ARLINGTON, Texas — The last time the Orioles had played at Rangers Ballpark, the night ended with a celebration in the visitor's clubhouse after they beat Texas in the first American League wild-card game.
Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis, who has long been one of the faces of the organization, was unable to participate in last year’s playoff run because of a broken left thumb. The Orioles held out hope that he could return if the club went to the World Series. Instead, he had to settle for dousing teammates with champagne with a plastic bag over the cast on his left hand as the Orioles celebrated here.
In his first game back at Rangers Ballpark on Friday night, Markakis made the difference in a 3-1 win, doubling in a run and making made a tremendous home-run robbing grab in the fourth inning on a deep fly ball off the bat of Adrian Beltre.
“He’s just so consistent,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Markakis. “I can not tell you what an asset it is to have so many players, and Nick as much as any, who you know what you’re getting from them every night. Now I’ve seen this guy play through things that most people don’t think about playing through. That’s why it was so emotional for all of us to finally get into the playoffs and he wasn’t able to participate.”
The Orioles went into Friday’s game having lost 12 of their past 16 regular season meetings against the Rangers, including five of their past six here.
But after Friday’s win, the Orioles (54-43) are 2 ½ games ahead of the Yankees for third place in the AL East and remained 4 ½ games back of division-leading Boston and two games behind second-place Tampa Bay.
It was Showalter's 250th victory with the Orioles, making him the fourth manager to win at least 250 with four different teams (Joe Torre, Gene Mauch and Dick Williams were the others).
“Well, you had to mention four different teams,” Showalter deadpanned. “Do you count the losses? I’ve got probably just as many of them. I’ve been fortunate to have good players and tonight was a good example of that.”
Wei-Yin Chen (5-3) overcame some mid-inning hurdles to beat the Rangers for the second time in 10 days – his first two outings since coming off the disabled list – holding Texas to one run over 6 1/3 innings for his fifth win in his past six decisions.
“I’m so lucky today, [my teammates] picked me up today,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. “Everything is about defense tonight. Unbelievable. Without them I cannot make it. The ‘W’ wouldn’t be next to me.”
The Orioles were also opportunistic on the basepaths, plating two runs with baserunners scoring all the way from first base.
But the play of the night came in the fourth, when Beltre led off by lifting a towering shot to right. Markakis tracked it to the warning track, timed a perfect jump and extended his glove over the top of the fence to bring the ball back into the park.
“It’s pretty weird how this game goes,” Markakis said. “My first time in eight years to get a chance to do that. I was just glad to be able to catch it and help out our pitchers.”
Said Rangers designated hitter Jeff Baker: “I didn't think there was any way he'd get that ball. It looked like it was way out. That was an amazing play.”
Later in the fourth, the Rangers caught the Orioles off guard when Baker, who was on first with a one-out single, went to second on a walk to Mitch Moreland and then sped to third, stealing the base by beating third baseman Manny Machado, who was shading to the hole on a shift, to the bag .
One batter later, Baker scored on a sacrifice fly to right, cutting the Orioles lead to 2-1.
Markakis doubled home Machado in the fifth with a two-out ball that fell in the left-center field gap past a diving center fielder Craig Gentry to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead.
In the third inning, Nate McLouth’s double to right plated Brian Roberts from first to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead. As McLouth’s hit shot into the right-field corner, Roberts sped around the bases, sliding home safely with his left hand touching home plate.
Catcher Matt Wieters hit his 13th homer of the season, and his second in as many games against Texas left-hander Derek Holland (8-5), a solo shot in the second inning. Holland turned in a quality start in a loss, allowing just three runs over six hits over eight innings.
The Rangers (54-42) were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and ran themselves out of a rally in the sixth. After a leadoff single by Baker, Gentry doubled into the right-center gap. But Baker took a wide turn of third and stopped, and shortstop J.J. Hardy’s relay throw caught Baker before he could retreat to the bag.
“I’m the second cut there in case [the outfielder] overthrows Brian [Roberts],” Hardy said. “I was kind of hanging out around second and I saw the throw was going to be over Brian’s head. I heard the fans going nuts so I figures he’d be taking a wide turn at home. When I spun around he was halfway there and I got him at third.”
Chen, who allowed eight Texas hits while striking out three and walking two, has allowed one run or fewer in each of his past three starts and five of his past seven. In two starts since coming off the DL with a left oblique strain, he has a 1.35 ERA.
He needed help from reliever Darren O’Day in the seventh after yielding a one-out double to Ian Kinsler. O’Day — facing the tying run twice — stranded Kinsler at third and retired all five batters he faced on the night.
Jim Johnson allowed a leadoff single to pinch hitter David Murphy in the ninth and hit Kinsler with a 2-2 pitch with two outs, bringing the potential winning run to the plate, but he escaped with a scoreless ninth to convert his 34th save of the season.
“It’s big,” Hardy said of the win. “Chen came out and he set the tone. He gave up just one run. That’s where it starts, pitching and obviously the defense. We were able to score just enough.”