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Stellar defense backs Millwood in win

Stellar defense backs Millwood in win

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ARLINGTON -- Kevin Millwood was outstanding, Darren O'Day was clutch and C.J. Wilson came through once again in his ongoing role as the Rangers' interim closer.

Pitching and defense have been crucial all season to the Rangers, but never more so on Thursday night when the stout combination of both combined to hold off the Toronto Blue Jays, 1-0, at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The victory, coming after two losses and one rainout against the Blue Jays, allowed the first-place Rangers to increase their lead to 4 1/2 games in the American League West. Marlon Byrd drove in the only run with a sacrifice fly in the second inning and the pitching and defense made it stand up. It was only Texas' fourth 1-0 victory at the Ballpark since it opened in 1994.

"It was Millwood tonight, a sacrifice fly and some [defensive] plays," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We needed it, and we needed it bad. We know the offense is going to get it going, but we needed Millwood to step up, and he stepped up."

Millwood did so on a warm humid night by throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing five hits and one hit batsman. He did not walk a batter and struck out just one. More important than that was Millwood -- in seven of eight innings -- was able to retire the leadoff with just one or two pitches.

"It was huge," Millwood said. "It wasn't super-hot, but it was sticky and humid. The longer I stayed out there, the tougher it got. To be able to get the first guy out of an inning with as few pitches as possible was huge."

So was the defense. Shortstop Elvis Andrus dove into the stands to catch a foul ball, third baseman Michael Young dove to the third-base line to snatch a double away from Alex Rios, and second baseman Ian Kinsler made a slick diving stop on Lyle Overbay's grounder into the right-side hole. The Rangers also did not make an error and are now 22-10 this season in games in which they do not commit an error.

"We played great defense, and we had to when you strike out just one," Millwood said. "That shows we can win in different ways."

One strikeout -- coming on the last batter he faced -- is proof that Millwood wasn't overpowering, but he didn't have to be in helping the Rangers pitch their fourth shutout of the season.

"He did a great job changing speeds," Blue Jays designated hitter Kevin Millar said. "His curveball and slider were really good. It was vintage Millwood. We couldn't get a big hit."

The Blue Jays were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position on the night, including 0-for-6 in the final three innings. O'Day and Wilson were just as tough as Millwood in those situations.

Millwood left with a runner on second and two out in the eighth, but O'Day, needing two pitches, retired Alex Rios on a grounder to short to end the threat.

O'Day, a waiver pickup in April, also retired Vernon Wells on a popup to start the ninth before Wilson was called upon. The Rangers are now 15-4 when O'Day pitches, and he has held opponents to a .167 batting average.

"He has meant a lot to us," Washington said. "He's been in some tough situations and come through for us when we needed it. I'm so glad [general manager Jon Daniels] and those guys found him out there because he has been a godsend."

Wilson has been just as important with Frank Francisco still sidelined with a right shoulder problem. The Rangers haven't decided to put Francisco on the disabled list, but he remains unavailable to pitch.

Wilson remains the Rangers closer while Francisco is out and is 6-for-6 in save opportunities in that role. He gave up a double to Adam Lind but then struck out Scott Rolen and retired Lyle Overbay on a grounder to shortstop to end the game.

The Rangers finished with just five hits on the night, marking only the second time in nine games this season they have won with five hits or less. They also won for just the fourth time in 21 games in which they scored less than four runs.

The only run against Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero came in the second inning on a single by Nelson Cruz, a double by David Murphy and Byrd's sacrifice fly. That was it. The Rangers first three hitters -- Kinsler, Young and Andruw Jones -- were a combined 0-for-12. The Rangers are hitting .191 with 11 runs in their past five games.

"We're winning games," Murphy said. "If we go on a big losing streak, that's something to worry about. But if you look at the guys we have around here -- Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and those guys -- you know this offense is not going to be held down for long. I'll take my chances with them."

The Rangers didn't have to fret about it on Thursday night.

"We needed to get a win," Washington said. "In the game of baseball, it doesn't matter how you got it, and we got it tonight, 1-0."

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

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