- 134 wins
- 118 wins
But there Jackson was, left with the chore of setting down baseball's hottest team to push the game into extras. All it took was one swing of Vladimir Guerrero's bat to end any chance of that.
Guerrero's walk-off single sent the Pirates to a 6-5 loss in front of 19,567 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Thursday night. The win was the 11th straight for the surging Rangers, whose sweep of Pittsburgh now has the Pirates staring at 14 consecutive road losses. And before the end of the night, frustrations were visibly boiling over.
With the Pirates ahead, 5-3, when Jeff Karstens exited in the sixth, Russell mentally pieced together his bullpen in a way that would seal a win. Brendan Donnelly and Javier Lopez finished the sixth. Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan and Octavio Dotel, Russell expected, would take it from there.
"We set it up with the guys we knew we should be able to win the game with," Russell said. "Unfortunately, it didn't work out for us."
Of all pitchers to stumble, the Pirates didn't expect it to be Meek, who has been the Pirates' most reliable arm all season. He entered not having allowed an earned run in his past 13 outings. His ERA was a hardly present 0.66, the lowest among all Major League relievers with at least 35 innings.
Meek thought he made a decent 2-2 pitch to Elvis Andrus, but Andrus hit it the other way for a single to start the seventh. Michael Young then groomed an inside fastball down the right-field line. Outfielder Lastings Milledge gave chase, but his diving attempt came up short, and the ball rolled to the wall.
Young cruised to third with an RBI triple.
"As cliche as it sounds, it's baseball," Meek said, shaking his head. "He's quite possibly their best hitter. He found a way. He hit it in an exact perfect spot."
Ian Kinsler quickly followed that up with a single to tie the game.
"When a team is hot like Texas, a guy that doesn't give up runs gives up two runs," Russell said. "As we've seen all year, 19 out of 20 times he's going to come in and shut it down."
"Nights like that you try to replay in your head and figure out what went wrong and you just kind of come up blank," Meek said. "It's a terrible feeling. That seventh inning is usually mine, and I usually get the job done. That's a tough loss because it's a game I think we should have won."
Hanrahan pitched a clean eighth, but when the offense couldn't push across a run with runners on the corners in the ninth, Russell had to turn to Jackson. Dotel was kept in the 'pen in case a save situation presented itself later.
Jackson's first mistake was issuing a five-pitch walk to Andrus with one out.
"You can't do that," Jackson said afterward.
Young followed with a single, though Jackson bounced back to get out No. 2. He then worked Guerrero into a 1-2 count and went back to his changeup, the goal being to get Guerrero to chase a low one. But it hung, and Guerrero laced the pitch into left for a game-winning single.
"I wish I would have gotten it in the dirt," Jackson said. "It just didn't have that little bit of last action to get in the dirt. He's a great hitter. He's been doing that his whole career."
The walk-off loss sent Pittsburgh to its 15th loss in 17 games, and that has emotions running high. In the sixth, cameras caught bench coach Gary Varsho arguing in the dugout with Milledge, who had been thrown out at second on a botched hit-and-run in the top half of the frame. Bobby Crosby, however, never swung the bat.
The altercation between Varsho and Milledge didn't end until the two were restrained by coaches and players.
As the team took the field in the sixth, Milledge approached Crosby at short, appearing as if he wanted to discuss the miscommunication. Crosby looked uninterested in the conversation and continued fielding warm-up grounders until Milledge took his place in right field.
An inning later, Varsho and Milledge exchanged words again after Milledge's missed diving catch led to Young's triple.
"That is the stuff that happens when you're not playing well," one player said afterward.
All this frustration came after Pittsburgh had run out to a 5-1 lead. Pedro Alvarez keyed a four-run first for the club with his two-out, two-run double. Garrett Jones and Ryan Doumit also had RBI singles in the frame.
The Pirates' inability to tack on any runs after the fourth, though, proved costly. The club finished with 14 hits -- the most in a game since May 14 -- but also hurt its chances to build up a bigger lead by grounding into two double plays and having two runners caught stealing in the middle innings.
"We swung the bats well, just couldn't find a hole," Russell said. "We were right there. It's hard to explain, but we were right there."
"They are a young team," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They've got some young talent even if it hasn't blossomed. But they fight. In three games we played better than them, but those kids play hard. That's all you can ask."
Karstens did his job by maintaining the lead in his attempt to play stopper in yet another losing skid. Crosby's fielding error led to an unearned run in the second before the Rangers tacked on two more in the fourth to shave the four-run deficit in half.
"They have to lose at some point," Karstens said. "They can't win forever. We had them right where we wanted them. Unfortunately, it didn't go the way we wanted."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.