Run support for Yu Darvish came in relative droves Thursday night, considering that he usually gets next to no backing from the offense or none at all.
He was pitching in a must-win game — there was no denying that — which meant that the Texas Rangers had to find a way to give their ace some support.
The possibility of a third straight 1-0 Darvish loss was gone in a flash at Tropicana Field as the Rangers ended 17 innings of offensive futility with Darvish on the mound in their first turn at the plate.
But Darvish gave it away just as quickly in his first turn on the mound and looked like he might give up more in each successive inning he worked.
The good news was that Matt Moore, a 15-game winner, was no better, and the Rangers’ bats took advantage to give Darvish a long-awaited win and help them improve their footing on the difficult climb to the postseason.
Mitch Moreland hit the first of three third-inning solo homers, and Darvish managed to allow only two runs in five trying innings as the Rangers beat Tampa Bay 8-2 to to forge another tie atop the American League wild card standings.
“Things haven’t been going right, but we haven’t lost our resiliency,” manager Ron Washington said. “The amount of games we have left, you wish you could run them all off. But we have to make certain that we play each day for the day that it is and try to play the best that we can. It looks like we’re starting to get it back together again.”
Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios joined Moreland in the third with back-to-back homers, and Geovany Soto added a fourth solo shot in the ninth. Craig Gentry went 4 for 5 with three stolen bases as the Rangers helped Darvish win for the first time since Aug. 12.
The Rangers split the key four-game series against the Rays after losing the opener to see their losing streak hit seven. They and the Rays are a half-game up on Cleveland, which beat Houston in 11 innings.
“It means a lot,” Andrus said. “We’re playing better baseball, and that’s what we’ve been looking for. Everything is getting back on track.”
Darvish (13-9) threw 109 pitches in five innings but snapped a six-start winless drought. He walked six and hit another but got double-play grounders to escape difficult innings in the third and fourth.
The Rangers scored quickly against Moore, taking advantage of a one-out error that allowed Andrus to reach. He went to second on a wild pitch, and Rios singled him home for a 1-0 lead.
But Darvish gave up the lead during a 40-pitch bottom half. James Loney had an RBI double with two outs, and consecutive walks brought in another Rays run.
“As you can see I didn’t have any of my pitches, fastball or breaking balls,” Darvish said. “Somehow, I managed to get through five innings and keep the game close.”
The Rangers went ahead for good in the third, which the left-handed-hitting Moreland, getting a rare start against a lefty, opened with an opposite-field homer to knot the score at 2-2.
The next batter, Ian Kinsler, just missed a homer of his own, but Andrus and Rios fed on the spark Moreland provided and connected with deep drives to left field.
“That’s all you’re trying to do — get a good pitch and get it going again,” Moreland said. “That was a big inning for us. That definitely swung the momentum in our favor.”
The Rangers tacked on two more runs in the fourth for a 6-2 lead on a ball that didn’t leave the infield.
Gentry and Kinsler were at second and third when Andrus hit a high chopper to shortstop. He legged it out for an infield hit, scoring Gentry, and Kinsler came around when Loney paused to check on the call at first before throwing home.
“That was a great play by Ian,” Andrus said.
Gentry added an RBI single in the seventh on a two-out blooper that scored Adrian Beltre. Soto capped the scoring with his eighth homer for the Rangers’ eighth run, a relative bonanza in a game started by Darvish.
He and the Rangers needed all that offense in a must-win game.
“Especially after [Wednesday] and that tough loss, for us to come out the way we did was huge,” Andrus said.