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07/09/10 1:21 AM ET

Rangers let lead slip away late vs. O's

Hamilton homers to extend home hit streak to 28 games

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers had a four-run lead on the worst team in baseball, they had their hottest pitcher on the mound and they had a chance to open up their biggest lead in the American League West since winning a division title back in 1999.

The Rangers also could have walked off the field with the best record in club history after 86 games. Instead, they failed to finish the job.

The Rangers, who had won 17 of their past 23 games, let the Baltimore Orioles rally for a 6-4 victory at the Ballpark in Arlington on Thursday night. The Rangers still lead the AL West by 5 1/2 games, but this still classifies as one that they let get away.

"When you put four runs up and have a 4-0 lead, you expect to win the game," manager Ron Washington said. "Sometimes you do it, sometimes you don't, tonight we didn't. We're not going to make it out to be more than anything but that."

Offensively they were hitless in their last eight at-bats with runners in scoring position. Defensively, shortstop Elvis Andrus committed an error -- just his second in his past 26 games -- that started the Orioles' game-winning three-run rally in the eighth. On the mound, two different Rangers relievers hit two consecutive Orioles hitters with pitches in the eighth inning and both came on 0-2 counts.

"We just didn't get the job done tonight," reliever Darren Oliver said.

Then there was Texas starter Tommy Hunter, who had won five straight decisions coming into the game. He had a 4-1 lead going into the seventh and seemed in complete control. But he gave up two runs that inning and the Orioles scored three more in the eighth against the Rangers' bullpen.

"I definitely didn't put it away," Hunter said. "I left it in a sticky situation, I can't do that."

Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton had another great night at the plate going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a home run. He has now hit safely in 28 straight games at Rangers Ballpark, the second longest such streak in club history. Al Oliver hit in 30 straight games at home in 1981.

Hamilton was the chief architect of the Rangers 4-0 lead. He had a double to start a three-run second inning and added his 22nd home run of the season in the third. But the Rangers, after going 3-for-4 with runners in scoring position in the second, did not get another hit in those situations after that.

Most frustrating was the fifth. The Rangers, leading 4-1 at the time, had the bases loaded with nobody out against Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie with Bengie Molina at the plate. Baltimore moved the infield in and Molina hit a grounder right at shortstop Julio Lugo. He went home to catcher Craig Tatum and, with Ian Kinsler bearing down on him, his relay to first completed a pivotal double play.

"When they got the bases loaded, I felt like I could, we could get a ground ball and a possible double play with the slow runner in Molina at the plate," Guthrie said. "We had a great turn. Tatum did a great job, especially getting clipped by Kinsler at home plate, but still got the throw on line at first base."

Nelson Cruz walked, but reliever Mark Hendrickson retired Justin Smoak on a soft line drive to Lugo to end the threat.

Hunter still took the 4-1 lead into the seventh, but Felix Pie led off the inning with a home run to right field. Tatum then singled and Scott Moore walked, prompting Washington to go to the bullpen for right-handed reliever Alexi Ogando.

Ogando struck out Lugo, but Corey Patterson singled to center to bring home Tatum and make it 4-3. Ogando kept it a one-run lead though and Frank Francisco took over in the eighth.

Francisco had not allowed a run in nine straight appearances, but that changed after Nick Markakis reached on Andrus' error and Ty Wigginton singled to center. Francisco then got ahead 0-2 in the count to Adam Jones, only to hit him with a pitch to load the bases. Oliver took over and did the exact same thing to Pie to force in the tying run.

"Part of the game," Francisco said. "Very frustrating, but nothing you can do about it."

Oliver, after being ahead 1-2 in the count, then walked Tatum to force in the go-ahead run. Oliver was able to retire Moore on a pop to shortstop and Washington, with the bases loaded and one out, decided to bring in right-hander Darren O'Day to face Lugo, the Orioles' No. 9 hitter.

O'Day had the same problem as Oliver. With the count 1-2, Lugo fought off a soft slider and looped a single into center field. Another run scored, although center fielder Julio Borbon threw out Pie trying to score. But the Orioles were up two and that was enough.

"We kind of struggled out there a little bit," Oliver said."Games like that are going to happen."

This is still one that got away.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.