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Must C Clutch: Hamilton puts Rangers in front

OAKLAND -- Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton leads the American League with 20 game-winning RBIs. The latest one off Athletics reliever Grant Balfour -- a line-drive home run down the right-field line -- apparently didn't feel too good

"It felt terrible," Hamilton said, and he wasn't kidding. "I got jammed. I just happened to have the right bat, my thick-handled bat."

"I don't care if he said he got jammed, I knew that ball was going out," manager Ron Washington said after eighth-inning home runs by Ian Kinsler and Hamilton carried the Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday night.

The Rangers trailed, 2-1, going into the eighth before striking against Oakland reliever Balfour, who had just taken over for Brandon McCarthy. Balfour had pitched seven scoreless innings against the Rangers this year and was 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA lifetime against them. But that didn't matter against a team closing in on an AL West title.

Kinsler, leading off the inning, worked the count full and then lifted a fastball over the left-field wall for his 30th home run to tie the score. He was 1-for-8 with a home run in his career against Balfour prior to that at-bat.

"He's got a good fastball," Kinsler said. "That's his strength and he went with his strength. He's got me out with it a handful of times. I didn't think it was going out. Balls weren't going out tonight, but fortunately I had enough strength to get it over the wall."

After Elvis Andrus flied out to right, Hamilton connected with a 1-0 fastball and lined it over the right-field fence for a home run. He now has two more game-winning RBIs than anybody else in the AL even though he missed six weeks because of the fracture in his right arm.

"Maybe my focus level goes up," Hamilton said. "I wish I could harness that focus all the time. That's all I can tell you."

Balfour had a hard time believing that Hamilton was able to hit that inside fastball out of the park.

"The one to Hamilton, I thought it was actually a pretty good pitch," Balfour said. "I was trying to go in on him and got it in there and just a good piece of hitting. Guy's a good hitter. I was kind of surprised he hit that pitch out. Thought I made a good pitch, guess it wasn't good enough."

Once his hands stopped stinging on a cool September night in the East Bay, Hamilton was able to enjoy the moment.

"I like it when the team gets excited," Hamilton said. "It's fun to see them get excited and it's fun to do something to get them excited. I've been on both ends of it."

The Rangers have much to be excited about. The victory leaves them with a five-game lead over the Angels in the AL West with seven left to play. Their magic number is three. They also remain tied with the Tigers for the second-best record in the AL.

Wednesday night also marked their 90th win of the season, the fifth time in club history they have won that many games. They have won four straight and are 13-5 in September.

"It was just awesome to see us come back like that," pitcher C.J. Wilson said. "We haven't been coming back like that lately."

Wilson went six innings and allowed two runs on five hits while walking three and striking out eight. He has 206 strikeouts on the season. But he threw 111 pitches and was bothered by a recurring blister on the middle finger of his left hand that popped up in the first inning.

"After the first I was battling my control the whole game," Wilson said. "I threw some close pitches and those guys were too disciplined, they're not going to swing. I wish I wasn't throwing as many pitches as I did in six innings. Too many full counts. I was trying to throw strikeouts instead of making them hit the ball. I made my own bed."

Wilson said the blister should not keep him from making his next start on Monday against the Angels.

Reliever Koji Uehara picked up his first victory since joining the Rangers. He took over for Wilson and pitched a scoreless seventh. Mike Adams set the side down in order in the eighth and Neftali Feliz pitched the ninth for his 29th save.

McCarthy was excellent for the Athletics, allowing one run through seven innings. He allowed six hits and left after throwing 79 pitches.

"McCarthy was awesome," Wilson said of his former teammate. "He looked really good. That's the best he's thrown against us this year. I thought they were going to send him out there for the complete game."

Oakland manager Bob Melvin did not. Melvin has been careful with McCarthy all season because of a long history of injuries that is quite familiar to the Rangers. Balfour's track record against the Rangers has been pretty good. But the Rangers got to him on Wednesday night and have now won 12 of their last 13 against the Athletics.

"It's not fun going through this year with them, with them just continually beating us and finding different ways to do it," McCarthy said. "It's something we should know going into the offseason that we have to take it to their level ... but over the course of the season it's starting to get a little old." Comments