Blalock spearheads Rangers' outburst
Slugger homers in fourth straight game in Texas' 17-hit attack
ARLINGTON -- This may have been Hank Blalock's final appearance at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington wearing the home blue uniform. The same holds true for Milton Bradley and Gerald Laird as well.Who really knows who will be back for the Rangers in 2009? Team president Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels spent the afternoon in meetings talking about next season rather than watching the final home game of the season from their customary seats. But if this is the final home appearance for a few Rangers, they were able to make the last one a rousing success with a 14-4 victory over the Athletics before 16,832 fans on a bright Wednesday afternoon. Blalock hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning to give Texas the lead, and it broke the game open with an eight-run sixth inning. Travis Metcalf and Nelson Cruz also hit home runs. The Rangers finished with 17 hits, including four by Michael Young. "It was a great day," Laird said. "There was a lot of energy with the guys with a chance to pull away and win second place." The victory left the Rangers with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Athletics for second place in the American League West. The Rangers have three games left with the Angels, while the Athletics have four left with the Mariners in Seattle. Texas hasn't finished higher than third since it won the division title in 1999. "It would be better than third," Young said. "It's a long way from where we want to be, but at least we have something to shoot for. At this point in the season, it's good. It's a little bit of a lift. We want to gain some momentum going into next year and go for something bigger." The big win made it easier for manager Ron Washington to give his regulars a curtain call at the end of the game. Brandon Boggs replaced Marlon Byrd in left field at the beginning of the eighth. In ninth, after they had taken their positions, Washington sent substitutes in for Laird, Blalock, Young and Josh Hamilton, allowing them to jog off the field to a rousing ovation. "That's the first time I've ever experienced something like that," Hamilton said. "I'll always remember that." Washington said he was planning to do that regardless of the score or who was ahead at the end. "Those guys deserve it," Washington said. "They've played hard all year. I'm sorry we couldn't have given the fans more, but they saw something that is about to happen. We just need to clean up some deficiencies, and we can put together something that we'll all be proud of." Pitching remains the biggest concern, but rookie left-hander Matt Harrison continues to show he can be a part of the solution. Harrison, in just his 15th start, held the Athletics to two runs in six innings and finished the season with a record of 9-3 and a 5.49 ERA. Only Vicente Padilla, with 13 wins and 28 starts, has won more games than Harrison, while Kevin Millwood is 9-9 in 28 starts. "He's progressing," Washington said of Harrison. "He certainly has a lot of upside. As long as he continues to understand that he hasn't done anything yet and everything is ahead of him, he'll be fine. Of all our young guys, he really stepped up. I just don't want him to take it for granted." Harrison trailed 1-0 going into the bottom of the fourth before Young led off with a double against Athletics starter Dana Eveland. Byrd walked with two outs, and Blalock hit a 1-1 pitch into the right-field seats for a three-run home run. That's the fourth consecutive game in which Blalock has hit a home run, and he's now hitting .354 (29-for-82) with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 21 September games. That gives the Rangers something to think about when they consider picking up his $6.2 million option for next season. "Hank continues to swing a hot bat, and I hope he continues to swing it until there are no games left on the schedule," Washington said. Young had a two-run single in the fifth to give the Rangers a 5-1 lead, and -- after a home run by Jack Cust in the top of the sixth -- Texas added eight more runs in the bottom of the inning. Cruz hit a two-run home run, and Hamilton hit a two-run double. Those were his first RBIs since Sept. 6, snapping a 15-game drought. Bradley also had an RBI double and was 2-for-5 on the afternoon. He is now hitting .324 on the season and also has enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.