It just might have been the most painful week in Texas sports history, starting with the Dallas Cowboys' heartbreaking loss to the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday and ending with the Houston Astros all but out of the National League Central race, the Texas Rangers hanging by a thread in the AL West and -- just for bad measure -- the sixth-ranked Texas Longhorns on the wrong end of a tight game with Notre Dame.
This week isn't off to a great start, either. The Cowboys lost again and the Astros extended their losing streak to eight games yesterday, but the Rangers may have awakened just in time to save their season. They snapped out of a lengthy slump to win back-to-back games over the California Angels and did something that they haven't done in nearly two weeks:
They increased their lead on the surging Seattle Mariners, who lost for the first time since falling nine games behind the Rangers on Sept. 11. They had closed that gap to one game on Friday, but both teams won Saturday and the Mariners finally lost a wild 13-11 game to the Oakland Athletics to fall two back.
That made it a great wild-card day for the Orioles, who improved their lead over the Mariners to 1 1/2 games and held the Chicago White Sox three games back with only five games left on the Sox's schedule.
Though the AL West race is far from over, the chemistry of it has changed considerably. If the Rangers win just three of their remaining six games against the A's and Angels, the Mariners have to win six of their remaining eight just to tie. That's certainly possible. They showed that with their amazing comeback. But it has to be heartening to the Rangers to know that they don't have to play particularly well to stay on top.
The deal that brought pitcher John Burkett to Texas in August never looked better than it did on Saturday night, when he pitched eight innings and gave up one run on seven hits to defeat the Angels in a game that could have cost the Rangers the division lead.
That might turn out to be the biggest victory of Burkett's career if the Rangers collect themselves and reach the playoffs. He pitched a clutch game for the San Francisco Giants on Oct. 1, 1994, defeating the Dodgers to remain in a first-place tie with Atlanta in the 160th game of the season, but the Giants fell short.
The calculator has spoken
When the New York Yankees rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Boston Red Sox in a rain-delayed game at Yankee Stadium yesterday, the defending division champions mathematically were eliminated from the AL East race.
Not that it was any surprise. The Red Sox have been focused on the wild-card race for the past couple of weeks, but that effort also took a big hit. The loss dropped them five games behind the Orioles with seven games to play, reducing their tragic number (the number of Orioles wins and Red Sox losses that would eliminate them from playoff consideration) to three.
Padres hang tough
The San Diego Padres salvaged a split of their four-game series against the division-leading Dodgers to pull back within a half-game of the lead. That all but assures that next weekend's head-to-head series at Dodger Stadium will be the most compelling matchup of the regular season's final weekend.
San Diego also moved two games ahead of the Montreal Expos in the NL wild-card standings, which could turn out to be just as important. If the Expos fade, the Padres' final series with the Dodgers might just be an academic exercise to determine who is the division champion and who goes to the playoffs as the wild card.
Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove has another week to agonize over his postseason starting rotation. He knows who his four starters will be, but he doesn't yet know whether veteran Jack McDowell or young Chad Ogea will be in the No. 3 slot, which would mean one or two more starts over the course of the playoffs and World Series.
McDowell has emerged from a late-summer slump to win his past three games, but turned in another so-so performance on the way to yesterday's 6-5 victory over the punchless Kansas City Royals. He gave up five runs on seven hits over seven innings to improve his record to 13-9. Ogea is 4-2 with a 2.82 ERA in his past eight starts.
Down the stretch
Day .. ..O's .. ..NY .. ..Chi .. ..Sea
9/23 .. .Mil .. ..Bos .. .. .. ....Cal
9/24 .. .Bos .. ..Mil .. ..KC .. ..Cal
9/25 .. .Bos .. ..Mil .. ..KC .. ..Cal
9/26 .. .Tor .. ..Bos .. .. .. ....Oak
9/27 .. .Tor .. ..Bos .. ..Min .. .Oak
9/28 .. .Tor .. ..Bos .. ..Min .. .Oak
9/29 .. .Tor .. ..Bos .. ..Min .. .Oak
9/30 .. .. .... .. .. .. .. .. ...Cle#
Home games in bold
#-makeup, if necessary
Pub Date: 9/23/96