NEW YORK -- Jason Grilli retired his first Major League hitter in almost four weeks. But it may have been as big of an out as any Rangers reliever has recorded this season. This also may have been as crucial of a relief effort in this campaign as any Rangers pitcher has delivered. Beginning with Alex Rodriguez, Grilli came out of the bullpen in a pivotal moment of the game on Thursday afternoon and retired seven straight hitters. The Rangers ended up with a 7-2 victory over the Yankees in the finale of their three-game series. Texas trails Boston by 1 1/2 games in the Wild Card standings after the Red Sox lost Thursday night.
A pair of three-run home runs by Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis was also huge in Texas taking two of three from New York in the Bronx. But the big moment of the day was when Grilli got Rodriguez on a weak grounder back to the mound with two out and two on in the fourth. "We played well," third baseman Michael Young said. "We survived a scare in the first game, they swung the bats well yesterday and, today, we got some big hits and our pitching staff did a great job." Grilli led the charge of the bullpen in relief of starter Dustin Nippert, who allowed four hits and seven walks in 3 2/3 innings. But he allowed just two runs as Grilli bailed him out in the fourth, then combined with C.J. Wilson and Frank Francisco to allow just four baserunners over the final five scoreless innings. "The wolfpack ... we did our thing," Wilson said. "It felt good to have results after a tough couple of days here, but we're long on confidence in the bullpen." While Nippert was struggling, Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett came out on fire, retiring the first 11 hitters he faced. Seven of those were by strikeout. But, with a 1-0 lead, he ran into trouble with two out in the fourth, when he walked Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. Burnett had Hamilton 2-and-2 and Cruz 1-and-2, but couldn't put either one away. Kinsler then belted a first-pitch fastball over the left-field fence to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead. "Burnett is tough when he's running that fastball up there, 96 [mph], his curveball is being thrown for strikes and he's throwing that sharp slider off the plate," Kinsler said. "It's tough facing a guy like that. You've got to battle. But the two guys in front of me were able to work walks and give me a chance. I was lucky enough to run into a heater." That was a game-changing play, but the Rangers faced another potential such situation in the bottom of the inning. With two on and nobody out, Nippert walked Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, and Mark Teixeira followed with an RBI single to right that made it 3-2. That's when manager Ron Washington brought in Grilli to face Rodriguez, the Yankees' cleanup hitter. Grilli was making only his third appearance since coming off the disabled list, and he had been unable to retire a hitter in his previous two outings. But Washington needed him, because Neftali Feliz was unavailable after throwing 42 pitches Tuesday. "I love those situations," Grilli said. "Those are the situations I've learned to thrive in. Albeit it's in the middle of the game and not that much of a glamorous role, but that could be a turning point there. I was trying to keep momentum on our side against a great hitter." He did so by going after Rodriguez with sliders and fastballs, and getting him on a weak grounder back to the mound to end the inning. For the afternoon, the Yankees were 2-for-12 in runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base. The Rangers left two. "We definitely felt like we let one get away from us," Rodriguez said. "We really put together some good at-bats early on and got [Nippert's] pitch count way up. We couldn't deliver the final blow." Instead, Grilli kept the momentum with Texas by retiring the side in order in the fifth and sixth. The sixth inning ended with Jeter hitting a grounder off the end of the bat toward Davis at first. The spin made it tough to handle, and Davis did fumble the ball as he tried to scoop it up. But he recovered quickly to his right, grabbed the ball and threw it blindly behind him to Grilli for the out. "You just close your eyes and hope somebody is there," Davis said. "Actually, Jason was yelling 'I'm here, I'm here!' [Infield coach] Dave Anderson said, 'Nice play -- don't ever do it again.'" Grilli reacted to the play by shaking his fist and spiking the baseball near the pitcher's mound while jogging back to the dugout. He was done for the afternoon, but the Rangers responded to his work by padding their lead. Davis hit a three-run home run in the top of the seventh and Kinsler went deep again with nobody on base in the eighth. "We had to pitch to beat these guys, and we did," Washington said. "Grilli did a great job. They could have blown the game up right there [in the fourth], but he settled in and got it done for us."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.