ANAHEIM -- The Rangers had the bases loaded, but Angels starter Ervin Santana, trying to keep it a tied game in the eighth, struck out Yorvit Torrealba and Endy Chavez. He also had two strikes on Ian Kinsler, and he had 36,581 fans standing and screaming in anticipation of that third strike.Pennant-race fever had finally gripped Angel Stadium. Santana, the hottest pitcher in baseball, then threw a 2-2 slider that broke Kinsler's bat. It also crushed the Angels' hopes on a warm Southern California evening. Kinsler got enough of the pitch to lift it over shortstop Erick Aybar and into left field for a single that scored two runs, lifting the Rangers a 4-3 victory on Wednesday night. "I was battling him all night long," Kinsler said. "He was beating me with sliders and he was beating me with heaters. We were getting men on base all night and couldn't get through to him. That was our opportunity, we had to come through and we got it done." Santana entered the game 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA in his last five starts and was given an early lead when the Angels scored two in the first off Rangers starter C.J. Wilson. But the Rangers were able to come back for their sixth straight win and third straight over the Angels. "He's a fastball hitter, I just threw a good slider," Santana said. "Broken-bat base hit. It was a great pitch, and broken-bat base hit. So there's nothing you can do about that." The Rangers, with their 11th victory in their last 13 games, are 20 games over .500 and have a seven-game lead over the Angels with 38 to play. They close out the four-game series on Thursday night. "It's still early," outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "We're not going to get comfortable. We've got to keep playing. Hopefully we get a chance to sweep the series." The Rangers won the first two games of the series with two rookie pitchers on the mound for the Angels. This one came against one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, and the Angels were hoping they could reverse some momentum with Santana on the mound Wednesday and Jered Weaver to follow on Thursday. Now all Weaver can do is prevent a sweep. "This was a really hard-fought victory, a great win for us going up against a pitcher like that," designated hitter Mike Napoli said. "Tonight it was all about scratching and clawing," third baseman Michael Young said. "Facing a good pitcher like that who is throwing the ball as well as anybody in the game, you just have to be able to scratch and claw for runs and that's what we were able to do." Young praised the work of Wilson, who gave up the two runs in the first inning but followed that with six scoreless innings. That at least gave the Rangers a chance to come back. "This game was all about C.J. ... he did a great job," Young said. "That's the thing about being a starter," Wilson said. "As a reliever, if you give up two runs, you've lost the game. As a starter, it's bad, but you still have an offense that's able to come back if you can hold them right there. It upset me that I gave up the two runs, but that's the big thing. You can't fold your tent just because you give up a couple of runs early." Wilson, 12-5 with a 3.20 ERA, said he was encouraged when the Rangers finally scored off Santana after missing multiple chances early. Santana took a 2-0 lead into the fifth, but Elvis Andrus reached second on throwing error by Aybar, and he scored on Josh Hamilton's single up the middle. "Now you're thinking, at least it's not a shutout ... we have a chance, just keep going," Wilson said. The Rangers then tied it in the sixth when Mitch Moreland smashed a 2-0 fastball deep over the right-center-field wall for a home run. It was his 14th but first since July 30 and just his third in his last 38 games. "I just wanted to start the inning off with a quality at-bat," Moreland said. "I just wanted to get something going. I got ahead 2-0 and I was looking for a heater out over the plate. We knew against Santana we had to grind out our at-bats, we had to keep our mentality and approach, and that's what we did." Cruz started the winning rally in the eighth by drawing a walk. Napoli followed with a double to left-center to put runners on second and third. Angels manager Mike Scioscia then had Moreland intentionally walked to load the bases. That's when Santana struck out Torrealba and Chavez but could not get Kinsler. "After you get up two and Ervin is putting up some zeros is where you definitely want to add to that and try to get a little bit of a comfort zone, and we weren't able to do that," Scioscia said. "The game came down to a break and we didn't get it." After Kinsler's single, Howard Kendrick hit an eight-inning home run off of reliever Koji Uehara to make it a 4-3 game. But Neftali Feliz finished off the Angels in the ninth for his 24th save.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.