ARLINGTON -- The Rangers weren't calling this a "big game" or huge win. They knew they would still be in first place regardless of what happened at the Ballpark in Arlington on Thursday afternoon.But the Rangers did know going in that, after losing two straight to the Athletics, this would be a good game to win. "Absolutely, no doubt about it," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "They played well this series. They played well lately." The Rangers did get the victory, and have now pushed themselves to the brink of a third straight trip to the playoffs. The American League West title is not far behind. Texas now has a four-game lead over the A's in the division. The Rangers scored five runs in the first inning and didn't stop there, pounding their way to a 9-7 victory over the Athletics at the Ballpark in Arlington. Matt Harrison earned his 18th victory, tying Kenny Rogers for the most by a left-hander in club history. "For us to come out swinging the bats and give Harrison some support was big," Kinsler said. "To get this victory was important. That's why we're the best team in the American League right now. We want to respond. We want to be a team that's tough to put away. We're going to fight to the end. Today was a good win for us." The victory gave the Rangers a split of their four-game series against the Athletics. The Rangers have six games left in the regular season. That includes a three-game series against the Athletics starting on Monday in Oakland to end the season. But the Rangers could have everything wrapped up before they head west. The Rangers open a three-game series with the Angels on Friday at the Ballpark. The Rangers' magic number toward winning the division is now three, and one toward simply clinching a playoff spot. "We're one of those teams where the next game is the only focus," first baseman Michael Young said. "We're not thinking about a whole series against the Angels or Oakland. We were focused on getting this win." The Rangers finished with 14 hits on the afternoon and were 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position. They were 6-for-59 in those situations in their previous 10 games. The 14 hits were their most since Sept. 2. "We needed one of these," outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "You look at the teams in our division, they never give up. This was a good win for us." The Rangers led, 9-4, going into the eighth before reliever Mike Adams gave up three solo home runs. Adams had allowed just one home run all season, and this was the first time he's allowed multiple home runs in a game over 358 career appearances. Koji Uehara had to get the final out of the inning, and Joe Nathan pitched the ninth for his 36th save. "It would have been great to take three out of four or the sweep, but it's better than losing three out of four," said Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick, who had two of their five home runs. "We're happy with the split, and we've still got a good chance to be up there with them, and that's what we've got to focus on right now." Harrison had to fight hard to get the win, allowing four runs on seven hits and a walk while throwing 99 pitches over six innings. He did not retire the side in order until the sixth, and he gave up two home runs for only the fourth time in 31 starts this season. But he was able to pitch out of trouble in the first inning without letting the Athletics score, and that was his best work of the afternoon. "I felt good coming out of the bullpen, but I couldn't put the ball where I wanted," Harrison said. "I can't believe I gave up only one walk with all those 3-0 counts. I made some mistakes, but I only gave them four and kept us ahead throughout the game. It was a battle to get through six innings, but I have to give all the credit to the offense." Harrison, 18-10 with a 3.26 ERA, started the afternoon by walking Stephen Drew and giving up a single to Jonny Gomes, putting runners on first and second. Yoenis Cespedes forced Gomes to third with a grounder to short, and then Harrison got cleanup hitter Chris Carter to hit a grounder at Kinsler to start an inning-ending double play. Opponents have hit into 27 double plays off Harrison, third most in the AL. "That's what Harrison does," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "When he gets in trouble he finds a way to get it done. That's what he's being doing all year. He wasn't at his best today, but he was good enough." Kinsler led off the Rangers' first-inning barrage with a home run off of Oakland starter Travis Blackley. That's the seventh time he has led off the first inning with a home run this season, tying his own club record. He has 27 in his career.
Blackley retired the next two hitters, but Adrian Beltre and Cruz followed with a pair of two-out singles. They moved up on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Young. Mike Napoli then hit his 21st home run of the season to make it 5-0.The next three innings were slugged to a draw. The Athletics scored one in the second, and the Rangers responded with one in the bottom of the inning. The Athletics scored one in the third, and so did the Rangers. The Athletics got two in the fourth, and again the Rangers responded with two in the bottom of the inning. That made it 9-4, and it stayed that way until the eighth. "We kept the momentum on our side by responding to them," Kinsler said. "That was a big key for us today."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.