Rangers make statement with D

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's likely that as the season dwindles and the Rangers attempt to reduce that magic number, that they'll find themselves in more close games. And in those games, defense gets magnified.

That was the case on Wednesday. The Rangers made the key plays with their gloves down the stretch to secure a 4-3 win and gain a game on Oakland in the AL West.

"That's going to be our backbone," David Murphy said. "We need to play great defense. I feel like there's been plenty of games this year where our defense has faltered and we lose a close game. Obviously, when you're playing a one-run ballgame, you better play good defense because this is the major leagues and teams will take advantage of it if you don't."

Murphy was part of that great defense on Wednesday. With the score 4-2 and rookie Michael Kirkman on the mound, Gregor Blanco hit a fly ball the was headed toward the foul line and over Murphy's head.

"There was a lefty on the mound and Blanco is a left-handed hitter, so he's the type of guy that tries to slap the ball the other way," Murphy said. "So I was playing kind of shallow on him and he got pretty good wood on it. I didn't think it was going to travel the way it did, but it started fading toward the line and carry over my head a little bit, so I knew I had to try to gain ground on it as much as possible. I got there kind of at the last second, just stretched and caught it."

His teammates had some high-fives and antler signs for him as he came back to the dugout.

But the outfield defense wasn't over. The Royals closed the gap to 4-3 and Neftali Feliz came on to attempt to get the save. He allowed two long fly balls to right. And Nelson Cruz made big catches on both of them.

"I was positioned right because we were in no doubles formation," Cruz said.

He was on the warning track when he caught Wilson Betemit's fly ball for the second out, which was hit on an off-speed 83 mph pitch. A few pitches later, Billy Butler got hold of a 101 mph fastball and drilled it to right. Cruz backed up against the wall, jumped slightly and made the catch.

"Murph's play and Cruz's catches won the game for us," Washington said. "That's the kind of defense we have to play."

Other reaction:

* Washington singled out Mitch Moreland's opposite-field homer in the sixth because that was the fourth run of the game and ended up being the winning run. Moreland now has five homers on the season and is hitting .256. He was 1-for-3 with two runs scored and a walk on the night.

* Tommy Hunter said he didn't have his best stuff. "They got on early in the innings and took advantage," Hunter said. He praised the defense, saying they helped him out of some jams. He thought his biggest pitch was the one to Alex Gordon with two on in the second. That double play ended an early threat.

* Hunter was not happy with the four walks, his season-high. "I don't know where that came from," Hunter said. "And one of those was a four-pitch walk. Maybe that's something to work on for next time." He allowed two runs on seven hits and was one out shy of a quality start.

* Besides the defense, Murphy had a stolen base, three hits and a run scored in the game. Washington has said he wants Jeff Francoeur to play against all lefties, but it's going to be tough to take Murphy out of this lineup for any lenghty period of time.

* The last few weeks, Andres Blanco has really helped stabilize second base. He now hands the baton to Ian Kinsler, but the Rangers know they have a solid utility infielder that is hitting the ball well right now. He's batting .279 on the season now 6-for-12 on this road trip.

* Darren Oliver made his 55th appearance of the season and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings, though he did allow one inherited runner to score. He pitched 17 years to the day that he made his Major League debut for the Rangers on September 1, 1993 at Boston.

* Neftali Feliz now has 34 saves on the season. That's three shy of Kazuhiro Sasaki's record for a rookie -- 37 for Seattle in 2000. Feliz is fourth on the rookie list, trailing Sasaki, Todd Worrell (36 in 1986) and Jonathan Papelbon (35 with Boston in 2006).