Rangers in First Place, What's Going On?

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Lights-out pitching from the Rangers? What in the name of Nolan Ryan is going on with Texas?

    "Our pitching staff's been our backbone all year," David Murphy said after he tied Sunday's game with a single in the ninth inning, then hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the go-ahead run in the 11th inning of a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

    The usually pitching-poor Rangers have a 3.48 ERA, their lowest mark through 25 games since 1993. The leaders of the American League West have won 8 of 11 games.

    The latest contributors: C.J. Wilson, Texas' closer last season who allowed five hits and a lone run in seven innings to lower his ERA to 1.65; plus relievers Chris Ray, Darren Oliver, Dustin Nippert and Neftali Feliz. They held Seattle hitless over the final four innings.

    Nippert (1-2) pitched a scoreless 10th before Feliz saved his fifth game in six chances. It was his second extra-inning save of the series, as the Rangers swept a three-game set in Seattle for the first time since April 13-15, 1999 -- Texas' next-to-last series at the old Kingdome.

    This sweep came while facing Mariners co-aces Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, plus Doug Fister, whom Murphy correctly labeled as "out of nowhere."

    "That's the best one-two punch in baseball. Then we had Fister," Murphy said of the unlikely ERA leader among American League starters at 1.29. "To kind of squeak out some games against those starters shows we're fighting out there."

    Fighting with arms, for a change.

    Then again, it helps Texas was facing Seattle.

    The Mariners' offense, in the word of manager Don Wakamatsu, is "anemic." Next-to-last in the AL in runs (86). Last in home runs (nine -- including none in a full week).

    "If someone would have said you'd throw 26 scoreless innings in a three-game series and get swept, they'd think you were crazy," Wakamatsu said. "Kind of tells you the shape of the offense."

    Seattle scored three earned runs in the 32 innings of the series. The last came when Chone Figgins singled and stole second to begin the bottom of the fourth. Franklin Gutierrez then singled home the game's first run.

    Wilson loaded the bases by hitting Casey Kotchman with a pitch, but he then struck out .094-hitting Eric Byrnes on three pitches -- the Mariners released Byrnes hours later. Center fielder Julio Borbon saved Wilson from more runs allowed with a sprinting, reaching catch of Rob Johnson's deep liner to end the inning.

    "The way Fister was throwing, you didn't think we had a chance," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.

    The 26-year-old right-hander, a Double-A reliever at the start of last season, passed Minnesota's Francisco Liriano for the lead in ERA by giving up just three hits and striking out three in eight innings to deny Wilson of his third consecutive win.

    After Fister left, Andrus walked against closer David Aardsma and then stole second to begin the ninth. One out later, Murphy grounded a single up the middle to tie the game and send Fister to a tough no-decision.

    Aardsma blew his second save in 10 chances.

    In the 11th, Murphy lined a sacrifice fly off Mark Lowe (1-3), following a single by Borbon and an infield, bunt single by Andrus.

    Andrus eventually scored on the second passed ball of the inning by catcher Johnson, who looked crossed up by Lowe -- then angry inside an otherwise lifeless Mariners clubhouse.

    The crowd booed the home team lustily when it ended.

    Fister, who entered April battling for a place in the back of Seattle's rotation, has given up two runs or fewer in each of his five starts.

    He retired his first 15 batters before Justin Smoak led off the sixth with a towering fly. The rookie dropped his bat to watch what appeared to be a tying home run, but Ichiro Suzuki, the nine-time Gold Glove outfielder, timed his jump perfectly and soared above the wall in right field to grab the ball and keep Texas scoreless.

    Max Ramirez finally ended Fister's perfect game when he got his first hit in 14 at-bats in the majors dating to July 13, 2008.

    In his previous home start, April 19 against Baltimore, Fister didn't allow a hit until the seventh.

    NOTES: Texas slugger Vladimir Guerrero did not start after playing 10 innings in RF Friday night, then all of Saturday's game at DH. Washington plans to have Guerrero, who singled as pinch-hitter in the eighth, back in RF on Monday at Oakland. Guerrero is 1 for 15 in his last four games. ... Byrnes started in a lineup change prompted by 36-year-old Mike Sweeney having a stiff back. Sweeney was originally listed as the DH in his platoon with Ken Griffey Jr. Milton Bradley had a hit as the DH instead.