ANAHEIM -- Amid the loud music, joyous shouting and broad smiles that were pulsating through the Rangers' victorious clubhouse, second baseman Ian Kinsler summed it all up. "One step closer," he said after 12 tension-filled innings of classic September baseball on a cool Southern California night at Angel Stadium. One step closer. That's all that counts.
Jeff Francoeur scored the go-ahead on a two-out passed ball in the top of the 12th inning and secured a 2-1 victory over the Angels on Wednesday. The victory snapped the Rangers' three-game losing streak and allowed them to avoid getting swept on the eve of opening a big four-game series with the Athletics in Oakland. "That was a big win, obviously," third baseman Michael Young said. "We needed to win a ballgame and get this thing rolling back in our favor. Our pitching and defense was lights out tonight." With the Athletics losing on Wednesday afternoon, the Rangers now lead the American League West by eight games with 11 to play. Their magic number is four going into the four-game series with the Athletics. "It's a huge win going into the biggest series of the year," outfielder David Murphy said. "It's good to build a little momentum going into Oakland." The Ranger managed just five hits on the night. Both of their runs were unearned. But they were saved by outstanding pitching by starter C.J. Wilson and five relievers. Wilson had a two-hit shutout going into the seventh before giving up a game-tying home run to Mike Napoli, but he was otherwise outstanding. "C.J. was awesome," Young said. "Our bullpen was awesome. This game was all about pitching and defense the whole night." Wilson walked Juan Rivera after giving up the home run and manager Ron Washington went out to get him. "C.J. gave us a great effort," Washington said. "One pitch he got up a little bit to Napoli and he put in in the right-field seats. Last time out he went really deep in the game as far as pitches were concerned, and we were watching him. We didn't want him to do all that he did for us and leave with a bad taste in his mouth." With Frank Francisco (strained rib cage muscle) and Darren O'Day (strained back) unavailable, the Rangers went with Alexi Ogando for two scoreless innings and Dustin Nippert, Darren Oliver and Matt Harrison for one each. Harrison earned the victory and Neftali Feliz, setting the side down in order in the 12th, earned the save. It was his 37th save of the year and first since Sept. 12. The 37 saves ties the Major League record for most in a season by a rookie, pulling him even with Kazuhiro Sasaki of the 2000 Mariners. "I just feel good because it was a great win for the team," Feliz said. "I was just trying to win the game. I wasn't thinking about the record." Angels pitchers, beginning with starter Dan Haren and continuing with five relievers, had retired 16 straight hitters before Francoeur doubled to lead off the 12th against reliever No. 6 Matt Palmer. Francoeur had failed to get a runner home from third with less than two outs in the sixth and was eager to redeem himself. "It was frustrating," Francoeur said. "I would have rather done it in the sixth than the 12th. If I had, we'd be on an airplane by now. It was just nice to get it done." Chris Davis then drew a four-pitch walk and Bengie Molina bunted the runners to second and third. Mitch Moreland, pinch-hitting for Andres Blanco, struck out on three pitches. That brought up Julio Borbon and an 0-1 fastball from Palmer got away from catcher Jeff Mathis. Francoeur bolted for home and scored the go-ahead run. "We faced three quality pitchers in this series but of the three, Haren really brought his A game and stepped it up tonight," Murphy said. "Our offense hasn't been clicking the way it should, but we had some good at-bats, grinded it out and came away with a win." The Rangers' first run came without benefit of a hit in the third inning. Borbon started the inning with a walk and Kinsler followed with a smartly hit grounder down the third-base line. Angels third baseman Kevin Frandsen made a nice backhanded stop, then threw the ball into right field trying for the force at second. Borbon ended up at third and scored on Young's sacrifice fly. The biggest defensive play of the night came in the bottom of the eighth. The Angels had runners at the corners with one out against Ogando with Torii Hunter at the plate. The Rangers were playing for the double play and, on a full count, Howard Kendrick was going on the pitch. Hunter hit a hard grounder at Blanco, the Rangers shortstop who was able to get the ball to Kinsler ahead of Kendrick to start a crucial inning-ending double play. "The only way you turn that [double play] is if you hit a rocket," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Torii just absolutely scorched that ball. If Torii hits it with different pace or two feet over, that's a run. That's the only way to turn a double play on that ball with a runner going."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.