ARLINGTON -- After 59 days, manager Ron Washington can only look forward to tomorrow. On July 25, the Rangers moved into second place in the American League West standings. And there they remained for 59 days until the late hours of Monday night against the Athletics -- their competition for the second spot in the division. With a 4-3 loss in 11 innings, the Rangers dropped to third in the West, a half-game out of second place with five games left.
"I don't look that far ahead," Washington said. "I'm only looking at tomorrow. If we can get through tomorrow, we'll be fine." As if falling down a rung in the West standings wasn't a hard enough pill to swallow, the Rangers also guaranteed themselves a sub-.500 record overall and a losing record at home. Of course, going 2-5 on their current homestand with five straight losses hasn't helped their cause. "I'm very disappointed we haven't played as well at home as I would have liked," Washington said. "Our pitching has struggled at times at home. A lot of times we lost because we couldn't hold other teams." Prior to Monday's game, Washington stressed the importance of beating the very team his club is battling for position in the division. That fact wasn't lost on his players after the loss. And even as the Rangers' team goals are starting to slip away during this homestand, there's still pride at stake. "It's not even about [our final record]," Marlon Byrd said. "We have to come out and play hard. We're a better team than them. We just played a good Angels team and lost, but now we're playing a team we should beat. We should expect to win against them." Adding to the frustration was that the lead man in the Rangers rotation, Kevin Millwood, pitched well but was unable to stop the club's current skid. Two misplayed balls in the outfield proved to be the difference. A Josh Hamilton fielding error in the second inning let in one run as the Athletics pulled ahead, 2-1. The next inning, a two-out Jack Cust drive to left field got past Byrd with a runner on first to let the Athletics pull back ahead, 3-2. "We had some missed plays or they would have ended up with only one run," Washington said. Other than that, Millwood pitched well, allowing only eight hits and a walk in seven innings while striking out six. He struck out the side in the fifth. "I'm feeling good," Millwood said. "I'm still working on things and getting closer to where I want to be. It's good to finally start seeing things paying off." Byrd let out his frustrations in the eighth inning. Home-plate umpire Bill Hohn said Byrd didn't check his swing on a dropped third strike, and he was thrown out at first to end the inning. Byrd was ejected for comments aimed at Hohn, marking the fifth time a Rangers player has been ejected since Aug. 31. Their 9-14 record since Aug. 28 might have something to do with that. Having to play without the likes of Ian Kinsler and David Murphy also has been rough on them. "It's because we haven't played great the second half at all," Byrd said. "Bottom line. Home or on the road. We've had some key injuries. We've been playing without an MVP candidate and a run producer. Things just haven't clicked the second half." The score remained 3-2 until Hank Blalock led off the ninth inning with a home run. Frank Catalanotto, who hadn't appeared in a game since Sept. 6, was called upon with two outs. He kept the inning going with the Rangers' first pinch-hit triple since May 2, 2001. With Catalanotto on third, Washington went to the bench again, sending Gerald Laird in to pinch-hit. Laird put the ball in play with a sharp line drive to third base, but Jeff Baisley snared it to end the threat. "I got off the bench and was pretty cool," Laird said. "I wanted to go up there and put a good swing on it. After it came off my bat, I was thinking to myself, 'Yes!'" That was as much offense as the Rangers would muster down the stretch as it became a battle of the bullpens. "After we got tied, it was just a matchup of the bullpens," Washington said. "They put up zeros and we wound up giving up a run." The Rangers have no choice but to look forward, but there's no question as to what put them in this position. "It's disappointing," Millwood said. "We've had two bad stretches, and now it's catching up to us."
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.