07/08/08 1:12 AM ET
Rangers' young charges fall just short
Rally brings club within two; Nippert notches 21 outs in relief
By Todd Wills / Special to MLB.com
Rookie starter Luis Mendoza got run over early, putting the Rangers behind an 8-0 eight ball. Rookie catcher Max Ramirez got barreled over in the eighth inning by Angels backstop Jeff Mathis, and though Ramirez held onto the ball well enough to get a double play at third, the collision is sure to have an impact on the rest of this important four-game series for the Rangers.
Then there are the positives. The Rangers responded with a five-run fifth to cut the Angels' lead to 8-6, and they had the tying run at the plate against closer Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth. Dustin Nippert pitched an inspiring seven innings of relief that could set him up for a start this weekend.
The bottom line -- the Rangers need to respond now trailing the Angels by 8 1/2 games in the American League West. The good feeling they had late in the game as they were pressing the Angels has to carry over for the rest of the series if they want to stay in the division race.
"Everybody in the dugout thought we were going to pull this one out," said left fielder David Murphy, who was robbed by Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman for the second time to end the game.
The Rangers started the game in an early hole. Mendoza lasted only 1 1/3 innings, allowing eight runs on nine hits. He gave up three home runs -- two by Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter totalled 878 feet -- in a six-run second that staked the Angels to an 8-0 lead.
Mendoza, who was making his eighth Major League start, faced 14 batters, and 12 of them reached base. He was bailed out of the first inning trailing by just two runs after his defense turned a 1-2-3 double play.
The rookie wasn't so fortunate in the second. After Howie Kendrick led off the inning with a single, No. 9 hitter Mathis blasted an 0-2 pitch for a two-run home run to left field.
Mendoza retired Chone Figgins next for his only out of the inning, but allowed a double to Kotchman and a single to Maicer Izturis, setting up the power display by Guerrero and Hunter.
Guerrero's three-run home run to center field traveled 436 feet and gave the Angels a 7-1 lead. Hunter followed by crushing the first pitch he saw 442 feet to the second level in left field. That was all for Mendoza.
"He was facing an experienced team," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They made him get some balls up. When he got the ball up, they didn't miss it."
The Rangers did get back in the game with a five-run fifth off All-Star pitcher Ervin Santana. Murphy belted his second three-run home run in as many days. His 12th long ball of the season cut the Angels' lead to 8-4. Two batters later, rookie first baseman Chris Davis crushed a two-run homer -- his fourth of the season -- to make it 8-6 Angels.
"We started hitting Santana good," Washington said. "We still had a lot of runs to come back and he hit a few right at somebody. And we were still one swing away."
Hunter added his second home run of the night in the seventh inning, a solo shot for a 9-6 lead. It was all the Angels could muster against Nippert, who was confident coming off a seven-inning no-hitter for Triple-A Oklahoma on June 29.
The Rangers got a Herculean effort from Nippert, who came into the game with one out in the top of the second and didn't come out until there was out in the ninth inning. Nippert threw 103 pitches -- the seven-inning stint was the longest relief appearance in the Major Leagues this season.
It was the longest relief outing by a Rangers pitcher since Joaquin Benoit pitched seven innings on Sept. 3, 2002 in Baltimore. Benoit earned the longest save in Major League history in that game.
Nippert didn't get a save, but he did save a Rangers' pitching staff that has the uncertainty of whether Vicente Padilla and Eric Hurley will start again before the All-Star break. Nippert allowed four hits and had four strikeouts.
"I wanted to give our guys all the rest I could," Nippert said. "I got traded, my wife and I had a baby, and I wasn't really comfortable early in the season. I was a little more comfortable tonight."
Murphy said the Rangers were energized by the way Ramirez reacted to getting bowled over by Mathis late in the game. Ramirez not only got Mathis out, but after staying on the ground for a few seconds, had the wherewithal to get up and throw to third base for a double play to end the inning.
The play had Milton Bradley talking to someone in the Angels dugout.
"He was just fired up," Washington said. "He was talking baseball."
It seemed to pump up the Rangers, and could be a play with a carry-over effect.
"The way was going, against a division rival, it got us fired up a little bit," Murphy said. "Baseball's a crazy game."
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.