Gil LeBreton

Rangers breathing .500 air again, but they want more

TNS

For all that most baseball fans in this state know, the Silver Boot could be made of aluminum foil.

To truly add a veneer of importance to this current Texas Rangers-Houston Astros series, therefore, you have to go back to May 3.

On that Sunday afternoon, the Rangers lost an achingly dull 7-1 decision to the Oakland Athletics. The defeat was Texas’ eighth in 10 games and dropped the Rangers’ won-loss record to 8-16.

That day, that one-sided defeat, has been the low-water mark in a season where the Rangers seem to have constantly been submerged in their own damp undoings.

Errors. Stranded base runners. Self-combusting relief pitching. It all left guilty fingerprints on the Rangers’ forgettable first month of the season.

But consider this:

Since May 3, the Rangers have a 45-37 record.

The Astros, since that same date, have a record of 42-41.

That won’t change the current AL West standings, of course. Houston still ended the day six games better than its in-state rival and leading the second-place Angels.

That feeling, however, that the Rangers have been vanishing slowly into a seasonlong sink hole is just an illusion.

After beating the Astros 4-3, the Rangers are back to the .500 mark — 53 wins, 53 losses.

Manager Jeff Banister’s team began the night only two games behind in the chase for the second AL wild-card spot. For the sixth time in the seven nights since news of the Cole Hamels trade broke, Rangers bats erupted for at least 10 hits.

And on this night, highlighted by a three-run fifth inning, the Rangers even featured — gasp! — scoreless relief pitching.

With starter Yovani Gallardo’s pitch count at 98 pitches, Banister summoned lefty Sam Freeman to quell a Houston rally in the sixth inning. Freeman, however, first loaded the bases, then got Luis Valbuena and Marwin Gonzalez to retire the side.

“What a gutsy performance by Sam,” Banister said.

Spencer Patton and Jake Diekman also worked scoreless innings, before Shawn Tolleson struck out Jose Altuve in the ninth for his 20th save.

Diekman is one of the recent trade additions that Banister called “nice and comforting.”

“We have some options at the back end of the game,” he said.

The bottom was struck on that May 3 afternoon. Three months later, consider these numbers that the Rangers started Tuesday with:

Since that day, Adrian Beltre is batting .290. Second baseman Rougned Odor is hitting .323 with a .925 OPS.

First baseman Mitch Moreland is batting .283 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs since May 3. Prince Fielder is hitting .321 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs.

Slow starters Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus are batting .261 and .269, respectively, since May 3. Rookie Delino DeShields is at .280 with a .380 on-base percentage.

Over the past three months, in other words, the Rangers have resembled a capable wild-card contending team, more than an outfit primed for a fire sale.

One week ago, they were embarrassed by the New York Yankees 21-5. But they came back to split the four-game series with the Yankees and have now won back-to-back series over the Giants and Astros.

Reaching the .500 mark is just a bonus.

“We were asked that the first time we got back to .500,” Banister said. “.500 is not where we want to be. It’s just a number to get where we want to go.”

No, the Rangers aren’t breathing down the Astros’ necks. Yet.

But they are breathing. Just check the numbers.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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