Rangers within one game of Athletics after 4-3 win

One play didn’t decide the game.

There was Ian Kinsler coming through with a clutch two-out, two-run single. Nelson Cruz robbed what would have been an extra-base hit. Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers were terrific in relief, helping the pitching staff strand 13 runners on base.

But nothing topped the excitement of the final play of the day.

A perfect relay from Craig Gentry to Elvis Andrus to A.J. Pierzynski got the final out at the plate as the Texas Rangers held on for a 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Thursday afternoon.

It had a walk-off feel to it with manager Ron Washington celebrating outside of the dugout, and Pierzynski and closer Joe Nathan jumping up and down.

“Plays like that don’t happen very often,” Pierzynski said. “Obviously you saw guys were excited at the end of the game. It was a fun game.”

The Rangers closed what had been a dreadful homestand by winning three of four from the Athletics, and pulled to within one game of the American League West lead.

It boiled down to the end, though.

Nathan struck out the first two batters he faced before giving up a single to Josh Donaldson. Seth Smith stepped to the plate, and lined a shot to center field.

Gentry charged but the ball bounced in front of him, glancing off his glove. Gentry hurried to the ball and fired it to Andrus, who threw a perfect strike to the plate.

“It’s just instincts,” Gentry said. “You work on cutoffs and relays so much, it’s second nature to come up and fire it to the cutoff man.”

Said Andrus: “I was trying to get rid of the ball as soon as I could.”

Pierzynski said it was a “perfect throw” from Andrus, allowing him to easily tag out Donaldson.

It capped off a game in which the Rangers rallied from three deficits.

The A’s broke a scoreless game with a run off Rangers starter Josh Lindblom in the fifth, but the offense answered in the home half with a solo homer by Geovany Soto.

The A’s scored another run in the sixth, but it could’ve been much worse.

Brandon Moss led off with an infield single, beating out a grounder on a play that had Jurickson Profar lobbing the throw to first from his knees. Donaldson then singled.

Joseph Ortiz came in and issued a walk to load the bases, and Jason Frasor walked in a run. That forced the Rangers to turn to Ross, who had pitched in the first two games of the series.

But Ross showed no signs of fatigue, getting out of the jam with two strikeouts and a pop-up.

“I was just trying to go in there and not give up anybody’s runs,” Ross said.

The Rangers tied the game in their half of the sixth, but the A’s regained it, 3-2, with a run in the seventh.

The Rangers responded once again, though.

With two outs and runners at first and second, Leonys Martin beat out an infield single to load the bases. Kinsler followed by ripping a go-ahead two-run single up the middle for the Rangers’ first lead of the day.

Kinsler threw his arms out a la former Mavericks star Jason “The Jet” Terry.

“I just didn’t know what to do with my hands,” Kinsler said, smiling. “They were out there and they kept going.”

The key plays kept going, too.

Scheppers, who got the final two outs of the seventh, worked a scoreless eighth. He benefited by a leaping catch at the right-center field fence by Cruz to rob John Jaso of an extra-base hit for the first out of the inning.

“I thought it was going to be out, but thank God it stayed in the park,” Cruz said.

Scheppers induced an inning-ending double-play grounder the next at-bat, and the perfect relay helped Nathan pick up his 22nd save in the ninth.

More important, the Rangers weathered the storm and made up ground in the division race as they head on a six-game road trip to St. Louis and New York.

“We could’ve gotten buried if we didn’t play well, but we played well,” Washington said.

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