OAKLAND -- The bottom of the inning was the crucial moment of the afternoon. Rangers manager Ron Washington knew it. So did starter Nick Tepesch.
The Rangers, in the rubber match of a three-game series, had just scored two in the top of the fifth against Athletics starter Sonny Gray to tie the game at 2. Washington knew what the Rangers needed in the bottom of the fifth.
"We just needed a shutdown inning," Washington said. "You can't go out there and all of a sudden people are all over the bags. You want to shut it down."
Tepesch couldn't. The Athletics scored two that inning and held on for a 4-2 victory over the Rangers on Wednesday afternoon at the Oakland Coliseum.
"Anytime your team puts up runs, your job is to have a quick inning and put up zeros," Tepesch said. "I didn't do that."
Instead, the Rangers ended up losing two of three to the Athletics and now find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being nine games out of first place. The Rangers haven't been this far out of first place since the end of the 2009 season. It was 2007 when the Rangers were this far out of first place after 72 games. That's going back to the bad old days before all the glorious playoff runs.
But that's what the Rangers are dealing with as far as their aspirations of regaining a division title are concerned. The A's won the series and the Rangers are back to two games under .500 at 35-37. There is more than half a season left to go, there are Wild Card spots still in play and the Athletics proved two years ago that big margins in the standings can be wiped out quickly.
But the A's now have the best record not only in the American League West, but in the Major Leagues. The distance between them and the Rangers is significant in many ways.
"I'm not worried about being nine games out," Washington said. "We won the first game here and should have won last night, but we didn't. We lost two of three, but there is a lot of baseball left. I keep saying, 'We just have to get consistent.' We didn't quit, we fought them, we just didn't get it done.
"We have to keep grinding and keep playing. We have to get better on the mound and we have to take advantage of our opportunities on offense, and defensively we have to make the plays."
After scoring 20 runs in the first two games, the Rangers were held to just two runs by Oakland starter Sonny Gray and two relievers. Tepesch left after five innings, having given up four runs on nine hits with two walks and one strikeout.
"I felt pretty good, but I was in a lot of deep counts and they saw a lot of pitches," Tepesch said. "Anytime the hitters see a lot of pitches, it makes your job harder. They are a patient ballclub. They have a plan at the plate. They are a good ballclub."
The defense hurt in the third inning. Craig Gentry led off with a grounder to shortstop, and Elvis Andrus bobbled it just slightly. That was enough for Gentry -- the former Rangers outfielder well-known in Texas for his speed -- to beat it out for a single.
"I know how fast he is, so I wanted to get rid of the ball as soon as possible," Andrus said. "I had to hurry and it scrambled in my glove."
Gentry scored on a double by John Jaso. Tepesch retired the next two hitters, walked Brandon Moss and gave up a two-out RBI single to Josh Donaldson.
"We should have been out of that inning," Washington said.
The Rangers tied it up in the top of the fifth after a one-out walk by Rougned Odor, a two-out walk by Leonys Martin and an infield single by Andrus loaded the bases. Shin-Soo Choo followed with a single to left to bring home two runs.
But Tepesch couldn't keep it tied. In the bottom of the fifth, Yoenis Cespedes singled with one out and scored on a double by Moss. A single by Donaldson and Stephen Vogt's sacrifice fly brought home another run.
That was one two-run lead too many, and now the Rangers are nine back in the standings.
"I don't think anybody is looking at the standings," outfielder Alex Rios said. "We're just playing ball and trying to win games. Sometimes things don't go our way, but we're playing to win. It was a tough series. We just couldn't do much after the first game. We just have to keep playing hard."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.