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09/15/07 2:37 AM ET
Rangers let early lead slip away vs. A's
Sosa drives in five, but Gabbard, bullpen struggle in Oakland
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- The Rangers are starting to stumble in their quest to finish in third place, but there is still some drama left in the season. Will Michael Young get to 200 hits? Will Sammy Sosa lead the team with at least 100 RBIs? Will the Rangers set a new club record for most innings by their overworked relievers? All are pressing questions to ponder. So too is trying to figure out what's going on with rookie starter Kason Gabbard. It was Gabbard's inability to handle a six-run lead that turned this one into a mess, as the Rangers have now lost four straight after an 11-9 loss to the Athletics at MacAfee Coliseum on Friday night. A's outfielder Nick Swisher broke a 9-9 tie with a sixth-inning home run off losing pitcher John Rheinecker, and the Rangers are now three games behind the third-place Athletics in the American League West. "Tonight was a tough one," Sosa said. "We battled hard, but they came back." Young had a third-inning single that extended his hitting streak to 14 games and left him with 183 hits with 15 games left to play. He needs 17 more to record his fifth consecutive 200-hit season. Sosa had a two-run single in the Rangers' six-run third inning and drove in three more with his 608th career home run in the sixth inning. The home run was his first at the Coliseum since Sept. 18, 1990, when he went deep against Oakland pitcher Michael Moore. Sosa now has 88 RBIs to lead the club, 12 more than Young. That's not bad for a guy who has been a part-time player since the beginning of August. "It doesn't matter what the situation, when I go up there I'm fighting for my at-bats," Sosa said. "That's what I do and that's the way it is. I keep my mouth shut and take care of business." Sosa, given his playing status, probably won't get enough enough at-bats to finish with 100 RBIs for the 10th time in his career. But he already has exceeded what his manager expected of him. Ron Washington said before the season that he would be satisfied with 85 RBIs from Sosa. "That shows you what I know," Washington said. "It's tough not having him in the lineup, but I certainly enjoy him when he is in the lineup. He's always doing something. He's an RBI machine." Sosa helped the Rangers take a 6-0 lead with a six-run third inning against Oakland starter Dan Meyer. But Gabbard, after looking sharp with two scoreless innings to start the game, responded by walking seven of the final 16 hitters he faced on the night. "I was trying to throw as many strikes as I can," Gabbard said. "I wanted to keep the team in the game and I was overly aggressive. I was trying to make too good of a pitch." Gabbard, making his first start since Sept. 2, said he had no problems with the blister on his left thumb or any soreness in his forearm. Both had been issues in previous starts, but not on Friday night. Instead, Gabbard's problems came against a team that leads the American League in walks. They made him throw the ball over the plate and didn't chase anything outside the strike zone. "He hadn't been out there in 11 days," catcher Gerald Laird said. "His command of his offspeed pitches wasn't good, and his fastball command wasn't there. The A's are a team where if you don't throw strikes, they'll wear you out." Gabbard got two quick outs in the third inning, then got ahead 0-2 on Shannon Stewart. But he couldn't put him away. Instead Stewart came back to work a walk and rookie first baseman Daric Barton followed with his first Major League home run. Gabbard walked two in the fourth, but a double play grounder helped get him out of trouble. He wasn't so lucky in the fifth. Stewart led off with a line-drive single to center and Barton followed with a grounder up the middle that just eluded Young. Gabbard then walked the next three hitters, forcing in two runs, before Washington came and got him. "He usually teeters on the edge, but ends up making his pitches," Washington said. "Tonight, he couldn't do that." Mike Wood took over. Jack Cust singled for one run, then Jack Hannahan hit a little roller in front of the plate. Wood made a nice play to get a force at home, but Laird's throw to first was wild and two runs scored. Hannahan went to third and scored on Kurt Suzuki's squeeze bunt that gave the Athletics a 9-6 lead. Two runs were charged to Wood, and it ended the bullpen's streak of 11 1/3 scoreless innings. Gabbard's early exit forced four more innings out of the relievers, giving them a Major League-high 536 2/3 for the season. The club record is 601 1/3, set in 2003. They have 15 more games to get there.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.