Elvis Andrus must keep igniting sparks

ARLINGTON, Texas -- If the Texas Rangers are to continue hanging around in a crowded race for an American League wild-card spot and even stay in range of the AL West-leading Oakland Athletics, Elvis Andrus must be a big reason why.

This has not been the season Andrus expected so far.

He is batting .256 and largely has been unable to cash in key runs when given numerous opportunities. He is 5-for-44 with runners in scoring position.

Even his fielding has been uneven at times. He made a couple of questionable decisions in Tuesday's loss to the Baltimore Orioles. Perhaps that was one of the reasons Rangers manager Ron Washington felt his shortstop looked sluggish and gave him another off day.

Andrus said he didn't need it.

But since that rest period, Andrus has played better.

Even after a rough start to Friday's game with the Cleveland Indians, he delivered late in a close game.

Andrus made a double play that will appear numerous times on "SportsCenter" in the next 24 hours. With the Rangers up by one in the eighth and the Indians with the tying run at first base, Andrus snagged Mike Aviles' ground ball, stepped on second base, fell over Carlos Santana (who slid in hard), got up and still threw to first to end the inning.

"I just wanted to show everybody that I have a really good ballerina move," Andrus said.

He did that, certainly.

But his play in the bottom half of the inning was just as important. Andrus singled the opposite way, going with a pitch to get his first hit of the night. It continued his ridiculous streak of a hit in all 38 career games he has played against the Indians, tied for the second-longest streak against one opponent since 1900 (Vladimir Guerrero's 44-game streak against the Rangers from April 2004 through August 2006 is the longest).

Once he was on first, Andrus was looking to get into scoring position. He went to second on Mitch Moreland's walk. And when John Axford wasn't paying much attention, Andrus stole third. That put him 90 feet away with one out. He raced home on a shallow fly ball from Adrian Beltre and slid headfirst around the tag to score a key insurance run.

"He's the engine of this offense, there's no doubt," Beltre said. "He's that type of player. He gets on base, he steals bases and finds a way to create runs for us. Every player goes through highs and lows through the season, and he went through a low earlier this month.

"But he's doing a lot better. He's playing better and we know he's going to be there."

That's the Andrus this Rangers team needs. They've got a 20-year-old at second base, a rookie in the outfield and have parts of a solid big-league team sitting on the DL. Andrus has to be one of the leaders. He has to make things happen and ignite this team.

"He's our catalyst," Washington said. "He's always been [that way]. He's starting to put his game back together. The key for us to continue to be successful is we have to be consistent. It starts with Elvis. It starts with all those guys."

Andrus did those things Friday. Perhaps it's a sign he can start playing at a higher level again. He has hit safely in five of his last six games, and after the off day has displayed the defensive skills fans have become accustomed to.

"The last week I've been feeling well all around," Andrus said. "My process right now is going well. Sometimes I don't get the best result I can get, but I feel good and my mental approach is there. I'm close to hitting the ball the way I always have. As long as we win games, everything is good."

They'll win more games if Andrus can do what he did on Friday.