The schedule for the second half of the season presents some challenges for the Texas Rangers as they attempt to reach baseball's postseason for the first time since Bill Clinton was president.
No team in the major leagues will play more road games than the Rangers, and the schedule includes seven games against Boston, six against Tampa Bay, five against New York and 14 against Los Angeles.
So, as the season resumed Thursday night at Fenway Park after the All-Star break, the Rangers didn’t want to stumble out of the gate.
A six-run first inning took care of that.
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The Rangers pieced together six straight one-out hits, including Bengie Molina’s first homer with his new club, as the Rangers beat Boston, 7-2.
Tommy Hunter (6-0) tossed 62/3 innings to start the seven-game road trip with a win. Tim Wakefield gave up the Rangers barrage in the first.
“I could tell today when I got in the clubhouse that the guys were energized and were feeling good,” said left fielder Josh Hamilton, who had three doubles and an RBI. “It’s good to jump on Wakefield and get some hits, put some runs on the board early and let Tommy relax.”
Hamilton left the game in the seventh inning after his third double with tightness in the calf muscle behind the knee, an injury that surfaced last week in a 10-inning game against Baltimore. He said afterward that he could have stayed in the game and will play tonight.
The injury, he said, is similar to one that nagged him for much of May and ultimately led to a cortisone shot June 5. The training staff told him that it’s too soon for another injection.
By the time he exited, the game was in hand. The Rangers sent nine hitters to the plate in the first, an inning that got new life after plate umpire Bruce Dreckman ruled that Michael Young tipped a Wakefield knuckleball instead of completely missing it for strike three.
Young returned to the batter’s box and singled as the offense started to roll. Ian Kinsler singled, and so did Vladimir Guerrero to drive in Young with a single.
Hamilton, who went 3-for- 4 to raise his average to .351, brought in Kinsler with a double. Nelson Cruz followed with a two-run single, and Molina completed the outburst with his homer, driving in Cruz ahead of him.
After going quickly in the second, the Rangers chased Wakefield on three pitches in the third – a single by Guerrero, an error on a sharply hit ball by Hamilton and an RBI double by Cruz.
“When (Wakefield’s) got his knuckleball working, it’s hard to get hits against him,” Cruz said. “He was leaving most of the pitches up, and that’s what we were looking for.”
Robert Manuel entered and kept Hamilton and Cruz stranded at second and third. The Rangers also failed to score in the fifth with Hamilton at third and no outs.
Three Boston relievers limited the Rangers to four hits after Wakefield’s early exit.
Boston finally got to Hunter in the fourth, when J.D. Drew hit a one-out solo homer and the next two hitters reached. Hunter retired Bill Hall on a deep fly ball to center field after falling behind 3-0 and got Kevin Cash on a pop8up to right.
The inning could have been worse had Elvis Andrus not been playing shortstop. He dived to snare a one-hopper by leadoff man Kevin Youkilis and threw to first for the out.
“He’s awesome. I like him a lot,” Hunter said of Andrus. “I was just falling behind, which was frustrating. It’s not something you want to do, but getting those outs on 2-0, little things like that helped me get deeper in the game.”
The Rangers opened the series with a 41/2-game lead against the Angels as they chase their first American League West crown since 1999. They improved to 20-19 on the road this season, and will play 42 more games away from Rangers Ballpark in the second half.