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09/12/10 3:12 AM ET
Rangers walk off on Francoeur's hit-by-pitch
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Jeff Francoeur insisted he was indeed hit by a pitch. "I've got a little mark," said Francoeur, rolling up the left sleeve of his beer-drenched shirt. "You can see it ... maybe. Well ... maybe not." There was some redness on the upper part of the arm, whether that was from the game-winning hit-by-pitch or from his teammates mobbing him, well that has yet to be determined. The Rangers only know that the first walk-off hit-by-pitch in club history gave them a 7-6 victory over All-Star closer Mariano Rivera and the Yankees on Saturday night at the Ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers, who trailed 6-5 going into the ninth, have now enjoyed two straight come-from-behind victories against the Yankees, giving them a four-game winning streak and allowing them to maintain a 7 1/2-game lead over the Athletics in the American League West. There are 20 games to play and the Rangers' magic number is 14. Rivera, who pitched two innings and threw 23 pitches on Friday night, now has three losses this season and two have come against the Rangers. They also beat him a month ago on Aug. 10 at the Ballpark, although not in a save situation. "He's the best closer of all-time," third baseman Michael Young said. "It's not easy. We had good at-bats. It's never easy. We had the bases loaded with nobody out and you still have to have good at-bats against them. I don't know if Frenchy qualifies as a good at-bat, but we'll take it." Ron Washington deemed it so on a night when he earned his 320th win as Rangers manager, passing Buck Showalter for third in club history. "It doesn't matter how you get them and that's one way to get them," Washington said. "What this shows is those guys are always fighting. They fight for nine innings. They fight until it's over. They're not intimidated." The Rangers have now enjoyed 10 walk-off wins this season, their most since doing it 12 times in 1990. For the second night in a row, the two teams played well past midnight. This one was delayed for 59 minutes in the bottom of the fifth because of rain and neither starter returned once play was resumed. That left it to both teams' bullpens one night after they had set an American League record by combining to use 19 pitchers. This time, they got by with 14, but this was decided in nine innings rather than 13. The Rangers had to use less because Washington had decided before the game that he would not use closer Neftali Feliz, right-handed setup reliever Darren O'Day or left-hander Darren Oliver. That's why he had to go with left-hander Matt Harrison against Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth. Washington, sitting on a 5-3 lead, had right-hander Alexi Ogando warming up in the bullpen, but he was ticketed to be the ninth-inning closer. Rodriguez ended up hitting a three-run double off Harrison, and Ogando ended up coming in the eighth inning anyway. Ultimately, he was the winning pitcher and it was Yankees manager Joe Girardi who was pressed to explain his pitching decisions after Rivera had thrown two innings the night before. "He only threw 23 pitches [Friday]. It wasn't like he threw 35 or 40 pitches," Girardi said. "If he had thrown that many, there's no way I would have used him tonight. He was just a little off." Rivera was most irritated by a leadoff walk to Vladimir Guerrero, who was replaced by pinch-runner Esteban German. With Rivera suddenly preoccupied by the speed at first base, Nelson Cruz worked the count full before lifting a single to right. German was running on the pitch and ended up at third. With the infield in, Ian Kinsler grounded a double down the third-base line and into the left-field corner. German scored and Cruz ended up at third. Chris Davis, who had replaced Mitch Moreland on defense in the eighth, was then walked intentionally to load the bases. "It's one of those games that bothers you," Rivera said. "It doesn't go the way you want. The first guy sets the tone, and I walked that guy. It's still a loss, but you're going in there to do the job, get them out. But you can't defend walks, so it's kind of tough." Andres Blanco, pinch-hitting for Matt Treanor, then popped out to first base. That brought up Francoeur, who had pinch-hit for Julio Borbon in the sixth and driven in a run with a sacrifice fly. He also had a single in the eighth. Now he had a chance to drive in the winning run, but it was still Rivera on the mound. "You've got to love being up there in that opportunity," said Francoeur, who had played in just three games prior to this since being acquired from the Mets less than two weeks ago. "It has been two or three months since I felt that adrenaline rush. It was great to get it back." Rivera threw him a 91-mph fastball, high and tight. Francoeur ducked away. The ball clipped him on the arm and Francoeur immediately pointed at it, yelling to home-plate umpire Ted Barrett that he had been hit. "Great ... awesome," Rangers starter Tommy Hunter said. "Glad to see Frenchy could stand up there and get hit. He made sure the whole world knew he was hit. That was funny." There was no dissent by the Yankees and Rivera walked off the mound with just his third blown save of the season. It was his first since July 4. "He's human," Washington said. "He threw two innings last night and maybe he wasn't as sharp, but that doesn't take away what we did. We battled, we pulled it off and we won the game."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.