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Angels drop the ball and are pushed to the brink of playoff elimination

September 22, 2010 | 11:44 pm

There was no cross-up between reliever Matt Palmer and catcher Jeff Mathis on the 12th-inning passed ball that allowed Jeff Francoeur to score the winning run in the Texas Rangers' 2-1 victory over the Angels on Wednesday night.

"I just missed it," Mathis said. "His fastball has a natural cut. I misjudged where it was going, and it didn't hit the pocket."

Starter Dan Haren and relievers Jordan Walden, Fernando Rodney, Kevin Jepsen and Michael Kohn combined to retire 16 straight batters from the sixth through 11th innings, but Francoeur led off the 12th with a double to right-center, and Chris Davis walked.

Both runners advanced on Bengie Molina's sacrifice bunt, and Palmer struck out pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland for the second out. Francoeur then scored on the passed ball, and Rangers right-hander Neftali Feliz tied the major league record for saves by a rookie with his 37th, retiring the side in order in the bottom of the 12th to nail down the win.

Texas reduced its magic number to win the American League West title to four and pushed the Angels to the brink of playoff elimination. The combination of one Rangers win and one more Angels loss will mathematically eliminate the Angels.

Texas' first run, in the third inning, was unearned, but the Angels tied it in the seventh on Mike Napoli's 26th home run of the season. Haren allowed one unearned run and three hits in seven innings, and the Angels bullpen kept the team in the game.

"To miss a ball like that after we scratched and clawed our way back to tie the game sucks pretty bad," Mathis said.

The Angels had a chance to win in the eighth, but with runners on first and third and one out, and Howie Kendrick running from first on a full-count pitch, Torii Hunter hit a ball so hard to shortstop that Andres Blanco had just enough time to flip to second to start an inning-ending double play.

"The only way they turn that double play is if you hit a rocket, and Torii absolutely scorched that ball," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "If he hit it with less pace or two feet over, it's a run."

Scioscia had a chance to pinch-hit for the .189-hitting Mathis with a runner on first and two outs in the ninth inning, but ironically, one of the reasons he kept Mathis in the game was for his defense.

Scioscia had left-handers Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui and Hank Conger on the bench and figured the Rangers would summon left-hander Darren Oliver to face a pinch-hitter. He preferred the matchup of Mathis versus right-hander Dustin Nippert over Oliver vs. Abreu/Matsui/Conger.

"If we pinch-hit Abreu and they bring in Oliver, you're looking for Bobby to hit a double, which is not outside the realm of possibility," Scioscia said. "But with two outs, if Jeff can keep the inning going, now we're in a position to get a single."

Mathis flied to left to end the inning.

-- Mike DiGiovanna