "You hate to have it happen in possibly your last game ever here, but I gave my all every time I went out there. Hopefully, they appreciated it more than they did [tonight]."

Hamilton could be gone this off-season, which starts today for the Rangers.

They entered Sept. 25 with a five-game lead atop the AL West with nine to play and were up four with six to go.

Ten games later their season has come to a stunning conclusion.

"We got outplayed," Holland said. "There were a lot of different things. We weren't playing very good ball. Offensively and defensively we made some mistakes. It just wasn't Rangers baseball. We didn't deserve to win."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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