ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers' red-clad fans stood on their feet clapping in unison before the start of the ninth inning, anticipating something special Tuesday night at Globe Life Park. They never sat down. Three batters into the inning, the Rangers had their seventh walk-off win of the season. Mitch Moreland's sacrifice fly to center field scored pinch-runner Drew Stubbs with the winning run.
Texas 6, Houston 5.
The Rangers, left for dead in late July when they fell nine games behind the Houston Astros, will wake up Wednesday morning in first place for the first time this season. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, considering manager Jeff Banister ends virtually every tweet to his 17,500 followers with #nevereverquit.
"I really believe it's a belief system that's in place. It's a mindset this ballclub has," Banister said. "They have fought, scratched and clawed, always imagining we would get to this point.
"We're not done yet. We still have a long ways to go."
Prince Fielder, struggling since the All-Star break, has picked a perfect time to find his hitting stroke. He started the ninth inning by lining a single to left off Oliver Perez, making him 3-for-18 lifetime against the left-hander. Banister used Drew Stubbs -- signed last month after Colorado released him to help the Rangers in situations just like this -- as a pinch-runner for Fielder.
Beltre lined a single to left-center, moving Stubbs to third with none out and bringing Mitch Moreland to the plate. He hit a fly ball to medium center field that should have given Colby Rasmus an opportunity to throw out Stubbs with a good throw.
Instead, Rasmus' threw the ball halfway up the third-base line. Stubbs crossed home plate with his right fist raised high above his head, while Moreland and Beltre exchanged high-fives at first base.
The dugout emptied and the typical walk-off celebration ensued, eventually moving from first base to the middle of the infield.
Fielder, Beltre and Moreland combined to go 7-for-12 with three runs scored and four RBIs for the Rangers, who are trying to become just the fifth team in the past 40 years to trail the division leader by eight games in August and win the division.
The Rangers have won five straight and nine of 11 against the Astros, and they're 10 games over .500 for the first time this season.
"We gotta keep the mojo going," pitcher Derek Holland said. "The Astros are not going to give up. Other teams are chasing us too. Nothing is going to be easy the rest of the season."
No worries, nothing has been easy for the Rangers all season. They lost ace Yu Darvish for the season in spring training, and a shoulder injury limited Holland to one inning until he returned to the rotation in August.
On May 3, the Rangers owned the American League's worst record at 8-16. General manager Jon Daniels never panicked.
He continued fortifying the ballclub with small moves and at the trade deadline he energized the clubhouse by acquiring left-handed pitcher Cole Hamels from Philadelphia for a bevy of pitchers.
Adding Hamels to a rotation that had Martin Perez, who had returned from Tommy John surgery in July, and would soon get Holland back gave the Rangers one of the American League's strongest rotations.
Suddenly, Banister had a variety of power arms he could use in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, and he could easily match up against left-handed and right-handed batters. The bullpen pitched 3⅓ scoreless innings Tuesday.
"The Cole Hamels trade helped a lot because it gave us the extra energy we needed," Elvis Andrus said. "We never panicked because we knew that everything could change in a week."
Actually, it took 135 days for the Rangers to move Houston out of first place, but they are there now and with less than three weeks left to play.