ARLINGTON, Texas — The plot thickened in the American League wild-card race Friday night, as the Texas Rangers beat the Angels, 5-3, to move to within one game of Tampa Bay and Cleveland for the final two playoff spots with two games remaining.
Run-scoring singles by Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski snapped a 3-3 tie in the seventh, and relievers Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan retired the final 11 batters, assuring that the Angels (78-82) will finish with their first losing record since 2010 and only their second losing mark in 10 years.
"We haven't been there all year," pitcher C.J. Wilson said of the .500 mark. "We'd have hot streaks, and it was like there was a glass ceiling. We'd get within three or four games, make mistakes and go down five or 10 games. It's been really negative this season, all the different ways we've lost."
Wilson delivered his 24th quality start Friday, but it lacked real quality. He allowed three runs and four hits, struck out six and walked four in six innings but hit two batters and threw three wild pitches in a two-run third. One run scored on a wild pitch and the other when Wilson hit A.J. Pierzynski with a bases-loaded slider.
Wilson needed 121 pitches to get through six innings. The former Rangers left-hander has an 8.83 earned-run average in four starts as an Angel in his old home park.
"C.J. lost his release point, and it was a struggle for him all night," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He was behind every count. He got through six innings and gave us a chance, but it wasn't pretty."
Wilson said he was unable to get a proper grip on the ball.
"One out of every four was rubbed, and three of four were basically brand new," he said. "The balls were kind of squirting around. A couple balls got away."
Was that a coincidence?
"It's not a coincidence," Wilson said. "Let's be honest."
The umpires are responsible for game balls, which are rubbed with mud, usually by the umpire's attendant and often by employees of both clubhouses.
Did Rangers pitchers get balls that weren't rubbed?
"They were using the same ones," Scioscia said. "We had couple taken right out of the box. They still had packing dust on them."
Wilson used rosin and sweat to improve his grip, and he regained command when he turned to his fastball and changeup in the fourth.
"I told the clubbie, 'Dude, these balls are getting really bad. Someone might get hit in the teeth,'" Wilson said. "My ball moves a lot already. When the ball is slippery, it's even worse. … You make adjustments and figure out what pitches work."
Josh Hamilton's 1,000th career hit, a bases-loaded single in the fifth, scored Andrew Romine and Kole Calhoun to tie the game, 3-3.
A forecast of heavy rain prompted the Rangers to move Saturday's game from 7 p.m. Central time (5 p.m. PT) to 11 a.m., a start time that will feel like 9 a.m. to the Angels.
"Oh God, that's early," Calhoun said. "You play a night game, and it's not like you can go back to the hotel and pass out. You have to wind down. You don't get to bed until later, and you have an early wake-up call. It's tough, but there's going to be 18 guys that are doing it."