Gabbard tastes victory in home debut
Lefty allows three runs over six; Byrd hits three-run shot
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers see Kason Gabbard, C.J. Wilson and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all being critical pieces of their future.Tuesday night, all three were critical pieces in the Rangers' 8-6 victory over the Athletics at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Kason Gabbard gave the Rangers a quality start, leaving with a four-run lead courtesy of Saltalamacchia's tie-breaking double. The Rangers bullpen coughed up three of those runs, but C.J. Wilson retired the last four batters to preserve Gabbard's first victory with the Rangers and snap a five-game losing streak. "As a starter, I'm trying to pitch as long as I can and keep the team in the game as long as I can," Gabbard said. "It turned out to be in our favor." Saltalamacchia put the Rangers ahead in the sixth when he drilled a tie-breaking double to left-center to bring home Nelson Cruz and start a four-run rally. Gerald Laird followed with an RBI double to left. He advanced to third on a Ramon Vazquez sacrifice bunt and scored on Frank Catalanotto's broken-bat double to right. When Saltalamacchia returned to the dugout, his childhood friend, Gabbard, had a big smile on his face. "It was huge," Saltalamacchia said. "I'm glad he got the win, he deserved it." Gabbard, a left-handed ground-ball pitcher, retired seven batters on groundouts, seven on fly outs and four on strikeouts. Since joining the Rangers, he was happy to be reunited with Saltalamacchia. "It's honestly a miracle [we're on the same team]," Gabbard said. "It's great to play with him." Especially when Saltalamacchia puts him in position to win. The Athletics took a one-run lead off Gabbard in the fourth when Donnie Murphy hit an RBI single to left, scoring Mark Ellis. But, in the bottom half of the fourth, the Rangers answered and took the lead on Marlon Byrd's three-run home run. Byrd launched the first pitch he saw from Oakland starter Chad Gaudin over the left-center-field fence to put the Rangers up, 3-1. Oakland tied the game at 3 in the sixth, when Ellis hit a two-run home run to left off of Gabbard, who left after allowing three runs on five hits over six innings in his first game at the Ballpark. "The crowd was great, the stadium is excellent," Gabbard said. "We went out trying to win a ballgame and we did." The Rangers added an insurance run in the eighth when Nelson Cruz beat out a grounder, allowing Frank Catalanotto to score. Wilson picked up his third save of the season in the closer's role, a job he wants to win after the Rangers traded Eric Gagne to the Red Sox in a trade that returned Gabbard. "I've been telling everyone and my mom I can do it," Wilson said. "It's extreme and I like that kind of adrenaline." Wilson relieved Frank Francisco in the eighth inning after the Athletics scored three runs off Francisco to pull within one. But, Wilson got Nick Swisher to fly out to center, then had a 1-2-3 ninth inning. Francisco worked his magic an inning earlier in the seventh. Reliever Wes Littleton loaded the bases and Washington called on Francisco to get the Rangers out of the jam with no outs. He did just that, getting Jack Cust to fly out to shallow left field, Mike Piazza to strikeout and Mark Ellis to ground into a fielder's choice to end the threat. Francisco began the eighth in similar fashion, getting the first two hitters to fly out. Then, he gave up a double to left to Donnie Murphy and an RBI single to Kurt Suzuki, the Athletics' No. 9 hitter. Shannon Stewart followed with a two-run home run to right, which ended Francisco's night. Wilson picked up Francisco, like Francisco picked up Littleton. "It's about team play," manager Ron Washington said. "We pieced it together tonight and scored more runs." The Rangers traded away a top-tier closer in Gagne for Gabbard, but Wilson learned from Gagne how to be a closer. "[Gagne] is the smartest pitcher I've ever been around," Wilson said. "I went up to him day one in Spring Training and introduced myself and told him I wanted to learn from him. He was really cool and took me under his wing." Wilson has not allowed a run in 12 consecutive appearances (12 2/3 innings) and has 15 strikeouts in his last 10 2/3 innings. Washington said the team will still use a committee for the closing role, namely Wilson and Joaquin Benoit, unless somebody runs away with it. So far, Wilson has converted every save opportunity. "One of them is going to get a day off, the last three times it's been C.J.'s job," Washington said. "He's taking advantage of his opportunity." The Rangers hope all of their young players -- like Wilson, Gabbard and Saltalamacchia -- make the most of their opportunities.
Drew Davison is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.