ARLINGTON, Texas — When the ball caromed away from Texas Rangers center fielder Craig Gentry, he quickly recovered to get it and throw to shortstop Elvis Andrus. The game was over after a perfect relay to the plate.
Oakland's Josh Donaldson was tagged out by catcher A.J. Pierzynski, preserving the Rangers' series-clinching 4-3 victory over the AL West-leading Athletics on Thursday.
Donaldson, who reached on a two-out single off closer Joe Nathan, was trying to score from first on Seth Smith's fast-sinking ball that that short-hopped the charging Gentry.
"Little did we know, fortunately, that ended up being a blessing," Nathan said.
"I was hoping that Gentry had enough foot speed to catch it, but it sunk on him, but he kept it almost in front of him, not too far," manager Ron Washington said. "If he didn't hit Elvis with the relay perfectly, I don't think we would have been able to pull that play off."
Ian Kinsler put the Rangers ahead for the first time with his two-out single in the seventh.
Texas pulled within a game of the Athletics 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. "They're really aggressive on the bases. ... I just want to get the ball quick, so I can make a throw and make that guy stop."
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.
Donaldson and Smith singled in the ninth after Nathan struck out the first two hitters.
When Donaldson saw the ball get away from Gentry, who replaced Martin defensively in center to start the ninth. Donaldson never slowed down rounding third base even as coach Mike Gallego signaled him to stop after initially waving him home.
"As soon as I saw it hit his chest, I was gone," Donaldson said. "It took a perfect throw to get me. It sucks to lose a game that way, but you take that chance. It was frustrating because it was the worst outcome we could have had."
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.
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."
Texas finished 4-7 on its season-long 11-game homestand.
David Murphy led off the Texas seventh with a double, but was thrown out at third after Robinson Chirinos' bunt back to pitcher Ryan Cook, who was then relieved by Doolittle. Pierzynski had a pinch-hit single and Jurickson Profar a foul popout before Martin kept the inning alive.
The A's went up 3-2 in the top of the seventh when Jed Lowrie had a leadoff single and eventually scored on an error by Andrus, who went to his right to make a nice grab on Donaldson's grounder. Andrus threw to third, but the ball ricocheted off the leg of the sliding Lowrie, who then got up and ran home.
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.
Oakland went ahead 2-1 in the sixth when pinch-hitter Chris Young drew a bases-loaded walk. Robbie Ross, the fourth pitcher in the inning, then came on and got three straight outs.
Lowrie was in a 7-for-48 slide before three hits Thursday. He had an RBI single in the fifth, but grounded into a double play to end the eighth.
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 Coco 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.
Andrus had a sacrifice fly for Texas in the sixth.
Notes: The Rangers said after the game they would option Lindblom to Triple-A Round Rock on Friday, when 1B Mitch Moreland will be activated from the disabled list. .. Rangers RF Nelson Cruz made a leaping catch and held on when he hit in midair the inverted wall in front of the Texas bullpen in the eighth. ... Kinsler got his 161st career stolen base after his go-ahead single, matching Bump Wills for the most in Rangers history. ... 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.