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04/27/07 11:47 PM ET
Third inning all Rangers need
Three homers in five-run frame propel victory in Toronto
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
TORONTO -- For one inning, it was a terrific lineup, a veritable Murderers Row in blue and gray Texas uniforms. For one inning, the Rangers made their manager look like a genius with the changes he made in the lineup. Manager Ron Washington admitted it might have happened anyway, but his new lineup smacked three home runs in the third inning, including the first of the season for Mark Teixeira, and the Rangers went on to a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Friday. Brad Wilkerson and Sammy Sosa also went deep off Blue Jays starter Josh Towers, and the Rangers were able to snap a three-game losing streak. "I've said I'm only as good as the players perform," Washington said. "The players performed tonight, so if you want to call me good, go ahead." But what really made the new lineup work was a lights-out bullpen that made a 5-3 lead standup after starter Robinson Tejeda exited with one out in the sixth inning. The combination of Frank Francisco, Joaquin Benoit and Akinori Otsuka combined to retire 11 of 12 batters over 3 2/3 innings, walking one batter while striking out seven. "We had a good lineup and it worked, but the main thing was our pitchers pitched a great game," Sosa said. Otsuka put the final touch on the evening by striking out the side in order in the ninth inning for his third save. He has now made nine appearances this season -- covering 8 2/3 innings -- and has yet to allow a run. His pitches don't hit 90 mph on the radar gun, but they were exceedingly sharp on Friday night. "It's deception," Washington said. "Then, if you think you can sit on something slow, he'll push that fastball right by you. You don't have to be overpowering to be a closer -- just know what you're doing. He knows how to pitch." With Otsuka leading the charge, the Rangers and the Boston Red Sox are the only two teams in the American League without a blown save. The Rangers have had only four official opportunities, but it beats the numbers of the New York Yankees. Their relievers, including the great Mariano Rivera, are 0-for-7 in save opportunities. "We have a pretty good bullpen," Tejeda said. "Everybody has bad days and bad games, but they're throwing the ball very good. I believe in them. I know I don't have to throw nine innings, I just need to go as far as I can and let the bullpen guys do their jobs." The Rangers just need to create more save opportunities, and the offense did that with the new lineup. Towers blew through the lineup through the first two innings, striking out the first four batters he faced. But Ian Kinsler started the third inning with a soft single just over second baseman Aaron Hill's head, and Wilkerson crushed a slider deep over the center-field wall for a two-run home run. Wilkerson came into the game 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in his previous two games after missing a week because of his knee, but was 2-for-4 on Friday. "The key for me after missing games is getting in a rhythm and getting my timing back, feel comfortable as soon as possible," Wilkerson said. "Tonight is where I need to be." But as much as Wilkerson has struggled, he still had a couple of home runs coming into the game. Teixeira had none, but that changed after a two-out double by Michael Young. Towers got ahead 0-2 and then threw a sinker that stayed over the plate. Teixeira jumped on it and hit it over the left-field wall for his first home run in his 77th at-bat of the season. "I know I haven't been swinging the bat like I should be or capable of, but I knew it would come eventually," said Teixeira, who moved from cleanup into the third spot in Washington's revised lineup. "It doesn't hurt to switch the lineup around when we're struggling like we have. It can only be a positive." Sosa wouldn't argue. He moved into the cleanup spot and followed Teixeira with his seventh home run of the season, clobbering another slider into the left-center-field seats. He is now at 595 for his career. "If he bats me leadoff, I'll lead off," Sosa said. "If he puts me first, second, third, I'll still go with my same approach. The main thing is we won the game. That's what makes me feel good." They won, so the new lineup works. The bullpen made it work.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.