ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Nick Solak isn’t getting to enjoy a playoff race in Texas after making his major league debut with the Rangers following a trade when he was a prospect for AL wild-card contender Tampa Bay.
The rookie is having fun anyway, at the expense of his former organization.
Solak homered off the pitcher he was traded for two months ago, and the Rangers helped knock Tampa Bay out of the AL wild-card lead, beating the Rays 6-4 on Thursday night.
The rookie’s two-run shot off hard-throwing reliever Peter Fairbanks put the Rangers up 5-1 in the fourth inning as Texas won consecutive series for the first time since late June.
The Rays (87-61) dropped their second straight game following a six-game winning streak that matched a season high. Oakland (87-60) moved a half-game ahead in the AL wild-card race with a 3-2 win at Houston.
“That’s a good ballclub over there that’s fighting for a wild-card spot,” said Solak, who is hitting .360 after going 6 of 11 against the Rays. “It’s fun to play against teams that are good like that. And to come out and show them what we can do.”
Solak and Fairbanks were swapped July 13, a little more than a month before the Texas infielder and designated hitter made his major league debut and about a month after the fellow rookie Fairbanks first pitched for the Rangers.
“The guy’s on a tear right now. What can you say?” said Fairbanks, reminding everyone that the Rangers are about to host the A’s in a weekend series. “I’ll buy him as many steaks as he wants if he does the same thing to the A’s that he did to us.”
Ji-Man Choi set a Tampa Bay record by reaching base 10 straight times over two games. He opened with a single before walking four straight times, the last one in the ninth before Nate Lowe grounded into a game-ending double play.
“We’ll certainly take the presence in the lineup that he’s providing right now,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Seems that a lot of good things that we’ve done offensively, it’s come with him on base or him at the plate.”
Luke Farrell preserved a one-run lead after Texas starter Kolby Allard allowed all five batters he faced in the fifth inning to reach, just after Solak capped a four-run inning that broke a 1-all tie. Austin Meadows’ two-run double and an RBI single from Tommy Pham got the Rays close.
Farrell (1-0) struck out a pair with two runners on, then retired Daniel Robertson on a flyout after Joey Wendle’s infield single loaded the bases. The right-hander pitched a perfect sixth, followed by scoreless innings from Jonathan Hernández and Rafael Montero.
José Leclerc worked the ninth for his career-best 13th save as Texas (74-74) reached the .500 mark for the first time since Aug. 14.
STRUGGLES SINCE DEBUT
Brendan McKay (2-4) lost his third straight decision, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings to push the left-hander’s ERA to 5.27.
It’s been 2½ months since the 23-year-old rookie beat the Rangers with Tampa Bay’s longest scoreless outing in a major league debut, retiring the first 16 Texas batters over six innings in a 5-2 win.
EJECTION, THEN HOMER
Rougned Odor’s 26th homer was a solo shot in the seventh for the Rangers, not long after manager Chris Woodward was ejected by home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski in the top of the inning for arguing balls and strikes with Hernández on the mound. “I was wrong by the way,” Woodward said. “It was a ball.”
Rays: OF Kevin Kiermaier said he would be available off the bench after a stiff neck sidelined him for the first two games in the ballpark where he made his major league debut as a defensive replacement in a tiebreaker for an AL wild-card spot in 2013.
Rangers: OF Hunter Pence, who made his fourth All-Star team after deciding not to retire and joining the Rangers on a minor league contract, came closer to acknowledging that a back injury will sideline him for the rest of the season. The 36-year-old suggested his focus has turned to the offseason, and preparing to play again next year. Woodward said the Rangers want him back if it makes sense for the roster.
Rays: RHP Charlie Morton (14-6, 3.11 ERA) is set for the opener of a three-game series at the LA Angels on Friday. The two-time All-Star is trying to become a 15-game winner for the second straight season.
Rangers: LHP Brock Burke (0-1, 3.52) is set for his fifth career start in the opener of a three-game series at home against Oakland. The 23-year-old was acquired from Tampa Bay in the offseason in a three-team trade that also involved the A’s.