Blalock's slam leads Rangers to win

Blalock's slam leads Rangers to win

ANAHEIM -- The night belonged to Hank Blalock.

C.J. Wilson kept it that way -- barely -- with his most heart-pounding dramatic save yet in his new role as the Rangers anointed closer.

This one would have rated as a classic if not for the small matter of the Rangers being in last place. But that still didn't keep them from enjoying this one, especially because of what it meant for Blalock.

In his first game in 3 1/2 months, Blalock hit a grand slam in the top of the eighth inning and the Rangers held on at the brink of disaster in the bottom of the ninth for an 8-7 victory over the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium.

Blalock's biggest moment in his career was his game-winning home run in the 2003 All-Star Game. He called this one "a close second."

"That was really exciting for me," Blalock said. "To do that after being out 3-4 months, to be able to contribute, that was great."

Wilson came into the bottom if the ninth with a three-run lead. Thirty pitches later, it was an 8-7 lead, there were two outs, the bases were loaded and Garret Anderson was standing at the plate. There were also 40,000-plus fans on their feet with visions of another Rally Monkey dancing in their heads.

"Pretty extreme," Wilson said. "I felt like I was spinning out and I was fighting for traction. I don't mind that feeling. That's what I kind of like about this role. I'm not trying to create a dramatic situation, but I'm not going to crumble either."

He didn't. Instead, Wilson crushed the Rally Monkey's hopes by striking out Anderson on a 1-2 breaking ball to end the game and give the Rangers their second straight victory over the American League West leaders.

"That's the kind of game you want to be in," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They have experience in this type of game and we gained it. Every team needs it. My team definitely needs it. You enjoy it and watch how the kids react to it. They did a great job."

The Rangers won despite being down 5-2 after five innings against Angels starter John Lackey. Blalock had the biggest hit, but Ian Kinsler and Brad Wilkerson also hit two-run home runs for the Rangers. Wes Littleton, with two scoreless innings, picked up his third victory in less than a week and the Rangers have won seven of their last eight.

"That was fun," Gerald Laird said. "That's what baseball is supposed to feel like."

Washington was asked if this was the biggest victory of the season. He stumbled around the answer for a moment, talked about the great atmosphere and then smiled.

"They're going to the playoffs and we're not going anywhere," Washington said. "But our guys played some baseball tonight. When they had a 5-2 lead, we could have died right there. But these guys don't die. They deserve all the credit."

Blalock being foremost among them, starting for the first time since May 16 after missing 3 1/2 months because of shoulder surgery. He didn't even have time for a medical rehabilitation assignment.

Batting in the seventh spot, Blalock flied out to left in the second inning and popped out to shortstop in the fourth. But he said he felt much better after hitting a single to right in the seventh.

"The first few times at bat, I was able to get the rust out," Blalock said. "When I first came up, I felt a little weird because I was out so long but I was able to work some counts and see some pitches. After I got that hit, I felt normal."

The Rangers trailed, 5-4, going into the eighth and Angels manager Mike Scioscia brought in Scot Shields, normally his best setup reliever but who had given up 11 runs in his previous 11 innings. This time, Shields got into trouble immediately when Michael Young led off with a single.

Marlon Byrd flied to center, but Wilkerson walked with one out and Frank Catalanotto was hit by a pitch. That brought up Blalock.

Shields threw a breaking ball in the dirt, then started throwing nothing but fastballs. Blalock took one for a ball, fouled one off, took one to make it 2-2 and then fouled off two more.

Shields came in with one more fastball and Blalock turned on it, just like he did in the 2003 All-Star Game, and hit it into the right-field seats.

"The first pitch was a breaking ball and I didn't throw it anywhere near," Shields said. "At that point, breaking ball was probably the right pitch, but I couldn't go 3-2. I was just trying to throw low fastballs and get him to hit into a double play."

As the ball landed in the seats, the Rangers bench erupted in glee and mobbed Blalock when he got back to the dugout.

"That was great," Blalock said. "I came into the dugout and everybody was pumped up. I was excited, too. It was great."

The moment, the game and the victory.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.