OAKLAND -- Before Friday's game, equipment manager Richard Price was asked where he was storing the celebratory bottles of champagne. "They are where they need to be until what's needed to be done is done," Price said. The champagne at least needs to be on ice. What needs to be done is almost done. The scoring drought is over and the Rangers are one win away from securing the American League West title.
"We're pumped," outfielder Nelson Cruz said after the Rangers broke through offensively for a 10-3 win over the Athletics on Friday night. "We can taste it. Tomorrow we've got to come out and do it." Starter Tommy Hunter picked up his 13th win of the season and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero had three hits, including a home run and a three-run double, to help carry the offense. The Rangers were hanging on to a 2-1 lead going into the seventh before finally breaking through against Athletics starter Bobby Cramer and the Oakland bullpen. "We're close," third baseman Michael Young said. "We're close. We played well tonight. Tommy threw the ball extremely well, and the bullpen did a great job. We played our brand of baseball tonight. We swung the bats, pitching and defense and we ran the bases well. That's the way we play." Outfielder Jeff Francoeur also had three hits, including two that sparked the late-inning rallies. He hit a leadoff home run that ignited a five-run seventh and a leadoff single that started a three-run eighth. "We needed this ballgame," Francoeur said. "We let out a lot of frustration on offense tonight. It's fun now. ... We know we're one more game away. Coming out tomorrow and taking care of business would be the perfect thing." Manager Ron Washington said before the game that the Rangers needed somebody to step up offensively. Guerrero and Francoeur did just that. "We just needed to stay positive," Guerrero said. "Not just me, the whole lineup. We just needed to stay focused and that's the one thing I brought tonight. I was able to open it up for us and get us going." He did just that. The Rangers had gone 32 innings without scoring an earned run before Guerrero hit the first pitch of the second inning over the fence in deep right-center. It was his 28th home run of the season and gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead. They made it 2-0 in the fourth on a double by Ian Kinsler and a single by Francoeur. At that point, Hunter was in command, allowing just four hits through five innings and sitting on a 2-0 lead. Then came the bottom of the sixth, which ultimately proved to be the most crucial moment of the game. Washington understood that clearly and managed that way. Mark Ellis, sitting at the top of the Oakland lineup, led off with a single and, as Daric Barton was striking out on a full-count pitch, stole second. Kurt Suzuki then lined a sharp single to left, moving Ellis to third. That left runners on the corners with one out and two left-handed hitters coming up in Jack Cust and Gabe Gross. Washington, concerned about Cust's power, brought in lefty specialist Clay Rapada. He struck out Cust on four pitches. "I didn't want the momentum to change," Washington said. "I didn't want to see Jack Cust catch something and the momentum to change. You never know if they put runs on the board right there and go ahead what might happen. I was just trying to stop them from gaining momentum." Athletics manager Bob Geren pinch-hit for Gross with right-handed-hitting Matt Carson, and Washington countered with righty sidearmer Darren O'Day. This was O'Day's first appearance since Sept. 10 as he has been dealing with tightness in his lower back. Carson muscled a single into left field to drive in Ellis but O'Day struck out Chris Carter to keep the Rangers up by one. The offense responded by striking back immediately in the top of the seventh. Francoeur started the rally with a home run to left field off Cramer and Jorge Cantu doubled in the same direction. Cramer was pulled for right-hander Boof Bonser and Chris Davis ran for Cantu. Bengie Molina moved Davis to third with a sacrifice bunt and Julio Borbon brought him home with a squeeze bunt. Borbon also beat the bunt out for a hit when Bonser bounced his throw to first. The Rangers dropped a third straight bunt, this one by Elvis Andrus that moved Borbon to second. A walk to Young and an infield single by Cruz loaded the bases, and Guerrero followed with a double into the left-center-field alley that brought home three runs. "Just timely hitting," Kinsler said. "We were able to get big hits tonight, especially with two outs. We may not score that many runs every night, but that's what we expect out of ourselves." The Rangers, one night after being held to one hit, ended up with 18 on Friday. They were 7-for-15 with runners in scoring position. "We had some chances, but obviously they had a lot more chances and did a lot more damage," Geren said. "They swung the bats extremely well tonight. They're a good-hitting team. You're not going to hold them down to one hit very often. They can swing the bats. They proved that tonight." Now, the Rangers are expecting to pop some champagne. It's time to put it on ice.
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.