OAKLAND -- After trading blowouts in the first two games of their four-game series, the Rangers and A's played an eventful back-and-forth affair on Wednesday, with Texas getting a big night from Hank Blalock on the way to a 9-8 victory. A quick look at the box score suggests that defense made the difference. Oakland made three errors, all on the infield, and Texas made zero. The Rangers scored five unearned runs, the A's none.
"I wouldn't say they were sloppy," offered Rangers manager Ron Washington, "but they made some mistakes." A highly respected former infield coach who spent 10 years in Oakland, Washington knows a little something about mistake-free defense. A's third baseman Eric Chavez has such esteem for the man who turned him into a hot-corner vacuum, he gave him one his six Gold Glove Awards as a thank you. A's second baseman Mark Ellis, who doesn't have a Gold Glove but probably should have two or three, prays at the Altar of Wash as well. Wednesday's box score, however, doesn't quite tell the whole story. Ellis, for instance, was charged with one of the errors, on his relay throw home in the fifth inning after the second of Blalock's two doubles. The throw was on the money, but it arrived at the plate on a hop at about the same time as Marlon Byrd. It got past catcher Kurt Suzuki, and after Blalock cruised into third base -- he was heading there as Ellis threw, anyway -- the scoreboard flashed "E4." "For making a perfect one-hop throw?" spat a thoroughly disagreeable Bob Geren, Oakland's manager. "OK." Geren wasn't too pleased with the official scorer's opinion of a hard smash off the bat of Rangers rookie Elvis Andrus earlier in the inning, either. It was to the right of A's shortstop Cliff Pennington, who eschewed the backhand play for which the play begged and found himself handcuffed by his two-handed attempt. "E6." "That was a hit," Geren said with a measure of disgust. Nonetheless, both plays prolonged an already long inning -- an inning that ushered A's rookie right-hander Clay Mortensen into the early evening with the loss. He was charged with seven runs on six hits and a walk, but only three of the runs were earned. "Part of pitching up here [in the big leagues] is pitching out of jams," he said. "I didn't do that very well." Blalock certainly didn't make it any easier, starting with the RBI double he drilled for a 2-0 Texas lead after third baseman Adam Kennedy's two-out bobble in the first inning went for error No. 1. "The double in the first inning was actually a good pitch," Mortensen said. "It was a changeup down, but he's a good hitter. He stayed on it and drove it into the gap." Three innings later, Blalock got a not-so-good pitch that Mortensen would love to have back. It landed on the not-so-fun side of the center-field wall for a two-run homer. "It was an 0-2 pitch right down the middle, belt-high," Mortensen said. "You can't make a mistake like that up here, especially to a guy like that. Added Geren: "Good hitters hit mistakes well, and that's what he did." The A's answered back with a five-run surge against right-hander Tommy Hunter in the bottom of the fourth, Rajai Davis getting the rally started with a single -- the first of his nightly minimum of two hits. Oakland got RBI doubles from Ryan Sweeney and Ellis and run-scoring singles from Jack Cust and Pennington in the frame, but the "errors" by Pennington and second baseman Ellis in the fifth helped Texas reclaim the lead. "I really didn't think we played that bad on defense," Ellis said. "It was just a weird game." Eric Patterson's first homer of the year, a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, cut the lead to 8-6, and both teams scored again in the sixth, with David Murphy stroking an RBI single off Jeff Gray in the top half before Daric Barton followed suit to chase Hunter in the bottom of the frame. Davis' RBI double in the bottom of the seventh inning cut the lead to one, and an infield single by Sweeney put runners at the corners with one out, but Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson struck out Suzuki and pinch-hitter Nomar Garciaparra. Fittingly, Oakland's final threat died in the glove of Blalock. With the tying run at second in the eighth, Blalock made a diving stop of a smash pulled down the first-base line by Kennedy and scrambled to the bag to end the inning. "They scored nine runs, and we still had a chance to win the game late, so it was a pretty good performance by the offense," Geren said. Just not quite good enough, said Barton, who summed things up with stone-faced simplicity. "It was just one of those games," he said, "where they scored more than we did."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.