By Stephen Hawkins
ARLINGTON, Texas — Josh Donaldson knew it was going to take a perfect play to keep him from scoring the tying run for the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning.
The Texas Rangers made the play, throwing Donaldson out at the plate to end their series-clinching 4-3 victory over the AL West-leading A’s on Thursday.
Donaldson, who reached on a two-out single off closer Joe Nathan, was trying to score from first when Seth Smith dumped a full-count pitch into center that short-hopped and caromed away from charging center fielder Craig Gentry.
“As soon as I saw it hit his chest, I was gone. It took a perfect throw to get me,” Donaldson said. “It was frustrating because it was the worst outcome we could have had.”
Gentry recovered quickly to get the ball and threw to Elvis Andrus. The shortstop made a perfect relay to catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was blocking the plate and tagged out Donaldson to end the game.
“We’ve had some issues getting runs today, so aggressive is fine with me,” manager Bob Melvin said.
With coach Mike Gallego signaling him to stop, after initially waving him around the base, Donaldson never slowed down around third base.
Oakland scored single runs to go ahead in three consecutive innings, only to give up the lead each time.
Ian Kinsler put the Rangers ahead for the only time with his two-out single in the seventh.
Texas, which had lost seven of its previous nine games, pulled within a game of the A’s by winning three times in the four-game set. The division’s top two teams don’t play again until the first weekend of August.
“Any win right now is special, especially against a good team like the A’s, especially to win the series,” Andrus said.
Oakland, which went from a seven-game deficit in mid-May to starting this series with a season-high three-game division lead, lost for the fifth time in seven games.
“That was as frustrating as any loss we’ve had,” manager Bob Melvin said. “They played hard on every single pitch and every single out, but it seemed everything that could go wrong did go wrong.”
Kinsler came to the plate in the seventh right after Leonys Martin’s hustling infield single, getting to first base ahead of Sean Doolittle (3-2) when the pitcher was taking the toss from first baseman Brandon Moss. That loaded the bases with two outs, and Kinsler hit a full-count pitch through the middle of the infield.
After Coco Crisp had a leadoff walk in the eighth, John Jaso hit a deep flyball. Right fielder Nelson Cruz made a leaping catch and held on when he hit in midair the inverted wall in front of the Texas bullpen. Jed Lowrie, already with three hits, then grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“I didn’t think there was any doubt that it wasn’t going out,” Melvin said of Crisp. “From the swing and the sound of it, I thought it was a home run.”
Oakland went ahead 2-1 in the sixth when pinch-hitter Chris Young drew a bases-loaded walk before Robbie Ross, the fourth pitcher in the inning, came on to get three straight outs.
Lowrie was in a 7-for-48 slide before his three hits, including his RBI single in the fifth for a 1-0 lead.
Geovany Soto, catching until Pierzynski hit for him in the seventh, led off the Rangers fifth with a tying solo homer to straightaway center. It looked like Crisp had a chance to make a homer-stealing grab, but ran into the 8-foot wall about the same time he was reaching up to try to make the catch.
As soon as Soto hit the ball, third baseman Donaldson tossed his glove up in the air. Donaldson wouldn’t comment about that after the game.
Andrus had a sac fly in the sixth, but his throwing error an inning later put Oakland up again. Andrus went to his right to make a nice grab on Donaldson’s grounder, but threw to third, where the ball ricocheted off the leg of the sliding Lowrie and allowed him to score.
But that was all the A’s got in the seventh, when they left the bases loaded for the second inning in a row. They left 13 runners on base.
Tanner Scheppers (5-0), the fourth reliever after starter Josh Lindblom, worked 1 2-3 scoreless innings before Nathan struck out two in the ninth and got his 22nd save in 23 chances.
Notes: In their seven previous plate appearances before Thursday with the bases loaded, the A’s had been 4 for 4 with a homer, a walk and two sacrifice flies. … Oakland is 30-16 in night games, but 13-16 in the day. … Texas finished 4-7 on its season-long 11-game homestand. … Kinsler got his 161st career stolen base after his go-ahead single, matching Bump Wills for the most in Rangers history. … Pierzynski had a pinch-hit single in the seventh and scored the go-ahead run.