ARLINGTON (AP) – Adrian Beltre slowed down as he rounded first base, folded his arms and bent over to protect himself from the oncoming rush of Texas Rangers teammates.
Even though he’s been hurting, Beltre keeps producing for the AL West leaders.
Beltre singled home the winning run in the ninth inning Monday night, after tying the game two innings earlier with his 35th homer, and the Rangers rallied past Oakland 5-4 to stretch their division lead over the Athletics to five games with nine to play.
When Beltre hit a hard grounder through the middle, sending home pinch-runner Craig Gentry, Rangers players poured out of the dugout and toward their third baseman, who is dealing with stomach pain caused by what doctors believe is scar tissue from appendix surgery more than a decade ago.
“This guy doesn’t think about anything but doing what he has to do for his team, and he certainly came up big for us,” manager Ron Washington said. “Come up in that situation with the bases loaded and not try to do anything but make hard contact, and he did. Just can’t say enough about Adrian Beltre.”
It was the first of seven meetings in the last 10 days of the regular season between the two-time defending AL champion Rangers and the A’s, who have lost six of eight after winning 17 of 21.
Oakland has a two-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels for the second AL wild card.
“It’s one game. We have to bounce back. We did that in both Detroit and New York. We lost some tough ones and bounced back,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It would have been nice to start off with a win in the series, but you have to move on from it.”
Surgery might be the only way for Beltre to ease his physical pain, but he has said that won’t even be an option until after the season.
Beltre insists he’s not playing hurt any more than anybody else right now. He was in top form for the opener of a big four-game series.
“He’s playing incredible right now. … He continues to pick us up big,” teammate Ian Kinsler said. “Anytime you’ve got a guy like that behind Josh Hamilton, it’s dangerous. To get Josh back in the lineup, it obviously gives our offense a little bit of a boost because they have to pitch to Josh, and if they don’t pitch to Josh, then they have to face Adrian. So it’s kind of pick your poison with those two guys.”
The Rangers got the ninth started with consecutive singles by Mitch Moreland and Kinsler before Elvis Andrus’ sacrifice bunt. Hamilton, who had already hit his major league-best 43rd homer after missing the previous five games with a cornea issue, was intentionally walked to load the bases. Fans started chanting “M-V-P! M-V-P!” as Beltre stepped to the plate against Tyson Ross (2-11).
Beltre hit a two-run homer with two outs in the seventh to tie the game at 4, a shot that came with Hamilton on base.
“Every game for us is big,” Beltre said. “Especially facing the team right behind us. We want to clinch as early as we can so we can set up the pitching rotation (for the playoffs).”
And maybe get their third baseman some rest.
Joe Nathan (3-4), the sixth Rangers pitcher, struck out two in the ninth. That included a strikeout of Seth Smith as Stephen Drew was caught stealing to end the inning.
A’s rookie right-hander Dan Straily struck out eight and left with a 4-2 lead after 6 2-3 innings with Hamilton due to bat and the bases empty.
Jerry Blevins walked Hamilton, the only batter he faced, before Pat Neshek gave up the two-run drive to Beltre.
It was Neshek who allowed Raul Ibanez’s tying, two-run homer to cap a four-run 13th inning Saturday by the AL East-leading New York Yankees, who then won on a two-out error in the 14th — a game that Ross also lost.
Hamilton hit a 441-foot solo homer in the fifth that landed in the second deck of seats high above the Rangers’ bullpen in right-center to get Texas within 3-2.
Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes homered for Oakland, and Cliff Pennington had an RBI single in the sixth.
Donaldson lined a two-run shot deep into the left-field seats in the second off Derek Holland. Cespedes hit a two-out solo homer, his 21st, for a 3-1 lead an inning later.
Holland pitched only three innings, his shortest outing since May 30 when the left-hander gave up eight runs over 1 2-3 innings in the Rangers’ 21-8 home loss to Seattle.
The Rangers got an unearned run in the second when Michael Young was hit by a pitch before Donaldson’s error at third base. Young scored on Moreland’s bloop single that ended a string of 24 consecutive at-bats by the Rangers with runners in scoring position without a hit.
Hamilton’s homer was followed by consecutive doubles by Beltre and Nelson Cruz that failed to produce a run. Beltre was picked off second after wandering too far off the base on a pitch in the dirt that catcher Derek Norris quickly recovered.
When he got to second base after doubling into the left-field corner, Beltre appeared to wince in pain. An inning later, he made a diving stop of a ball along the line that was an infield hit, but saved a run — if only momentarily. Pennington then had an RBI single that made it 4-2.
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