Rangers gladly see 20/20 stretch come to end

The end of 20 games in 20 days arrived Sunday for the Texas Rangers, but playing No. 20 proved to quite a nasty trick.

Blame ESPN.

Originally scheduled as a day game, the finale at Busch Stadium was pushed back six hours so that the game could be shown on Sunday Night Baseball. But heavy rain started to fall around 6 p.m. — well after a game at 1:15 p.m. would have ended — and first pitch was pushed back until 10:04 p.m.

The Rangers’ charter flight to New York wasn’t scheduled to land until the wee hours, which would likely turn the club’s first off day since June 3 into a sleepfest for every player and coach.

They will survive, just as they did their recent 20-day stretch. They entered Sunday 8-11 with one to go, and needed a four-game winning streak to salvage that mark.

The Rangers were back atop the American League West, had seen injured players return to health, and, regardless of what happened Sunday night after press time, believed they were playing better baseball.

“It really came at the right time,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “I think we handled ourselves well. We had a bad spell, but we handled ourselves well.”

The stretch started with Ian Kinsler on the disabled list, a loss that was magnified when Mitch Moreland went down June 5 in the second game of the 20 straight. The offense went into one of the worst funks in club history, as they scored two or fewer runs over six straight home games.

Those six games, all losses, knocked the Rangers as far as three games behind Oakland in the West. The world was ending, or about to end, after Toronto left Arlington on June 16 with a four-game sweep.

But the Rangers took 3 of 4 games from the A’s last week and took the first two from the Cardinals to complete a remarkable one-week turnaround.

“We never thought the world was ending,” Washington said. “We were in a tailspin, and I said all the time that teams go through it. Those guys in that clubhouse know how to play baseball, and it was a matter of time.

“We found ourselves again, and we’re playing good baseball.”

The bats came back to life, with the Rangers scoring 33 runs in their past six games after scoring 39 over the first 15 games of the month. Nelson Cruz emerged as the team’s hottest hitter, along with A.J. Pierzynski and the always steady Adrian Beltre.

It’s no coincidence that the turnaround started shortly after Kinsler came off the disabled list.

The pitching, though, also came around. The two best efforts by starters came Friday and Saturday, as left-handers Derek Holland and Martin Perez recovered from shaky starts to shut down one of the best lineups in baseball.

“Pitching. It all comes down to pitching,” Pierzynski said. “At the end of the day, if you can pitch, you’re going to win, and we’ve been pitching. We’ve been getting some hits, which helps, but our starting pitching has been better and our bullpen has been good all year.”

Early-week hiccups by Nick Tepesch, who started Sunday, and Yu Darvish quickly dissipated behind decent efforts by Justin Grimm and Josh Lindblom and the noteworthy performances by Holland and Perez, who won the second game of his career Saturday night.

The goal, as Perez said, is to keep it going this week at Yankee Stadium, where the Rangers are just 2-11 in regular-season games since 2010. Darvish, Grimm and Holland are scheduled to start against a New York team that has managed to remain afloat despite being tattered by injuries.

“The lineup has changed completely,” said Darvish, who has never pitched in New York. “I know Derek Jeter isn’t in the lineup, but I don’t know who is in there.”

Maybe Darvish was playing coy, or maybe his mind has been zapped by 20 games in 20 days. The Rangers survived, and they like where they are as they head into their first off day in nearly three weeks.

“Things are going well right now, and things are falling in place,” left fielder David Murphy said. “We need to stay where we are right now.”

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