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08/20/06 6:45 PM ET
Rangers chip away to edge Tigers
Early six-run deficit erased in club's third consecutive victory
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
DETROIT -- If Don Wakamatsu ever applies for a permanent job as a Major League manager, he can point to four days at Comerica Park and tell any prospective employer one thing. He seems to be able to get the most out of a bullpen. Four games against the Tigers are evidence, and the Rangers saved the best for the last day, getting 7 2/3 scoreless innings from four relievers who allowed them to rally for a 7-6 victory on Sunday afternoon. The Rangers trailed, 6-0, after the Tigers scored six off starter John Koronka in the second inning, but they were able to rally for their third straight victory, taking the lead for good in the sixth on a double by Carlos Lee and a single by Hank Blalock. The Rangers have won 14 of their last 21 games. "It's huge to win this game," said catcher Rod Barajas, who combined with center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. on a lead-saving defensive play in the seventh. "To come in here and win three games against the best team -- and winning the way we did today -- it's hard not to be riding high right now." Rangers relievers gave up just one run over 16 1/3 innings during the four-game series, allowing 13 hits and three walks while striking out 18. The Rangers used seven different relievers in the three victories, and Akinori Otsuka closed them all, earning three straight saves. He even threw in a 1-2-3 inning to finish off Sunday's grinding comeback. Joaquin Benoit pitched three scoreless innings to get the victory, his first of the season. "I hope I can get a couple more," Benoit said, "No -- I hope the starters can stay in there and get a couple more. Really, it was just good to get a win against this team." "The bullpen, the whole series, did a fantastic job," Wakamatsu said after finishing his four games as acting manager while Buck Showalter served a four-game suspension. Showalter will be back in the dugout on Monday, and the bullpen will probably have a new arm. Koronka's short outing likely means that he'll be sent back to Triple-A Oklahoma, and the Rangers are expected to call up an extra reliever, possibly either Nick Masset or Erasmo Ramirez. "We'll reconvene and talk about it," Showalter said. Koronka faced 12 batters, and nine reached base on six hits and three walks. A double play bailed him out of the first inning, but the Tigers didn't let up on him in the second. The march of the Texas relievers started with Detroit leading, 5-0, with runners on first and third and just one out. Josh Rupe got the call and gave up a run-scoring single to Marcus Thames that gave the Tigers a six-run lead. But Rupe got Carlos Guillen to hit into an inning-ending double play, and the Tigers ultimately proved catchable. "It was just a matter of stopping the bleeding," Rupe said. "Things were going bad, so you've just got to get out of that inning quick and give our hitters a chance to regroup and do some damage. With the guys in our lineup, six runs, they can score that easily. If the bullpen does the job, there are not many leads we can't come back from." The comeback started immediately when Matthews led off the third with a triple off of Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman and scored on Michael Young's grounder. A single by Carlos Lee and an error by Tigers first baseman Ivan Rodriguez led to another run that inning. "When we went out and got those two runs in the [third] inning, that kind of set the tone that we could come back," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. Kinsler singled, stole second and scored on Barajas' single in the third, then the Rangers tied it with three runs in the fifth. Mark DeRosa singled with one out, and, after Matt Stairs popped out, Kinsler doubled home a run, Barajas singled him in and Matthews doubled into the right-field corner to make it 6-6. "Our guys just never gave up -- they kept fighting and clawing their way back," Wakamatsu said. Barajas and Matthews also thwarted the Tigers' last best chance. They had Magglio Ordonez on second with two outs in the seventh against Benoit when Brandon Inge lined a sharp single to center. Ordonez tried to score, but Matthews delivered a strong throw to the plate and Barajas made a sweeping, lunging tag to get the out. "A great throw," Barajas said. "That was a game-changing play." "Obviously, I have to get to it quick and get off a good throw," Matthews said. "But Rod made an unbelievable pick. I got the throw off quickly, but Rod completed the play." Ron Mahay and Otsuka then combined for two more scoreless innings, completing the weekend and a terrific series for the bullpen.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.