ARLINGTON, Texas -- Francisco Rodriguez needed only four pitches Wednesday to know something was wrong.
“I knew it right away,” he said. “When you walk a guy, you’re getting yourself in trouble. Especially the leadoff batter.”
But it wasn’t the walk that hurt Rodriguez as much as it was what came later, with Josh Hamilton hitting a two-run walk-off home run just over the wall in right field to lift the Texas Rangers to a 5-4 victory over the Angels.
That capped a three-run ninth-inning rally against the saves leader in the major leagues who had never surrendered a walk-off homer in a regular-season game.
“I put myself in that situation,” said Rodriguez, who walked pinch-hitter Ramon Vazquez on four pitches, then gave up a two-out run-scoring single to Michael Young before Hamilton stepped to the plate. “When you open an inning, up two runs, like that, walking guys, that’s all it’s going to take. I didn’t execute my pitches.
“When you do that, you’re going to get hurt.”
Usually it’s the other team that gets hurt when Rodriguez is on the mound. No pitcher in history has saved more games before the All-Star break than Rodriguez, who was one out away from his 36th when Hamilton stepped to the plate. And that’s largely because Rodriguez has made the most of his opportunities, blowing only one save chance since April 8.
“Frankie’s been right on all year and just really throwing the ball well,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Occasionally, one’s going to slip through the cracks and that’s what happened tonight.”
Of course, if the Angels had gotten a little more offense or played a little better in the field, the game might not have come down to Rodriguez. But they struggled at the plate with Warner Madrigal, a rookie making his first start at any level, and unheralded reliever Josh Rupe holding the Angels to two runs and five hits through six innings and inducing three double plays.
The Rangers turned two walks from starter Jered Weaver and a two-out single from Jarrod Saltalamacchia into a run in the fourth inning before tying the score two innings later when Marlon Byrd singled and raced to third base on left fielder Juan Rivera’s two-base fielding error, then scored when Vladimir Guerrero dropped Saltalamacchia’s liner to right field.
Rivera, who drove in the Angels’ first run with a sacrifice fly, made up for his error an inning later by hitting a two-run tiebreaking homer against Frank Francisco, setting the stage for Rodriguez. And Hamilton, the top run producer in the majors.
“I didn’t know it was out when I hit it,” said Hamilton, who hit a curveball that barely slipped over the wall for his 20th homer and his first in 70 at-bats dating to June 17. “I was running. I knew it was out when I got to second and no one was trying to get me out.”
By then, most of the Angels were trudging toward the dugout after their third loss in five games. It was also the fifth loss in seven games on the road for the big leagues’ best road team.
“We’ve had some tough losses this year,” said Scioscia, who passed up a chance to walk Hamilton after Young stole second three pitches into the last at-bat. “You’re going to have 10 games where you have those exhilarating wins where you walk off and you win them late. And then 10 games that just kind of rip your heart out.
“This is a tough loss. But we’ll turn the page and come out tomorrow and get after it.”
“You have to turn the page,” he said. “Tomorrow’s another day.”