ARLINGTON (AP) – The Texas Rangers better start paying attention to that tight AL wild-card race.
Their chances for the AL West title are pretty slim after the division-leading Oakland Athletics won 5-1 Sunday to complete a three-game series sweep and take a commanding 6 1/2-game lead with two weeks left in the regular season.
“I’m disappointed. I certainly expected us to respond better,” manager Ron Washington said. “They outpitched us, and they certainly outhit us. The punched the ball out of the park. They played well in every phase.”
Texas lost its sixth in a row, all at home and never leading in any of them, and is 2-11 in September after beginning the month with a two-game lead. Coupled with a sweep by Pittsburgh, this was the Rangers’ first winless homestand of at least six games since moving to Texas in 1972.
“Just as quickly as it started, it can turn around,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “It’s got to.”
The Rangers and Tampa Bay, both with 14 games left, are tied for the two AL wild-card spots in a rapidly tightening race. Cleveland, Baltimore, the Yankees and Kansas City are all within 3 1/2 games of Texas and the Rays.
“As bad as we’ve played, we’re still in a good position to make the playoffs,” Daniels said.
Texas starts a four-game series at Tropicana Field on Monday. The Rangers have a majors-best 42-32 road record.
“We’ll turn the page. It didn’t go the way we want to,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “We’ll have to be out there and stay positive.”
After Oakland took a quick 2-0 lead, the Rangers cut the deficit in half when A.J. Pierzynski had an RBI single in the first.
But Pierzynski also had an infield popout to end the seventh with two runners on base. That was the third time in four innings the Rangers stranded two runners, including Ian Kinsler taking a called third strike to end the fourth.
“I’m not sure what’s going on. I’ve never witnessed it before. I’ve had days, but not this,” Washington said. “Opportunities were there. We just didn’t bring them in.”
A’s right-hander Jarrod Parker, 9-0 in 19 starts since a loss at Texas in May, was scratched only an hour before the game because of illness. Top slugger Yoenis Cespedes had already been taken out of the lineup.
Tommy Milone (11-9), who had never beaten the Rangers, struck out five and gave up one run over five innings.
Josh Donaldson, Chris Young and Josh Reddick homered for Oakland, which finished a 5-1 trip and opens its final homestand of the regular season Monday against the Los Angeles Angels.
“I don’t know that we could have asked much more than that,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Once you win two games, you want to get greedy and we had some things pop up before the game.”
Oakland overcame a five-game deficit the final nine games last year to overtake the Rangers for the division title. But the A’s also won five games over Texas in that span.
This was the final regular-season series between the AL West’s top two teams. The sweep gave Oakland the season series 10-9, which would provide home-field advantage in an unlikely tiebreaker game against the Rangers.
The A’s have won five in a row and 13 of 16 overall.
Texas has lost five consecutive series for the first time since 2008.
“Every game we have, being ahead is going to be important,” Andrus said. “We’ll turn the page. It didn’t go the way we want to. We’ll have to be out there and stay positive.”
Coco Crisp and Chris Young had consecutive singles to start the game against rookie left-hander Martin Perez (9-5), who allowed three runs and seven hits over 6 1-3 innings.
Crisp scored on a nifty double play, when Kinsler went up the middle and without touching the ball with his hand scooped it with his glove to Andrus, who made a barehanded grab and relay throw.
Donaldson extended his hitting streak to 11 games with his 23rd homer for a 2-0 lead. Young hit a two-out solo homer in the third, Reddick hit a two-run homer in the ninth.
Milone was 0-4 with a 5.67 ERA his previous five career starts against the Rangers, losing twice earlier this season when allowing 17 hits and 12 runs over nine innings.
But the lefty didn’t know he was pitching against them again until about an hour before taking the mound.
“I think it kind of helped, I didn’t really think about it too much,” Milone said. “By time I officially heard, it was just get ready and go.”
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