ARLINGTON, Texas -- It might not have been a knockout punch, but the 9-8 victory the A's scratched out over the Rangers on Friday night at least was a kick in the shins that will have Texas limping down the stretch in the American League West.
Oakland expanded its lead in the division to 41/2 games by winning the first of the three-game series, holding off a furious late rush by the Rangers, who were down by seven runs entering the eighth inning.
The A's managed to gift Dan Straily with his 10th victory, his fourth consecutive win in a game played in Texas-style heat and in a postseason time frame. The game lasted four hours, nine minutes.
There are 15 games left in the A's season, 16 for the Rangers. It's not impossible for Texas to track down Oakland, but right now it's the A's who are surging and the Rangers who are hearing boos in Rangers Ballpark -- or at least they were for the first seven innings.
"I think this gives us the momentum going into tomorrow," Sean Doolittle said. The left-handed reliever got the final four outs for his second save, but he needed the help of a strong throw from left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and a fortunate umpire's call to close it out.
Umpire Andy Fletcher called Alex Rios out trying to go from first to third on a single to end the eighth inning. The Rangers had scored six times in the inning to erase most of a 9-2 lead. Rios had been a big part of that with a two-run single. The momentum was with Texas right to that point, and Rios was irate at being called out on a very close play and wound up being ejected.
"I've always heard about the crazy games that get played here," Straily said. "Any time we play, neither side is going to take an at-bat off."
Texas, down 9-2 in the sixth, mounted a comeback in the eighth, but that mostly had to do with three walks issued by Oakland pitchers, one of whom, Brett Anderson, came out of the game with back spasms. The left-hander said that he thought it might be a hydration problem due to the heat (92 degrees) and humidity of Rangers Ballpark.
Once the eighth inning was in the books, the A's could be expected to go to Grant Balfour to close it out. But with Doolittle having thrown just two pitches and with the Rangers having used all of their most potent right-handed hitters, A's manager Bob Melvin stuck with Doolittle.
The left-hander got two quick strikeouts, was touched for a two-out double, then struck out Jurickson Profar looking to end the game.
So for all the might of the Rangers' six-run rally, they lost and are 2-9 in September. The A's, who were two games behind Texas when the month started, are 9-3 in September and are in the position they want to be in.
A year ago, they were chasing the Rangers, ultimately successfully. Now they are the ones being chased.
"This is what we've worked all season for," Doolittle said, "to be in the driver's seat. What we learned last year is that nothing is safe until you've played 162 games.
"We can't say on Sept. 13 that 41/2 games is enough. They (the Rangers) will put the heat on."
Oakland put the heat on early. Cespedes hit a three-run homer in the first, Josh Donaldson smacked a solo shot in the third, and Brandon Moss added a homer in the sixth to push the score to 9-2. It seemed like it was more than enough to put the Rangers away, but that was wrong. It was just enough.
W L GB
A's 86 61 --
Texas 81 65 41/2
A's (Bartolo Colon 15-6)
at Texas (Yu Darvish 12-8), 10:05 a.m. Fox