08/28/08 12:38 AM ET
Rangers sweep first series in Royal way
Francisco saves maiden game as closer with nine-pitch frame
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
He's not going to stop now that's he been promoted to a new role and Francisco handled it well in his first attempt, closing out the Rangers' 3-2 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Francisco struck out two and got a first-pitch groundout to finish off the Rangers' three-game sweep of the Royals."We didn't swing the bats particularly well, but our pitchers picked us up," shortstop Michael Young said. "We had some fun out there." The Rangers came to Kansas City having lost 14 of their last 17 but their pitching allowed them to earn their first sweep of three games or more in club history at Kauffman Stadium. It was also the Rangers' first three-game sweep this season. They had completed a sweep eight times earlier this season after winning the first two games of the series. Texas got back to two games under .500, despite playing Wednesday's game without outfielder Josh Hamilton. He had an abscessed tooth and underwent a "mini root canal" before the game. He'll have further work done when the Rangers get home, but they were able to manage well without him on Wednesday. "This is a great sign that even though we let ourselves fall out of the race and the wild card, we know we need to play with some pride and get back to where we were three weeks ago," reliever Jamey Wright said. "Play well and have some fun and get back to what we were doing." Pitching will get the Rangers there quicker than anything, and they took advantage of a light-hitting team that has also been struggling. With starting pitchers Scott Feldman, Kevin Millwood and Matt Harrison leading the way, the Rangers held the Royals to seven runs in three games. Harrison, finding himself in a taut pitching duel with Royals starter Brian Bannister, followed the lead of Feldman and Millwood from the previous two games. He had command of his fastball and made effective use of his slider and changeup. Three pitches, no waiting, and he held the Royals to two runs on seven hits, two walks and four strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. "Matt did a great job," manager Ron Washington said. Bannister was just as good, but made the one big fielding mistake that decided the game. The Rangers trailed, 2-1, in the top of the seventh, but a pair of two-out doubles by Chris Davis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia tied the game. Joaquin Arias followed with a weak popup that Bannister called for as he drifted off to the right side of the mound. The popup was so weak that there was no time to let another infielder catch it. Normally they don't let pitchers catch popups, and this is why. Bannister dropped it. "You just close your glove and it's not in there," Bannister said. "I can't remember the last time I caught a popup, to be honest with you. It was just a weird popup. I don't know if it broke [Arias'] bat, but it just came right off his hands like a cue ball. And it hit and it didn't stick. I couldn't tell whether I had it or not." He didn't, and Saltalamacchia hustled all the way around from second base to score the go-ahead run. "My thing is just to run as hard as I can," Saltalamacchia said. "I'm not in there every day so I have to bust my tail any chance I can get." Harrison was done after two were out in the seventh inning. The Royals had two on with two outs against him in his final frame but Joaquin Benoit came out of the bullpen and struck out David DeJesus to end the threat. Wright then dispatched the Royals in order in the eighth, leaving the ninth for Francisco. It was his first save opportunity since being anointed the closer after Eddie Guardado was traded to the Twins on Monday. "I've been thinking about it," Francisco said. "I told myself when I get the opportunity, just try and calm myself and trust myself. Go after them with my best stuff. Don't joke around with hitters. Go right after them." He did that in nine quick pitches. In his locker afterward, the baseball used to strike out Esteban German for the final out was tucked away in his glove. "When I got my first win, I gave the ball to my mother," Francisco said. "I'm going to keep this one."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.