ARLINGTON, Texas -- What appeared to be defensive mistake turned into the perfect scenario for the Texas Rangers in Thursday afternoon's dramatic series-clinching 4-3 victory over the Oakland A's at Rangers Ballpark.
"Little did we know that ended up being a blessing," Texas closer Joe Nathan said.
Nathan was on the mound for the game-saving sequence. With two outs in ninth inning, Oakland's Josh Donaldson singled to put the tying run on base. Seth Smith lined a single to center that Craig Gentry played on a hop but caromed off the center fielder's body.
Gentry regrouped, fired the ball to Elvis Andrus, who rifled a bullet to catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Donaldson tried to slide around the tag, but Pierzynski blocked the plate and preserved the win.
"If he didn't hit Elvis perfectly with that relay, I don't think we would have been able to pull that play off," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "But because he hit Elvis perfectly, Elvis threw a strike to the plate and Pierzynski blocked it off really well and there it is."
The defensive gem made the crooked number that the Rangers put on the scoreboard in the seventh stand up. Texas improved to 41-32 after taking three games of the four-game set against the American League West-leading A's, who dropped to 43-32 after their fifth loss in the last seven games. Oakland's lead over the Rangers is down to one game.
A's manager Bob Melvin didn't have a problem with Donaldson trying to score on the final play.
"We had some issues getting runs in today, so aggressive is fine with me," he said. "The way the day turned out, it was unbelievably frustrating, but our guys played hard every pitch, every out. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong."
Texas finished a 4-7 homestand on a high note going into the start of a six-game road trip Friday at St. Louis. It's the first visit to St. Louis for Texas since the 2011 World Series, which the Cardinals won in seven games.
"We've scuffled for a while, but when you play 162 you're going to scuffle," Nathan said. "We know coming in it was going to be a big series. We knew Oakland was going to be tough. We wanted to get back to playing consistent. Three out of four is nice going on the road."
Down 3-2 in the seventh, the Rangers took their first lead of the game on Ian Kinsler's two-out, two-run single up the middle. Texas had loaded the bases before Kinsler squared up on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Sean Doolittle to bring Robinson Chirinos and Pierzynski home.
After scoring one run in three consecutive innings, the A's were blanked in the last two. Nathan pitched that dramatic ninth for his 22nd save. Tanner Scheppers (5-0) pitched 1 2/3 innings to pick up the win.
Neither of the starters -- Texas' Rangers Josh Lindblom or Oakland's A.J. Griffin -- figured in the decision. They matched zeroes through four innings, even if the scoring chances weren't quite the same.
The A's had runners reach scoring position in each of the first four innings. Texas didn't have a runner reach second until the fourth.
Oakland was the first to break through in the fifth, taking a 1-0 lead. Jed Lowrie's single to center drove in John Jaso, who was on second after a one-out, bloop double to left.
Geovany Soto, making his first start since June 14, got the run back for Texas with a homer to center in the bottom of the fifth. It was the first home run for the backup catcher since May 17 and his third of the season.
The A's regained the lead in the sixth with a run, but the damage could have been a lot worse. Oakland had the bases loaded with none out when Washington turned to his third reliever of the inning. Left-hander Robbie Ross got three straight out with two strikeouts sandwiched around an infield popup to squelch a potential disaster.
"I literally said I'm going to try and not let anyone score," Ross said. "The biggest thing was trying to work out a jam and do the best I could."
NOTES: Texas announced that Martin Perez would be called up from Triple-A to start Friday's series opener in St. Louis. Derek Holland was pushed back to Saturday and rookie Nick Tepesch will go Sunday. ... Melvin has used 65 different lineups through 75 games this season. ... The A's are 1-3 on their seven-game road trip, with three games at Seattle coming up. Oakland is 21-20 on the road overall. ... Texas is in a stretch of 20 games in 20 days (6-11 during that span) until an off day on Monday. ... Kinsler's stolen base in the seventh, the 161st of his career, tied Bump Wills for the franchise record.