The storyline for each of the past three Texas Rangers losses, each against a wild-card contender and each with their playoff chances dangling by a thread, has been no different from the other.
Quality starting pitching. No offense, compounded by outs on the bases. A bullpen letdown.
But how the Rangers have ultimately lost and how they have continued to play their way toward a postseason-free October has changed with each defeat.
Alex Rios found himself high on the list of things that went wrong Sunday, when Justin Maxwell swatted a grand slam with two outs in the 10th inning to snap a scoreless tie and sink the Rangers with a 4-0 loss.
The painful ending for the Rangers allowed Oakland to clinch the American League West and dropped the Rangers two games behind Tampa Bay and 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the wild-card race with seven games to play.
The Indians are off Monday as the Rangers play Houston to open a season-ending seven-game homestand.
“We’ve got the future in our hands,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “Now is the best time for us to put something together and have an amazing homestand. We still have the opportunity to sneak into the wild card. It’s going to be a great challenge for us to see how much we want it and how much we want to be in the postseason.”
Maxwell, a trade-deadline acquisition from Houston, crunched a full-count fastball down the middle from right-hander Joakim Soria, who was making his first appearance against his old team.
Soria was a strike away from escaping a bases-loaded, no-outs jam, but he said that he wasn’t going to let an umpire’s judgment decide the outcome.
“Bases loaded, 3-2 count, I don’t want to throw him a ball,” said Soria, who suffered the bullpen’s third loss on the road trip. “You can’t give the umpire a chance to call a ball,” Soria said. “It’s a home run or a walk. I’d rather have him swing at it.”
The Rangers had chances to break up a pitching duel between Alexi Ogando and James Shields, but went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and made three outs on the bases.
Two of those were on steal attempts, including one by Andrus trying to get third base with one out in the first inning. But the third one was the only one that manager Ron Washington called a gamble.
Rios struck out to start the ninth against Royals closer Greg Holland, but a wild pitch allowed him to reach first. Rios stole second on the next pitch to get into scoring position, just beating the throw from Salvador Perez as Adrian Beltre batted.
Beltre eventually lifted a fly ball to left field. Rios tagged and challenged Alex Gordon, the AL leader in outfield assists, who threw a strike to third base and easily got Rios for a rally-killing double play.
“I took a gamble on accuracy,” Rios said. “In that situation with Holland on the mound, I had to take that chance. It would have made the situation much better for the hitters. He just made a perfect throw.
“We’re struggling to score runs. Because of that, I took that chance.”
Ogando pitched seven scoreless innings on only 77 pitches, scattering two hits, and Tanner Scheppers pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings and Neal Cotts got the final two outs of the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
Cotts, a left-hander, returned for the 10th to face the lefty-hitting Eric Hosmer, who flipped a double down the left-field line.
Soria entered and intentionally walked Billy Butler. That brought up Perez, a double-play candidate but also a .288 hitter, and the catcher reached on a single that a diving Andrus kept on the infield.
Soria retired Mike Moustakas on a broken-bat pop-up to third base, then got pinch-hitter George Kottaras to bounce into a fielder’s choice with Hosmer out on a force play at home.
Maxwell was next, and he worked a full count before crushing Soria’s offering over the wall in left field at an estimated distance of 421 feet.
“I felt pretty good after the first out,” Soria said. “I got two outs and faced Maxwell. He just got it.”
And the Rangers, who spent 95 days in first place in the AL West and once seemingly had an insurmountable lead in the wild-card standings, have seven home games left to save their playoff hopes.
“We have to go out there and win them all,” Andrus said.