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Rangers' bullpen comes up big to down Twins

Rangers' bullpen comes up big to down Twins

ARLINGTON -- On Monday afternoon, Rangers manager Ron Washington said his goal was to take three of four from the Minnesota Twins.

On Wednesday night, with his bullpen down two relievers, Washington went all-out with his bullpen trying to not only nail down that goal, but put the Rangers in a position to sweep the American League Central Division leaders.

After Vladimir Guerrero's home run put his team ahead, Washington deftly used five relievers to navigate the final three innings as the Rangers held on for a 4-3 victory over the Twins.

The skipper did not have closer Neftali Feliz, who had pitched three consecutive games. He was also without setup reliever Frank Francisco, who is sidelined with tightness in his right ribcage. But the combined efforts of Michael Kirkman, Darren O'Day, Darren Oliver, Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison over the final three innings were enough to make Guerrero's home run stand up.

Oliver and O'Day are the veterans of the bunch but Washington used them for just one out each. Kirkman, Ogando and Harrison did the heavy lifting before a national cable television audience and 29,926 at the Ballpark in Arlington.

"Kirkman, Ogando and Harrison grew up tonight," Washington said. "They came into some tough situations. They had to do it, because they were what we had tonight."

The Rangers have now won three straight over the Twins with Cliff Lee pitching the fourth game on Thursday night. The Rangers have also won four in a row and lead the AL West by 8 1/2 games with 34 left to play.

"It has been a lot of fun," third baseman Michael Young said. "We had a big crowd for Wednesday with school starting this week. Our fans recognize we're getting a homefield advantage from them. We're playing well, it's a lot of fun. But I can't say enough about the bullpen."

Josh Hamilton's two-run home run in the first got the Rangers started and the bullpen's work made a winner out of starter C.J. Wilson. He picked up his 13th victory by holding the Twins to three runs, two earned, in six innings. The lefty allowed seven hits, walked two and struck out six, raising his record to 13-5 with a 3.03 ERA. He is 6-0 with a 2.29 ERA in eight starts since the All-Star break.

"C.J. gave us six good innings," Washington said. "The fourth and fifth innings they worked him pretty good, but he battled."

The game was 3-3 when Wilson was finished for the night. Twins starter Brian Duensing was out there in the bottom of the sixth but Guerrero, leading off the inning, smashed a 1-0 pitch into the left-field seats to give the Rangers a 4-3 lead.

Guerrero, batting with a runner at second and two-out in the third inning, also had an RBI single. The home run in the sixth was just his third in his past 38 games. He entered the game hitting .236 with two home runs and 16 RBIs in his previous 37 games.

"I don't know where to throw to him," Duensing said. "I guess I'm just going to start throwing it where you don't want to or eight feet out and hope he swings."

Kirkman began the parade of relievers, facing the top of the Twins order in the seventh. Denard Span grounded out, Orlando Hudson fouled out and, after Joe Mauer singled, Michael Cuddyer grounded out to end the inning.

Kirkman has now retired seven of eight batters over his first two Major League outings since being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

"I got a look at the middle of a great lineup, and it helped me a lot," Kirkman said. "It was exciting, I got a good adrenaline rush. I was just trying to make pitches, throw it to [catcher Bengie Molina's] glove. After that it's up to the hitter and the guys behind me."

Washington, trying not to abuse O'Day and Oliver, used them for just one hitter each. O'Day struck out Delmon Young and Oliver struck out Jason Kubel. Washington then brought in Ogando. He gave up a single to Danny Valencia, but then struck out pinch-hitter Jim Thome to end the inning.

Ogando also struck out J.J. Hardy to start the ninth and Washington brought in Harrison to face Span for a lefty vs. lefty matchup at the top of the order. Harrison was the last pitcher out of the 'pen.

"I knew I was the last guy in the bullpen and my job was to finish it out," Harrison said. "I was a little amped up."

Span struck out and Hudson, with Mauer sitting in the on-deck circle, grounded out to end the game. It was Harrison's second career save since moving into the bullpen. The other was a three-inning job in a 13-3 victory over Pittsburgh back in June.

"Tonight was a little bit different," Harrison said.

But all the young relievers came through on Wednesday night.

"Great job dude ... that was good to see," Oliver said. "They've all got good stuff. Everybody in the bullpen except the two Darrens throw 94-98. We even it out. Everybody can't throw 95."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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