Rangers prosper under Park


Big Series: Minnesota Twins (71-56) at Texas Rangers (71-55), for four games.

Big Finish: Chan Ho Park returned from the disabled list and pitched six innings to get his first win since May 12. Park tossed five shutout innings, and then allowed two runs in the sixth before departing. The Rangers had a six-run lead at that point, and went on to an 8-3 victory to gain a split of the four-game series. Texas sits 2½ games behind Oakland in the AL West, and two back of Boston in the wild-card race. Nothing will come easy the rest of the way. Twenty of Texas' remaining 36 games will come against AL playoff contenders -- although most will be home games for the Rangers.

Big Returns: After being dropped to sixth in the batting order for Wednesday's game, Alfonso Soriano was back hitting in the third spot on Thursday. And he responded by going 2-for-4 with three RBI. Hank Blalock, batting seventh in the Rangers' lineup, also went 2-for-4 with three RBI while also scoring three runs. In all, Texas had 15 hits compared to six for Minnesota.

Big Start: Chris Young, 6-feet-10 and a product of Princeton, held the Twins to three runs in 5 2/3 innings in Tuesday's Texas victory, allowing four hits and three walks, giving the Rangers a chance to win the game late. At this point, this the basic requirement that Texas has for its starting pitchers, and so long as Young does this, he'll keep getting the ball.

Big Aberration: Joe Nathan has blown two saves in the last week -- and only three all season, in 38 chances. He worked out of a bases-loaded jam Wednesday night to get his 35th save.

Big Burst: Twelve days ago, the Twins were in danger of falling into a first-place tie with the Cleveland Indians. But since then, they have all buried the Indians and the White Sox, building a whopping eight-game lead over both teams in the AL Central.

Big Cy: Johan Santana allowed one run in eight innings in the Twins' victory Monday in the first game of this series, and has probably surpassed Mark Mulder as the leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award. Santana is 14-6 with a 3.13 ERA, and has allowed only 132 hits while striking out 207 in 181 innings. Santana has walked only 46, and opposing batters are hitting .202; he's got a closer's WHIP of 0.98. Since the All-Star break, he is 6-0 with a 1.86 ERA.

Big Leader: Mark Teixeira may gradually work himself into MVP consideration, Blalock plays with the composure of a 10-year veteran, and Soriano can hit any fastball. But Michael Young has probably been the most consistent force among the formidable Texas position players. Going into the series, he had collected 164 hits, batted .316, embraced the switch from second base to shortstop to make room for Soriano, and had done so smoothly.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," was released Aug. 17, and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.