SEATTLE -- Edinson Volquez couldn't pitch the Rangers into sole possession of third place on Friday night. They haven't been in that position by themselves since April 18, which was also the night that White Sox starter Mark Buehrle no-hit Texas. That was a long time ago when Rangers owner Tom Hicks was thoroughly frustrated and disgusted with the way his team was playing. Now Hicks is enjoying what he is seeing, even if Friday's game came to a disappointing ending with Jeff Clement hitting a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning that carried the Mariners to a 6-4 victory over the Rangers at Safeco Field.
"I can't wait for next year," said Hicks, as the Rangers go into the final two games of the season tied for third place with the Athletics. Volquez took a two-hit shutout and a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning, but the Mariners scored three off him that inning. A two-run home run in the seventh by Travis Metcalf regained the lead for the Rangers, but the Mariners tied it in the eighth on a run-scoring single by Jose Vidro and won it in the ninth on a home run by Clement off reliever Mike Wood. Volquez was not involved in the decision and ends his six-start September audition with a 2-1 record and a 4.50 ERA. "The last inning and a third he threw well," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Through the first four innings, he was outstanding. He's a young kid. He got a little emotional out there, but he handled himself very well. He's handled himself as well as anybody out there. He'll go into Spring Training with a shot at the rotation." Michael Young left the game with a sore left groin muscle after giving Volquez a lead with a two-run single off Mariners starter Jeff Weaver in the third inning. He may not play again this weekend, but the Rangers will know more on Saturday. The Rangers are now 52-43 since June 14, the third-best record in the American League in that stretch behind the Yankees and the Red Sox. The problem was they were 23-42 on June 13. "I'm still at a loss as to why we got off to a bad start, but since the middle of June we've been one of the better teams in baseball, and we've done it with young players," Hicks said. "I like the fact that we've played sound, fundamental baseball and found out how to use the weapon of the sacrifice bunt." Hicks isn't ready to predict a division title anytime soon, but he is able to look around baseball and see teams that are having success by going with young players. That and the Rangers' success over the past 3 1/2 months have convinced Hicks that the Rangers are headed in the right direction. "You look at the other races and you see Colorado has put it all together, Arizona has put it all together, Cleveland has put it all together," Hicks said. "We're still a ways away from those teams, but I like what we've got coming. I like what we're doing." Hicks met with general manager Jon Daniels in Texas on Thursday to discuss the Rangers offseason plans. The Rangers have the financial flexibility to be aggressive in the free-agent market, but also know this may not be the right time to do that. "J.D. told me this is a weak free-agent market this year, and a real strong one next year," Hicks said. "It's good time to stick with the plan." The Rangers won't be completely idle. Hicks declined to talk about specific players, but it's obvious that center field is a top priority and Torii Hunter is high on the Rangers' list. The Rangers could also use a big bat in the middle of the order, but it won't be Barry Bonds. Even though he can be a free agent in the offseason, Rangers officials have made it clear they will not pursue him. The Rangers, even with their emphasis on youth, could have room for at least one veteran slugger near the top of the all-time home run list. Daniels met with Sammy Sosa's agent Adam Katz on Friday, and Hicks is completely supportive of Sosa coming back in 2008. "I think it's worked out just like we expected it to," Hicks said. "He did everything he said he would do. If we could have seen the end of that movie, we still would have bought the ticket." Hicks on Friday also signaled his support for his two top baseball men: Daniels and Washington. "I'm really happy with J.D.," Hicks said. "He did exactly what we talked about the last couple of years. He faced some tough questions and made the right decisions. What he did at the trade deadline and at the Draft totally changed the dynamics of the organization." As for Washington, Hicks said, "I think he had a little adjustment period, but I think he's really gotten the players to buy into his approach to baseball, and the results have shown. I like his style of baseball." It just took too long to get the right results. The Rangers buried themselves by getting off to a rough start, and they are headed for their seventh losing season in the last eight years. But the owner still likes what he sees and is enjoying watching his team again.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.