Yovani Gallardo hasn’t been Mr. Efficiency for much of the season, but he has generally found a way to keep opponents from scoring more runs than the Texas Rangers.
So, when the Oakland A’s put runners at first and third with one out in the fifth Saturday night, the thought was that Gallardo would find a way to yet again preserve a Rangers lead.
One telling stat — that Gallardo has a league-best nine starts of at least five innings and no runs — suggested it would happen. Another, that he had a 3.16 ERA entering the start, also put the likelihood of an escape on his side.
But it didn’t happen, and the timing couldn’t have been much worse. The Rangers missed a chance to pad their lead for the second wild card and to close within a half-game of the American League West lead with a 5-3 loss to the last-place A’s.
Oakland scored five times in the fifth, wiping out a 1-0 Rangers lead as Mark Canha hit a three-run homer and Danny Valencia added a two-run shot to snap Gallardo’s season-best five-game winning streak.
“He’s been really good at it all year in those types of situations,” manager Jeff Banister said. “One inning.”
The Rangers’ offense was stumped for the second straight time against a left-hander whose three best pitches were slow, slower and slowest. Sean Nolin allowed one run on five hits in 5 2/3 innings for his first career win, with the lone blemish against him a solo homer by Mike Napoli in the second inning.
The Rangers, who were done in Wednesday at Seattle by lefty Vidal Nuno, weren’t without their chances, though many came with two outs.
They collected two-out doubles in the fourth, fifth and sixth, but failed to score each time. Nolin didn’t have a single 1-2-3 inning, but he struck out five and limited the damage.
Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder missed a chance with runners at first and second in the seventh, and Rougned Odor and Will Venable missed out in the eighth after Elvis Andrus’ third double of the game.
The Rangers managed to send the tying run to the plate in the ninth, with Fielder doubling in two with two outs, but Napoli struck out to end it.
“It was the first time we faced that pitcher,” right fielder Shin-Soo Choo said. “He’s not a power pitcher. His fastball and off-speed, there’s a 15-18 mph difference. We watched video, but until you step in the box, you don’t really see it.”
Gallardo (12-10) worked about as slowly as Nolin threw. The A’s had two runners in the first and third innings before coming away empty, but they didn’t miss their third chance against Gallardo in the fifth.
After Josh Phegley grounded out to start the inning, the next five A’s reached. Canha was third in line, and he swatted a three-run homer to make it 3-1. Valencia cracked a two-run homer two batters later to send Gallardo packing.
“We had the lead,” said Gallardo, who hasn’t recorded an out past the sixth inning since June 27. “I have to do whatever I can to not give it up. I just have to stay away from those innings when I give multiple runs out and give the guys a chance.”
The Rangers have a one-game lead over Minnesota for the second wild card with 21 games remaining. Seven of those are against Houston, which lost at Anaheim and kept a 1 1/2-game lead over the Rangers in the AL West.
Houston heads to Globe Life Park on Monday to begin a four-game series. The Rangers, though, still have a game against Oakland on Sunday with rookie Chi Chi Gonzalez starting against another lefty, Felix Doubront.
The Rangers are 6-5 against lefties since Napoli was acquired Aug. 7, but they are just 1-3 against the past four lefty starters, all in the past seven days, and are 25-28 against them this season.
Houston is scheduled to start another lefty, Scott Kazmir, on Monday and Cy Young candidate Dallas Keuchel on Wednesday.
“They’ve been challenging for us,” Banister said. “It hasn’t just been this week. They’ve been a challenge for us most of this year. For us to get where we want to go, we’ve got to be able to compete against left-handers, we’ve got to be able to swing the bat against left-handers, [and] we’ve got to drive in runs against left-handers.
“We’re going to see some left-handers. We’re going to find a way. Our guys are working hard at it. We’re going to get it right.”