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08/21/09 12:13 AM ET
This time, Rangers stave off rally
Fireballing Feliz plays pivotal role in finale rout of Twins
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Ron Washington had already seen enough the past two nights. He wasn't going to risk three in a row. Washington wasn't going to let this one get away without using his hard-throwing rookie right-hander. He made the call for Neftali Feliz and the 21-year-old reliever put an immediate stop to the Twins' nascent but ominous sixth-inning threat. It was a threat that had the same look as the previous two nights, when the Rangers let two big leads slip away at the same exact moment of the game. Feliz needed just two pitches to extract the Rangers from a one-out bases-loaded jam and keep them headed toward what turned out to be an 11-1 victory over the Twins at the Ballpark in Arlington. "Obviously, the most important moment of the game," said third baseman Michael Young, who turned the inning-ending double play that helped allow the Rangers to finish 4-3 on the homestand. The Rangers, in snapping a frustrating two-game losing streak, remain one game behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card standings while moving to within 5 1/2 games behind the Angels in the AL West. "It wasn't a must win but it was a big win," Washington said. "It was a win we had to get. We didn't want to lose three in a row." Especially since the Rangers are beginning a nine-game road trip on Friday that starts in Tampa Bay and then goes to New York and Minnesota. That's two contenders and a team that gave the Rangers some fits this week in Arlington. "This trip is big," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "It could make or break us. We could make a push, but we need to keep winning as many games as possible and keep winning series." Byrd helped turn this into a rout. He hit a pair of home runs and drove in four runs. Nelson Cruz hit a home run in his first game back from the disabled list, Young and Hank Blalock had three hits and Julio Borbon hit his first Major League home run. "It caught me off-guard but it felt good to get to run around the bases without having to run full speed," Borbon said. But this game was very much still in the balance in the sixth inning, especially considering the Rangers had blown a five-run lead in losing, 9-6, on Tuesday and a four-run lead in a 5-4 loss on Wednesday. In both games, the Twins did most of their damage in a four-run sixth inning, and they were threatening do exactly that again on Thursday against Rangers starter Derek Holland. The home runs by Byrd and Borbon had given the Rangers a 4-0 lead. But Delmon Young went deep to lead off the fifth and the Twins got another rally going with the top of their order in the sixth. Denard Span singled to right and Orlando Cabrera lined a single to left just over shortstop Elvis Andrus. Joe Mauer, who leads the league in hitting, slugging and on-base percentage, ripped a line drive right at Young for one out, but Michael Cuddyer lined a single to left to load the bases. "I was starting to run out of gas," Holland said. "The heat got to me pretty good. I was giving them everything I had." That's when Washington waved in Feliz to make his seventh Major League appearance. Feliz had retired 31 of 34 with 16 strikeouts over the first six appearances but was not used on Tuesday or Wednesday. "I just thought they were hitting some balls pretty good off Derek," Washington said. "The last thing I wanted was that everything he had done get away from him." Facing Twins third baseman Joe Crede, Feliz threw two fastballs. Crede fouled off a 95-mph pitch, then got jammed on the 97-mph variety. He bounced it down the third-base line, where Young was in perfect position to field the ball on the run, step on the bag and fire to first for an inning-ending double play. "When they give me a chance, I'm just trying to do the best that I can," Feliz said. "I was trying to throw strikes and get a double-play ball and it happened." The Rangers, keeping momentum on their side, came back with five runs in the bottom of the inning. "It looked like we had a shot there in the middle part if we could have held them there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We had that good feeling, maybe we were going to get them. We loaded the bases, they got a huge double play there ... made a nice pitch on Crede and got the double play. That turned the momentum." The Twins figured out a way to turn momentum the previous two nights. Washington was determined not to let it happened again.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.