Rangers round out month on high note

Rangers come alive early in finale

ANAHEIM -- Marlon Byrd finished a spectacular August with a two-run home run, Kevin Millwood finished the month with a three-game winning streak and Frank Francisco finished it with his first four-out save as a closer.

August was far from what the Rangers were expecting, but they were able to finish the month on a winning note with a 4-3 victory over the Angels on a hot Southern California afternoon at Angel Stadium on Sunday.

Millwood, who was coming off complete-game wins over the Tigers and Royals, didn't go nine this time, but he did hold the Angels to two runs over 6 2/3 innings for the victory. This might have been his biggest victory of the three considering the competition, even if the Angels gave the day off to Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter.

"They've all been important, but today's was better because we had to get a ballgame," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "The first three games here didn't go our way, so it was nice for him to go out there and do what he did, especially against [John] Lackey."

The Rangers lost the first three games of this series, but Sunday's victory and the sweep in Kansas City still gave them a 4-3 record on the road trip.

"All four games here were good games," said Josh Hamilton, who was able to deal with his tooth problem and hit his 30th home run of the season. "We battled ... that's the way it's been all year. We've got a good team ... it just doesn't show it in our record."

That's because of August. The Rangers started the month by winning four of their first five, including two in a row against the Yankees that put them a season-high six games over .500. Since then, they've lost 17 of their past 23 games before finally beating the Angels on Sunday.

"It stunk," Millwood said of the month. "We didn't play well, and we didn't keep ourselves in it. That's all you can say. We didn't do what we needed to do to keep us in the race."

The Rangers were five games out of the Wild Card race on Aug. 5. They enter September 13 games out. They have also slipped from 10 1/2 to 17 games behind the Angels, who didn't bother sending up Guerrero or Hunter as pinch-hitters in the ninth inning for their eighth and ninth hitters in a one-run game.

"It's bittersweet," Byrd said. "We were in the playoff hunt at the beginning of the month, and now we're fighting for second place. It's very tough. This club is better than what we've shown in August. The dog days got us."

The dog days were good to Lackey. He was undefeated since the All-Star break, but he ran into trouble in the first inning when Hamilton hit a two-out blast that gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Hamilton has been bothered by a tooth abscess during the entire road trip, and he had to come out of Saturday's game after four innings. He promised Washington on Sunday he could last for nine.

"I've got some good medicine to help me out," Hamilton said. "Tomorrow I have an appointment to get it fixed."

Byrd, who finished August hitting .393 with four home runs and 20 RBIs, followed with a two-run home run off Lackey in the second. Juan Rivera countered with a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning, but that was all the Angels could do against Millwood.

"The story of the day was Millwood," Washington said. "He was great."

Millwood is 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA in his past three starts, and he is now 9-7 with a 4.84 ERA on the season. But the groin injury that put him on the disabled list twice earlier this season can only leave the Rangers wondering what if....

"I feel like I did everything I could in the offseason to get ready," Millwood said. "I don't regret anything I did. Everybody has injuries, you just have to deal with it. Right now, everything feels good and I'm able to do what I normally do."

Millwood left with two out and two on in the seventh inning, and Joaquin Benoit, protecting a 4-2 lead, nailed down a big out by getting Jeff Mathis to pop out on a 3-1 pitch. Jamey Wright ran into trouble in the eighth, as a walk to Reggie Willits and a pair of two-out singles by Garret Anderson and Mark Teixeira made it 4-3.

But Francisco was brought in, and he retired Rivera on a grounder to shortstop to end the inning. He then finished off the ninth for his second save since becoming the club's closer.

"He's had a bunch of days off, and we've used him for two innings a few times this year," Washington said. "We don't want to [use Francisco in the eighth] too often, but we had to do it today."

That was fine with Francisco.

"I'm here to help the team however I can," Francisco said. "If I need to do it again, whatever, I'm ready for it. I know it's easier to go just one inning, but I'm here to help the team."

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