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08/29/07 12:56 AM ET
Heroics of Littleton, Byrd lift Rangers
Reliever's escape act and outfielder's RBI single beat White Sox
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- This time, Wes Littleton didn't have a 27-run lead to protect. This time, the game was on the line: one bad pitch and the Rangers could have been in serious trouble. He still went at it with the same attitude as he did last Wednesday, when he was pitching with a lead of historical proportions. "I was thinking 'no runs,'" Littleton said. "One-run game or a 27-run game, no matter how many runs you're up, you still need to pitch." Littleton did just that in the most crucial moment of the game, getting the Rangers out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning, and they went on to a 4-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Littleton ended up as the winning pitcher when Marlon Byrd singled home Michael Young with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth. The Rangers have now won three straight games. The Rangers trailed, 3-0, in the top of the fourth, but rallied to tie the game on a solo home run by Ian Kinsler in the fourth and a two-run shot by Gerald Laird in the fifth. "That's what you call winning baseball," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "That's what we need to do." The victory for Littleton goes nicely with the save he picked up last week in the Rangers' 30-3 victory over the Orioles. This time, though, the save went to Joaquin Benoit, his second of the year and first since April 28. The Rangers have been using C.J. Wilson almost exclusively as their closer ever since they traded Eric Gagne to the Red Sox at the end of July. But Wilson had thrown 41 pitches in two games on Saturday and Sunday, so the Rangers wanted to give him an extra day of rest. That's why Benoit pitched the ninth, and he set down the side in order. "It's just one inning," Benoit said. "Different opportunity. One inning you get a hold, the other inning you get a save. It doesn't matter which one. Every opportunity you get, you need to produce." Benoit normally pitches the eighth inning. Frank Francisco is also an alternative for that spot, but he had pitched in the last three games against the Mariners over the weekend, so Washington wanted to stay away from him as well. That left Washington to start the eighth with left-hander John Rheinecker after Mike Wood had pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of starter Kason Gabbard. But Rheinecker gave up a single to Jim Thome to start the inning, then walked Paul Konerko. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen inserted Jerry Owens as a pinch-runner for Thome, while Washington went to the mound to bring in Littleton. He also gave him specific instructions. "I told him to work his sinker," Washington said. "We needed ground balls." Littleton threw one sinker, and it hit Jermaine Dye in the rear, loading the bases. Washington then brought in his infield halfway, looking for either a double play or a play at the plate. It turned out to be the play at the plate. Juan Uribe, on Littleton's second pitch of the inning, hit a slow grounder that Young pounced on charging in from shortstop and fired home for the force out on Owens. "He didn't hit it hard enough for me to turn the double play," Young said. "If he hits it hard enough, we get the double play and give up the run. Instead, it worked out pretty good." It did because Littleton, on a 1-1 sinker, got Danny Richar to hit a sharp grounder to Kinsler for an inning-ending double play. He got three outs on five pitches. "He kept his composure after hitting Dye," Washington said. "He didn't panic. He made two pitches. In those type of situations, you have to make pitches, and he made pitches." Presumably Washington meant good pitches, which Littleton tries to do no matter what the score.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.