Blalock's blast gives Rangers win

Blalock's blast gives Rangers win

ARLINGTON -- For a team not going to the playoffs and with no hope of even having a winning record, the Rangers face a must-win situation.

After all, as Marlon Byrd pointed out, Texas finishes the season on the road against the Angels. If the Rangers do want to finish second in the American League West, a victory over the Athletics in their final home game is a must.

"To me, it's huge," Byrd said after the Rangers pulled back into second place with a 6-4 victory over the Athletics at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Tuesday.

Hank Blalock helped put them there by hitting a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to break a 4-all tie.

"I'm just trying to do my job," Blalock said. "Anaheim is going to win the division, but even though we're going home instead of the playoffs, we still have a goal of beating Oakland for second. Anything I can do to help, I want to do it."

One-two-three innings by Warner Madrigal in the eighth and Frank Francisco in the ninth closed it out for the Rangers, who now lead the Athletics by a half-game in the battle for the division's silver medal. The two teams meet for the last time at 1:05 p.m. CT on Wednesday, and there is definitely a little something at stake in this.

"It's like a miniature playoff atmosphere," Athletics manager Bob Geren said. "Both teams are really into it, you can tell. It's fun."

Milton Bradley is certainly getting caught up in it. He went 3-for-3 with a walk and is suddenly back in the American League batting race again. After enduring an 0-for-17 streak earlier in the homestand, Bradley has six hits in his last seven at-bats, raising his batting average back up to .323.

He is now third in the league in hitting. Twins catcher Joe Mauer leads with a .329 batting average, and Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is second with a .324 batting average.

But Bradley's contribution's went beyond getting back into the chase for the batting title. He came up big on Tuesday night in the Rangers' pursuit of second place, delivering an RBI single in the third inning and then getting the winning rally going in the seventh.

The Athletics had just taken a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh, but the Rangers spent all evening countering every Oakland offensive move. The Athletics scored one in the second and the Rangers responded with one in the bottom of the inning. Both teams also scored two in the third. But the Rangers went two better in the seventh, and it all came after two were out against Athletics left-handed reliever Alan Embree.

"It's a good lineup, and good lineups are going to get to you when you give them an opening," Embree said. "They got an opening."

Bradley started the rally with a broken-bat grounder through the left side for a single and then stole second base. It was his fifth stolen base of the season but his first since June 8.

"His legs feel good," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "When his legs feel good, he's capable of doing that."

Byrd then dropped a popup into left-center field for a base hit that drove home Bradley with the tying run. That brought up Blalock for a lefty-vs.-lefty matchup against Embree, but those are the kind that Blalock has been winning lately. This time Blalock drove a 1-2 pitch into the right-field bleachers for a two-run home run.

Blalock is now hitting .346 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 78 at-bats in September. He has a .395 on-base percentage and a .679 slugging percentage. Four of those six home runs have come against left-handed pitchers.

"He's swinging a great one," Washington said. "The big thing is he's getting them against left-handers. Hank has a knack of staying in there against left-handers, and he's certainly been giving us a lift. Hank knows what he's doing. He's been doing it for a while."

The comeback made a winner out of Jamey Wright, who made his 74th appearance of the season when he bailed out starter Dustin Nippert. Wright ties Dale Mohorcic (1987) for most appearances by a right-handed reliever in club history.

"Our pitchers kept us close," Byrd said. "We know we can hit and get timely hitting if our pitchers can try and keep us in the game. That's what they did tonight, and we kept battling. That's the way games are supposed to be won."

They could use another on Wednesday.

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