Pittsburgh Pirates’ Marlon Byrd (2), Starling Marte, left, and Felix Pie, rear, celebrate following a baseball game against the Texas Rangers, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. The Pirates won 7-5, sweeping the Rangers in a three-game series. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
by Stephen Hawkins
AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — These Pittsburgh Pirates keep saying their goal this season was always bigger than just having a winning record.
The American League better watch out if they are able to make it to their first World Series since 1979.
Clint Barmes homered and drew a bases-loaded walk as the Pirates completed a three-game series sweep in an interleague matchup of wild-card leaders with a 7-5 victory Wednesday over the slumping Texas Rangers.
“You see how close this race is, so that’s the way we’ve been taking it every day,” Barmes said. “And I don’t see that changing.”
The Pirates (84-61), who ensured their first winning season since 1992 with a victory in the opener at Texas, finished the series with their ninth consecutive interleague road victory. They finished 15-5 overall during the regular season against AL teams.
“That’s a big-time record,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “They’re challenging because they’re like pop quizzes. You got to watch video and maybe you’ve seen them. I had a little history here with a few of the hitters. It’s just been the way we’ve been able to show up.”
After being swept in three games at St. Louis last weekend, the Pirates moved within a half-game of the NL Central-leading Cardinals, who hosted Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
“The thing I’m most impressed with is our consistency, our focus and our preparation,” Hurdle said. “It doesn’t waver. We didn’t come here with sweep on our mind. We came in here to win the first game.”
Texas (81-64) has dropped nine of its last 12 games, a stretch in which the Rangers have lost four consecutive series. They have gone from a three-game lead in the AL West to 2½ behind Oakland before the Athletics played at Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Oakland also plays the Twins on Thursday, when the Rangers have their last scheduled day off, before a three-game weekend series in Texas between the AL West’s top two teams.
“We’ll be fine,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “We’ve got an off day and then come back ready to play. It’s all we can do.”
Justin Morneau, acquired from Minnesota less than two weeks ago, snapped an 0-for-14 slump with four hits while scoring twice for Pittsburgh.
” We got outplayed in every aspect of the game in St. Louis,” Mourneau said. “To come back and have a short memory and forget about that, I think that’s a sign of a good team when you can bounce back.”
A.J. Burnett (8-10) struck out seven in 6 1-3 innings, though he faded late after retiring the first 13 batters he faced.
Kyle Farnsworth, the fourth Pittsburgh reliever, worked the ninth for his first save since 2011.
Matt Garza (3-4 with Texas, 9-5 overall) needed 89 pitches to get through four innings and left down 3-0. He struck out six, but also walked four and gave up five hits.
Garza, acquired July 22 from the Chicago Cubs to bolster the Rangers’ rotation, is 0-2 his last four starts.
“I feel fine, just didn’t have location and paid for it,” Garza said.
Felix Pie had a leadoff walk in the third, stole second and scored on Neil Walker’s single. The Pirates loaded the bases in the fourth before Barmes drew a walk, and another run came home on a fielder’s choice after shortstop Elvis Andrus bobbled a likely double-play grounder.
Barmes’ solo homer in the eighth that made it 7-5 was the only home run hit by either team in the series.
With his breaking ball working, Burnett struck out five the first two innings and didn’t allow a base runner until A.J. Pierzynski’s one-out double in the fifth.
“That’s about the only time it was effective. I started to lose it toward the end,” Burnett said. “My arm started dragging a little bit. But I just wanted to come out and set the tone and keep it going.”
That first hit by Pierzynski might have been caught if Gold Glove center fielder Andrew McCutchen wasn’t getting a day off. The ball went over the outstretched glove of Pie.
Burnett gave up five hits and walked two over the last 10 batters he faced. After the bottom two batters in the Rangers lineup walked to start the sixth, they scored when Andrus got a single that ricocheted off shortstop Barmes’ glove into short left as he tried to make a backhanded stop.
Notes: Texas was 10-10 in interleague play. … Suspended Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz started workouts Wednesday at the team’s spring training complex in Arizona with full defensive drills and batting practice. Instructional league games begin next Wednesday. Cruz’s 50-game suspension came after Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis clinic in Florida accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs. Cruz’s suspension goes through the end of the regular season, meaning he could be eligible for the postseason.