© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
07/26/07 1:30 AM ET
Vazquez gives Rangers lift in eighth
Two-run homer means sweep of four games over Mariners
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers completed their first four-game sweep of the season with one of their biggest victories of the season. They may not make it back into the pennant race, but they can at least lay claim to having done one thing that nobody else has done so far this season. They were able to beat All-Star closer J.J. Putz. Ramon Vazquez was the one who delivered the crushing blow, hitting a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Rangers a 7-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Wednesday. "A huge win" said outfielder Marlon Byrd, who started the winning rally with a single. "We've just been playing well. The guys just believe, and guys are just stepping up. It doesn't matter who, different guys are just stepping up every game." The Mariners had just taken a 6-5 lead with a three-run rally in the top of the eighth off of relievers Frank Francisco and Joaquin Benoit. That had left the Rangers in danger of losing for only the second time in 39 games this season in which they were leading after seven innings. Instead they are now 38-1 in those games. "If you ever get into a position when you're trying to win a division and playing for a championship, you've got to learn to grind these games out and win them," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We're doing that. These guys are grinding for nine innings and getting a reward for all their hard work. As long as our pitching gives us an opportunity, they believe they can be in any ballgame. It's been that way all year, and it's starting to pay off." The Rangers still aren't in a position where they can be considered a contender. They're still likely to be a "seller" as baseball marches towards Tuesday's trade deadline. But a game like this and a series like this still provide a sliver of tantalizing hope that there is something to be salvaged from this season. "Anytime you win a game like this it does a lot for your momentum and confidence, and that's something we're looking to have for the final two months of the season," shortstop Michael Young said. "We have been playing well for a while, and the reason is we've been just focusing on every game, not thinking ahead. That's what's enabled us to get hot." The Rangers have now won 23 of their last 37 games. More significantly, the Rangers won all four games against the Mariners by one-run and are now 17-12 in one-run games this season. But it didn't look good after a two-run double by Adrian Beltre and another run-scoring double by Raul Ibanez off Benoit, who had given the Mariners a 6-5 lead in the top of the eighth. Byrd did get the Rangers going when he led off the bottom of the eighth with a single and was bunted to second by Frank Catalanotto. With Gerald Laird at the plate, Mariners manager John McLaren waved in Putz. As the All-Star closer jogged in from the bullpen, he brought with him two significant streaks. He had been successful on 31 straight save opportunities (29 this season), and he had not allowed a run in his last 22 innings. In fact, he had allowed just eight hits and three walks in those 22 innings, while striking out 26. He started it off by striking out Laird for the second out of the inning, making things even bleaker for the Rangers. That brought up Vazquez, who had struck out in his only other career at-bat against Putz. "I faced [Putz] once, and he went right after me," Vazquez said. "We knew he was going to come right at us. We've had plenty of at-bats and a lot of work. We've got to keep doing it. When I got here, I wanted to do little things like move people over, and that's what I'm going to keep doing." Putz threw two balls, then tried to come in with a fastball. Vazquez had not hit a home run since June 15 and had hit just 12 in 1,312 at-bats in career. But he smashed the fastball from Putz high and deep over the right-center field wall for a two-run home run. "I was looking for a fastball," Vazquez said. "I began the at-bat wanting to get on base and get ahead in the count. I got 2-0 and just wanted to get on base, because I knew [Travis Metcalf, on deck] has been hot. I got my pitch, down in the zone." In the Mariners clubhouse, Putz said it was a "pretty good" pitch, but it doesn't change the fact that his two impressive streaks came to an end. "You knew it was going to end at some point, but this wasn't the best time," Putz said. The Rangers didn't have their closer available. Eric Gagne was given the night off after having pitched in the first three games of the series. So Benoit went back to the mound for the ninth to set down the Mariners in order to preserve the victory. "It was a great night," Washington sad. "It was great that Ben went back out there and did what he did. Everything worked out great."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.