Blalock plates four as Texas gains ground
Rangers outlast A's to trim AL West deficit to 6 1/2 games
OAKLAND -- Five days ago, Rangers manager Ron Washington decided to put Hank Blalock back in the lineup.Blalock, reduced to a reserve role since Chris Davis was recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Aug. 25, was asked to breathe some life into the Rangers' slumbering offense with Josh Hamilton and Michael Young still unable to play.
Blalock has done that.He had two doubles, a home run, two runs scored and four RBIs to lead the Rangers to a 9-8 victory over the Athletics at the Coliseum on Wednesday. The win, combined with the Angels' loss to the Yankees, moved Texas to within 6 1/2 games of first place in the American League West.
The Rangers have scored 28 runs in five games since Blalock went back into the lineup. They scored just one run in five games before that."I'm not taking credit for that," Washington said. "We just needed him. It looks like Hank is becoming Mr. September. He did this for us last year in September. We definitely needed him with Michael and Hamilton out of the lineup, and he's coming through for us. We needed some presence in the lineup, and Hank has presence." The Rangers are now 6 1/2 games behind the Angels with 11 games to play. Four of those are with the Angels next week in Anaheim. "Yeah, we're still alive," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "It's going to take a miracle, we know that. We need to start winning every game. Wash is managing every game like it's the seventh game of the World Series and that's the way we're going to play." The Rangers almost killed off all playoff hope when their offense went into the tank on the last homestand. But Blalock, starting at first with Davis moving to third, has helped revive it. Blalock had an RBI double in the first off Oakland righty Clay Mortensen, a two-run home run in the fourth and another RBI double in the Rangers' four-run fifth. He is now 8-for-20 with five runs, two homers and eight RBIs in the past five games. "I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to win games," Blalock said. "We just have to get as many wins as possible right now." The Rangers had gone 31 innings without a home run when Blalock hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the fourth. Blalock had the Rangers' last home run on Saturday against the Angels, and he has their only two in their past seven games. Blalock also had the Rangers' only extra base hits on the night, and they have just 16 in their last 10 games and 12 doubles, a triple and three home runs. Tommy Hunter picked up the victory despite allowing a season-high seven runs in 5 2/3 innings. He is now 9-4 with a 3.67 ERA on the season. Rangers starters are 10-10 with a 5.31 ERA in 21 games in September. "You've got to be happy with a win," Hunter said. "I'm just glad we won. A win's a win. I just need to not give up so many runs." Hunter retired the first 10 batters he faced before running into a brick wall with one out in the fourth. The Athletics broke through by mixing three singles and three doubles in the course of seven at-bats to take a 5-4 lead. "I kept throwing fastballs, and they kept hitting them," Hunter said. "I didn't have very good pitch selection. I didn't vary it. I know what I should have done, and I didn't do it." A two-out, two-run single by Pennington put the Athletics ahead, but the rally was stopped short when Blalock cut off a throw to the plate from right fielder Nelson Cruz and nailed Pennington trying to go to second. "That was the right play right there, definitely," Washington said. "The man is right in front of you, take the out." The Rangers struck back with four unearned runs in the top of the fifth. They had two out and nobody on when Pennington, the Athletics' shortstop, couldn't come up with Elvis Andrus' grounder. David Murphy walked, the Rangers worked a double steal, and Byrd singled to right-center to drive home two. Blalock then doubled home Byrd and scored on a single by Cruz to give the Rangers a 9-6 lead. Blalock had one more big play on the night, this one with his glove. The Athletics, down 9-8, had runners at second and first, and two outs in the bottom of the eighth when Adam Kennedy hit a sharp grounder right down the first-base line. Blalock dove to his left to make the stop, then scrambled to first to snuff out the Athletics' last threat. "That ball had a lot of top spin, and I was just trying to stay on it or at least keep it in the infield and keep the tying run from scoring," Blalock said. "An excellent play," Washington said.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.