The Rangers didn't have a choice Thursday after blowing an early eight-run lead to Kansas City, and even more so after trailing, 12-11, with two outs in the bottom of the eighth with one of baseball's best closers, Joakim Soria, coming into the game. They were staring down one of their toughest losses in recent memory.
That's when Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero did the stepping up, hammering back-to-back home runs off Soria to give the Rangers an unlikely 13-12 victory over the Royals. The improbable win put the Rangers back into a first-place tie for the American League West lead with Oakland.
"That was one great game," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They kept coming back at us, and we kept coming back at them."
Hamilton, who is quietly showing flashes of the player who manhandled the AL two years ago, ignited the rally, crushing a 3-2 pitch into the upper deck in right field to tie the game. Hamilton was 3-for-5 on Thursday with three different RBI hits. He has four home runs and 10 RBIs in his last 11 games.
Guerrero, who apparently is seeing beach balls at the plate at Rangers Ballpark -- he came into Thursday batting a league-best .449 at home -- one-upped Hamilton by crushing his second homer of the game, a moon shot off a second consecutive cutter from Soria that just cleared the fence, landing in the home bullpen.
"I had the mindset in the last at-bat that I was going to swing as hard as I could," Guerrero said. "I missed the first one, and I hit the second one."
The Rangers did have to get three outs from closer Neftali Feliz on a night in which the bullpen coughed up the lead three times and allowed eight runs in three innings prior to the top of the ninth. But Feliz, who has taken a firm grasp of the closer role, struck out Alberto Callaspo and Mike Aviles to start the inning, then got pinch-hitter Brayan Pena to fly out to right field to end the game.
"We got the 27th out," Washington said. "That meant something."
The night started with the Rangers building an 8-0 lead after three innings. Hamilton started the team's best offensive night of the season with a one-out double in the bottom of the first that scored Michael Young. After Guerrero flied out to right, Ian Kinsler lined a single to left field for a 2-0 lead.
The Rangers batted around in the bottom of the third and had their highest-scoring inning of the season. Elvis Andrus singled, Young walked for the second time and Hamilton singled to right for a 3-0 lead. Guerrero followed with a sacrifice fly and Murphy had a run-scoring single for a 5-0 lead. Rookie Justin Smoak capped the inning by putting a charge into one for a towering three-run home run down the right-field line.
Rangers starter Matt Harrison retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced. But the night turned around on him in the fourth, when he gave up a two-run homer to Billy Butler.
Harrison gave up two more runs in the fifth as he battled through an inning in which Washington and trainer Jamie Reed came out for an injury delay. Harrison said his velocity dropped five to six mph and when the inning was done he visited the team doctor, who diagnosed him with left biceps tendinitis.
Harrison said he will take some medicine, get some treatment and should be ready for his next start Tuesday at home against Oakland.
"I wasn't feeling any pain," said Harrison, who was coming off a 127-pitch outing in Seattle.
Harrison was still in line for the victory with the Rangers leading, 9-4, entering the top of the sixth, but reliever Dustin Nippert had a brutal inning, allowing five runs on four hits. Former Ranger Scott Podsednik tied the game at 9 with a three-run homer to right field.
The Rangers retook the lead in the bottom of the sixth on Guerrero's two-run homer to left field. But reliever Chris Ray gave it right back in the top of the seventh on Callaspo's two-run homer to tie the game again at 11.
The Royals finally grabbed the lead at 12-11 in the top of the eighth with simple execution. Yuniesky Betancourt started the inning with a single and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Podsednik. Kila Ka'aihue followed with his first hit of the season, an RBI single off Rangers reliever Frank Francisco, who brought back memories of the first week of the season when he blew two saves to lose his spot as the team's closer.
It would have been a night to forget for the Rangers if not for the heroics of Hamilton, Guerrero and Feliz.
Guerrero for one isn't ready to slow down in his home ballpark.
"Not now," he said, laughing.