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Must C Crucial: Squeeze play helps Rangers to victory

DETROIT -- Rangers utility infielder Alberto Gonzalez smiled, but he did not lie. He was sitting at his locker after the Rangers' 3-2 victory over the Tigers and was asked if the game-winning bunt hit his knee.

"Yes," he said.

That would have made it a foul ball, but home-plate umpire Tim Welke didn't see it that way in the top of the 11th inning. Instead Gonzalez was credited with a single, and the Rangers finished up their opening road trip by winning for the eighth time in nine games.

This ties an 8-1 trip in 2010 as the Rangers' best road trip of at least seven games. They finished it by taking three of four from the Tigers at Comerica Park, where they had lost 13 of 19, including the playoffs, since the start of 2007.

"They're a really good team," designated hitter Michael Young said. "They were very good last year and better this year. We're playing well. The big thing is we're pitching well. Obviously that's a good Detroit team, but for the first few weeks of the season, our pitching staff has really picked us up. That's the reason why we're playing well."

On Sunday afternoon, Colby Lewis held the Tigers to two runs in seven innings before handing it over to the bullpen. The combination of Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams, Robbie Ross and Joe Nathan proceeded to retire 12 straight batters while the Rangers were coming back against the Tigers' bullpen. Ross, pitching a scoreless 10th, ending up getting the victory for his third on this road trip.

"Pretty crazy," Ross said.

"The last few days have been a real test against a good team, and we responded," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We're playing good baseball, and we're playing it the way it's presented. We can play baseball any way it's presented."

What that means, in the manager's vernacular, is the Rangers are able to respond to any situation during the course of the game, and they did that on Sunday afternoon in overcoming the Tigers' 2-1 lead.

"It was a tough battle," Tigers infielder Miguel Cabrera said. "One-run lead is not enough off these guys. These guys are the best offense in the American League and in baseball. We played very good. We stopped their hitting. But they came back late in the game."

Josh Hamilton's first-inning home run was the Rangers' only run in six innings against Tigers rookie left-hander Drew Smyly, and they trailed, 2-1, going into the eighth. The Tigers had right-hander Joaquin Benoit, their No. 1 setup reliever, on the mound, but Elvis Andrus worked an eight-pitch walk.

That brought up Hamilton, who swung and missed at a 1-1 pitch in the dirt. The ball got away from catcher Alex Avila just enough for Andrus to bolt for second, and he ended up on third base when the throw sailed into center field.

"It didn't get far from Avila, but he had to try and find it, and that gave Elvis a chance," Washington said. "If he came up with a good throw, he gets him, but that's the way we play. That's what speed does ... it makes you rush."

Hamilton then followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game. One day after striking out four times in Saturday night's loss, Hamilton was 3-for-3 with a walk, stolen base and two RBIs on Sunday afternoon. During the nine-game trip, Hamilton was 18-for-39 (.462), with 10 runs scored, five home runs and 14 RBIs.

"It's awesome what Josh is doing right now," Nelson Cruz said.

Cruz made his own contribution in the 11th, when he started the winning rally by drawing a leadoff walk from Tigers reliever Thad Weber, who was making his Major League debut. Mike Napoli followed with a single, bringing up Yorvit Torrealba.

Torrealba, with orders to bunt, took two balls and then two strikes. With the count 2-2, Washington had him swing away, and Torrealba lined a single to left to load the bases.

Then came Gonzalez, who started at third because Adrian Beltre is sidelined with a strained left hamstring. He was 1-for-4 with a double on the afternoon while making several nice plays on defense. But this was his big moment, and Washington went for the squeeze on the first pitch.

"We had the right guy up in the right situation," Washington said. "He's one of the guys in my lineup who should be able to bunt. He's one of the guys who should be able to execute."

The pitch was high and inside, and Gonzalez got the bunt down. It just happened to deflect off his front knee, which should have made it a foul ball. Welke did not see it that way. Weber fielded it, looked at home and saw he had no play. He looked to get Gonzalez at first, but Cabrera was not covering the base. Gonzalez had a bunt single and the Rangers had the lead.

"It feels great to step up in that opportunity," Gonzalez said. "It was a close situation, a tough situation. But that's what the manager asked me to do."

Gonzalez delivered, even if the Rangers got a big break at the end. But that was the way their whole road trip went. Comments