A's late rally falls short in Texas finale

A's late rally falls short in Texas finale

ARLINGTON -- It was a trying end to a trying series for the Athletics. But even after a brutally long and unsatisfying 12-9 loss to the Rangers on Sunday, manager Bob Geren's eyes weren't too bleary to spot a silver lining on a day of dark clouds.

"It was another great comeback for our team," Geren said, after seeing his squad come back from an 8-1 deficit after two innings to trail 9-8 with the potential tying run at third base in the seventh. "I'm really happy about the way our guys fought back, even if we came up a little short.

"It was a tough series for us. But to see everyone fight until the end makes you feel good about the kind of guys we're putting out there. They're not quitting."

Unfortunately, they're not winning, either. Sunday's loss was the Athletics' 11th in their last 15 games, and their eighth in the last nine games on the road. They are 1-5 on the current road trip, which continues with a three-game series in Seattle starting Monday.

By being swept in a three-game series in Texas for the first time since September 2004, the A's also managed to be caught by the Rangers, with whom they now share third place in the American League West standings. Texas (68-74) has been the division's last-place team since April 25, but has won 12 of 14 to pull into a virtual tie with Oakland (69-75).

"We've got a lot of games left," Geren said as his team enters the season's final three weeks. "We're looking forward to our trip to Seattle, and then [the Rangers] come to our park, and we'll be ready. But they're playing well."

Texas outscored Oakland by a 24-15 margin in sweeping the three games, and only trailed for a half-inning the entire series. That was midway through the second inning on Sunday, when the A's took a short-lived 1-0 lead that became an 8-1 deficit by the bottom of the frame.

The series finale was an endurance test, a battle of wills that exhausted the minds, bodies and patience of nearly everyone involved.

First, it took five hours and 37 minutes from the scheduled start time until the final out. The first of two rain stoppages delayed the start of the game for 16 minutes, the second interrupted the second inning for 73 minutes. The game itself officially took 4:08 to play.

The Rangers elected to remove starting pitcher Kevin Millwood after the second rain delay exceeded one hour. Geren, however, decided to stay with his starter, Lenny DiNardo. The left-hander had thrown only 19 pitches in a scoreless first, but came back from the long delay to surrender seven runs -- three earned -- in Texas' eight-run second.

"He felt great," Geren said. "Our pitching coach [Curt Young] said when he warmed up the second time, he looked even sharper than the first time. No, [it wasn't a hard decision], he was fine."

DiNardo, who spent the long delay sitting in the dugout under 90-degree heat to keep his arm warm, also said the extensive break didn't affect him.

"I don't think it was a factor," he said, after losing three consecutive decisions for the first time this season. "It's part of the game that you sometimes have to sit out a long inning. But I still felt great and thought all my pitches were working."

Of course, DiNardo is still fighting to solidify his role in next year's rotation, and wasn't likely to bow out of one of his four remaining starts if there was even a chance he could still pitch effectively. It turned out he couldn't, though he was not helped by his defense in that costly second inning.

The first four hitters DiNardo faced after the long delay reached base on singles. After DiNardo retired two hitters on a sacrifice bunt and groundout, he walked the next two, including .191-hitting Jerry Hairston Jr. on four pitches with the bases loaded.

The next batter, Michael Young, hit a routine grounder to short that looked certain to end the inning. But Athletics shortstop Donnie Murphy threw the ball into the Rangers' dugout, allowing two runs to score and two more runners to reach scoring position.

"The infield was still wet from the rain and the ball just slipped out of Murphy's hand like an ice cube," Geren said. "It's one of those miscues nobody can blame a guy for. [DiNardo] got the ground ball to get out of the inning down 3-1, but that's just one of those bad breaks."

It essentially became a five-run error when Sammy Sosa greeted reliever Colby Lewis with a three-run homer into the third deck above left field, giving the Rangers an 8-1 lead.

From there, the game dissolved into an ugly and sloppy approximation of baseball. The teams combined to use 13 pitchers who threw 415 pitches, gave up three home runs, issued 15 walks and hit two batters. The offenses combined for 22 hits and 21 runs, while the defenses combined for four errors that helped nine unearned runs cross the plate.

The A's scored a fourth-inning run off of Scott Feldman when Nick Swisher's sacrifice fly brought home Rob Bowen. Swisher also hit a one-out homer off of Rangers lefty Bill White, cutting the lead to 8-3 in the sixth. Texas went up 9-3 in the bottom of the sixth when Sosa singled home Ian Kinsler with two outs against Santiago Casilla.

A seventh-inning uprising against former A's left-hander John Rheinecker saw Oakland score twice, load the bases with one out and bring the potential tying run to the plate in the form of slugger Jack Cust. Cust struck out on a full-count pitch, but Mark Ellis bested reliever Wes Littleton with a bases-clearing double that got the A's within one at 9-8.

The Rangers finally put the game away in the bottom of the seventh. They loaded the bases with two out against left-hander Alan Embree, who then gave up a two-run single to Hairston and a run-scoring blooper to Young. Young's third hit of the game put the Rangers ahead, 12-8.

Swisher homered again in the ninth -- a two-out shot off of Joaquin Benoit -- to draw the A's back within three at 12-9. It was Swisher's 19th of the season and gave him his third multi-homer game of the year, but that was as close as the Athletics would get. A frustrating 10-hour day at the ballpark was to be followed by a four-hour flight to Seattle, and whatever else awaits in the final 18 games.

Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.