ARLINGTON, Texas - The Baltimore Orioles formally opened the second half of the season on Friday fully aware of the challenge in front of them.
Baltimore entered the day 4 1/2 games behind Boston, the American League East Division leader, and two back of Tampa Bay.
"I think Tampa will be as big a foe as anything," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said before his team's game with the Texas Rangers. "And Boston has to be the favorite right now. They're just so deep in every department."
His team's job is not to dwell on that, he said. The Orioles have to stay focused on the task at hand, thinking only about what "you got to do to stay in it and get a chance to roll the dice in September."
Consider the start a success for the Orioles, who began the second half with a 3-1 victory over the Texas Rangers on Friday.
Nate McLouth had two hits, including a run-scoring double, to help make a winner out of Wien-Yin Chen, who was less than perfect but nonetheless continued his mastery over the Rangers in the first game of a three-game series.
Chen (5-3) received additional support from Matt Wieters, who had a home run, and Nick Markakis, who had an RBI double and stole a home run from Adrian Beltre with a leaping grab over the right-field fence.
The Rangers stranded 10 runners against Chen, who improved to 3-0 with a 1.28 ERA in three career starts against Texas.
While the Rangers struggled to come up with timely hits, Chen was backed with timely plays by his defense.
In addition to Markakis' catch, shortstop J.J. Hardy threw out Jeff Baker, who took too wide a turn around third on a double by Craig Gentry, and Chris Davis leaned into the stands to catch a foul ball in the eighth.
"I didn't have my best stuff today," said Chen. "I have really good teammates behind me. That's why I was able to win tonight."
Derek Holland (8-5) took the loss but pitched pretty well. Gentry's sacrifice fly in the third accounted for Texas' only run, scoring Baker.
Jim Johnson notched his 31st save of the season, but not before Texas tried to rally in the ninth.
Pinch-hitter David Murphy singled to lead off the ninth, and Ian Kinsler was hit by a pitch with two outs. However, Johnson induced a game-ending groundout by Elvis Andrus.
"He was fortunate," Showalter said of Chen. "But it was a well-pitched game for us."
The Rangers put runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings with one out, scoring just once each time.
They had another opportunity in the sixth, when Baker went from first to third on Gentry's double to right.
Third-base coach Gary Pettis gave Baker the go-ahead to round third before suddenly telling him to hold.
Baker, who had taken a big turn, couldn't get back to beat Hardy's relay.
"I'm not going to question that," Texas manager Ron Washington said when asked if Pettis put up the stop sign too late or if Baker wasn't looking. "If I say what I think, I throw someone under the bus. It's just a play we messed up.
"Opportunities were there. We just didn't cash them in. They did. We put ourselves in position to do it. That's just on us."
Chen was pleased things worked out.
"I didn't do my job today," said Chen. "But this is Oriole baseball. We're picking each other up. Never give up."
Holland gave up three runs on six hits over eight innings. He had six strikeouts and gave up a home run, to Wieters in the second inning.
The Texas lefty retired 10 of the last 11 hitters he faced after Baltimore scored an insurance run in the fifth on Markakis' run-scoring double.
Baker, who was activated from the disabled list (sprained thumb) on Friday, went 2-for-4. Kinsler had two doubles, and Andrus had a double and a single.
Chris Davis was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Davis, the top vote-getter among fan balloting for the All-Star Game, is now 0-for-7 with six strikeouts against Holland in his career.
Notes: Mostly clear skies and 87-degree weather greeted Holland's first pitch. ... Rangers All-Star right fielder Nelson Cruz was out of the lineup with a migraine, team officials said. A.J. Pierzynski moved up the lineup to hit third. Leonys Martin was in right field, and Gentry, activated from the disabled list, played center field. ... With the victory, Showalter became the fourth manager to win 250 or more games with four different teams. Showalter, who has managed the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Ranges, joined Joe Torre (Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Yankees and Dodgers), Gene Mauch (Phillies, Expos, Angels, Twins) and Dick Williams (Red Sox, Athletics, Expos and Padres) with the distinction. ... Davis continued to say that the burst blister suffered in the All-Star Home Run Derby will not be a problem for him. Davis was in the lineup in his usual fifth spot and at first base. ... The Rangers' Lance Berkman is due to come off the disabled list on Monday, though Washington said he'll need a few rehabilitation games in the minors.