Michael Young delivered a crucial two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning that helped the Rangers roll past the Marlins, 6-3, on Wednesday night.
A crowd of 17,014 at Sun Life Stadium watched the Rangers produce when necessary to claim the first two in the three-game set. Marlins right-hander Anibal Sanchez battled through some rough early innings to post a quality start. In six innings, the right-hander gave up three runs (one earned) while striking out six.
By taking the first two, the Rangers have claimed the Interleague series, and the Marlins will look to avoid being swept on Thursday.
In terms of the big picture, Florida is now 31-34, and three games under .500 for the first time this season. After taking two of three at Tampa Bay last weekend, the team appeared to be on the rebound. But the Marlins have yet to string together a consistent winning streak.
"That's what we need -- a streak," Hanley Ramirez said. "We need to win like 10 or something -- a streak. The consistency, it hasn't happened yet."
It's been the Rangers being opportunistic while the Marlins have struggled to manufacture runs. Florida collected four hits compared to 12 for Texas. Even when balls were struck hard, there wasn't much of a reward.
Defensively, the Rangers also have stepped up. A play that stood out to the Marlins, but won't appear in the boxscore, is Jorge Cantu's hard line drive to left field in the eighth inning. Cantu scorched a liner into the gap off Frank Francisco, but Josh Hamilton was playing Cantu perfectly in the gap, a place you don't normally see a left fielder stationed.
"I thought we hit the ball hard today," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "There were a couple of times ... we hit the ball in the gap and Hamilton is standing right there in left-center field. Teams go through this. We've got the right guys at the plate. We need something, a broken-bat single, to get things going."
For the second straight night, the Marlins' starter pitched well enough to win. But the offense once again labored, while the Rangers came up with the timely hits.
On Tuesday night, Florida lost, 3-2, and had just three hits. Still, the Marlins were one out away from winning it in the ninth inning before Matt Treanor's pinch-hit, two-out, two-run triple.
On Wednesday, Texas starter Tommy Hunter exited after 2 1/3 innings due to discomfort to his right hip flexor.
Florida didn't have a hit off Hunter, and Texas' bullpen let three runs score (Hunter was charged with one) over 6 2/3 innings. Matt Harrison replaced Hunter and gave up a run on three hits in 2 2/3 innings. Darren O'Day retired all six batters he faced and posted a strikeout in two innings. The right-hander was credited with the win, while Neftali Feliz struck out the side in order in the ninth for his 17th save, and second of the series.
Hamilton belted a home run in the ninth off Renyel Pinto, giving him four hits on the night. Thus far in the series, Hamilton is 6-for-8 with two walks. He has reached base every plate appearance except once. He's also reached on an error.
After the game, Pinto was designated for assignment, which reflected the team's bullpen woes.
Despite a sluggish offense, the Marlins found themselves in a one-run game until Young provided Texas with some breathing room in the eighth. Young's two-out, two-run single off Jay Buente was significant for a couple of reasons. Along with padding the Rangers' lead to three runs, it also was career hit No. 1,748, making Young the Rangers' all-time hits leader. He passed Ivan Rodriguez.
"The big thing is we won the game," Young said. "They are a tough team and they were battling us most of the game."
After falling behind by three early, the Marlins chipped back to 3-2 on Chris Coghlan's RBI double in the fifth. Ronny Paulino singled, and he went to second on Sanchez's sacrifice bunt.
With Coghlan on third, Ramirez was victimized by the deep wall in left-center. Ramirez lifted a long fly to the wall, but the towering shot was run down by Julio Borbon, who collected the drive that sailed about 390 feet.
"I didn't hit it quite enough," Ramirez said. "I was surprised it went that far."
Hunter was given a three-run cushion in the top of the third inning, but the right-hander made a quick exit in the bottom of the third due to a strained right hip flexor.
Hunter walked Sanchez and worked a three-ball count on Coghlan before being removed.
Harrison replaced the Rangers' right-hander, and issued a single to Gaby Sanchez, loading the bases. Ramirez's RBI groundout to second put the Marlins on the board.
For the second straight game, the Rangers strung together three straight two-out singles in the first inning to grab an early lead. David Murphy's infield single scored Ian Kinsler. The run was unearned because of a throwing error by Sanchez during a pickoff attempt on Kinsler.
The lone run Texas scored off Josh Johnson on Tuesday came in a similar fashion. Like Sanchez, Johnson recorded two quick outs before the Rangers strung together a rally.
Sanchez was upset at himself for throwing too many pitches in the early innings, which led to him being lifted after the sixth and 103 pitches.
"It's a problem in all my starts. I don't have too many walks," Sanchez said. "I have a lot of strikeouts. But I want to have that many pitches, but over more innings."