ARLINGTON -- While Nick Markakis made a significant run in this year's All-Star balloting, he fell just short of being voted into the game, finishing fourth in fan voting for American League outfielders. The quiet veteran put on a full display Friday night of the kind of star power that has had manager Buck Showalter reminding reporters all season that, official or not, Marakakis has been an All-Star.
The 29-year-old robbed Adrian Beltre of a fourth-inning home run with a leaping catch at the right-field fence and doubled in a run to back another quality effort from lefty Wei-Yin Chen, as the Orioles topped the Rangers, 3-1. The victory, in front of 40,068 at Rangers Ballpark, starts the O's second half off in style, as Baltimore made good use of several sloppy Texas plays to keep pace in the AL East.
"Nicky's substance is so much his style," manager Buck Showalter said. "He's just so consistent. I cannot tell you what an asset it is to have so many players, and Nick as much as any, who you know what you're getting from them every night. Now I've seen this guy play through things that most people don't think about playing through. That's why it was so emotional for all of us to finally get into the playoffs and he wasn't able to participate."
Markakis, who watched from the dugout as the Orioles topped Texas in the AL Wild Card game last fall, played a huge role in the club's follow-up visit to Arlington.
"It's pretty weird how this game goes," said Markakis, who agreed that the catch was one of his most memorable. "My first time in eight years to get a chance to do that. I was just glad to be able to catch it and help out out pitchers."
The win keeps the third-place Orioles (54-43) tied for a season-high 11 games over .500, within striking distance at 2 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay and 4 1/2 back from Boston, with both clubs also winning their second-half openers Friday night.
"It was unbelievable," Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin of watching his right fielder save a run. "When [Beltre] hit the ball, I felt like it was a home run definitely. When I turned around, Markakis turned around and grabbed the home run. I was so excited. That was the most unbelievable catch I've ever seen."
Chen, who worked his way through 6 1/3 innings, turned in his second quality start in as many tries back from the disabled list and was helped by his defense all night as the Rangers went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. The 27-year-old lefty allowed eight hits, but held Texas to one run and exited after Ian Kinsler doubled, with right-hander Darren O'Day retiring both batters after that.
Staked to a two-run lead, Chen allowed a leadoff single to Jeff Baker in the sixth. One out later, Craig Gentry doubled to center field and Adam Jones relayed the ball in to shortstop J.J. Hardy.
"I'm the second cut there in case [Jones] overthrows Brian [Roberts]," Hardy said. "I was kind of hanging out around second and I saw the throw was going to be over Brian's head. I heard the fans going nuts, so I figured he'd be taking a wide turn at home."
Hardy spun around and fired the ball to third baseman Manny Machado, who allowed Baker to take third earlier in the game on a shift play, and Machado put the tag down to nab the lead runner, held up late by third-base coach Gary Pettis.
"I'm running hard the whole way," Baker said of the play. "I pick [Pettis] up right before I hit the bag. I see him waving me, so I hit the bag and then he put the stop sign. I tried to get back the best I could, and they had me."
It was the first of several impressive plays for the All-Star Hardy, who closed the game on a sharp grounder.
"J.J.'s head is on a swivel and he knows where people are," Showalter said. "He makes hard plays look easy where a lot of other people do it the other way around. You're not going to see him on the web gems, but he makes a mental web gem every night."
The Orioles, who also didn't have a hit with a runner in scoring position, were able to push across a trio of runs off Rangers starter Derek Holland. Matt Wieters blasted his 13th homer of the year to put Baltimore on the board with two out in the second inning, and Nate McLouth doubled in Roberts from first base in the following frame.
The Rangers got one back in the fourth, capitalizing on the Orioles' defensive lapse. The frame started with Markakis' catch, but after Baker singled, Chen walked Mitch Moreland. As Baker trotted to second, he took a wide turn and dashed to an uncovered third base, marking just the second time this season Baltimore allowed third base to be swiped. Baker scored on Gentry's sacrifice fly, but Chen held firm after that, striking out Leonys Martin after Jurickson Profar's two-out single.
"I'm so lucky today, they picked me up," said Chen, who has allowed one run or fewer in his last three starts -- all wins. "Everything is about defense tonight. Unbelievable. Without them, I cannot make it. The 'W' wouldn't be next to me."
O'Day retired all five batters he faced following Chen, and closer Jim Johnson stranded a pair of runners en route to his 34th save.
"You take it day by day, but the first one is always the important one," Markakis said of the win. "It makes it a lot easier the next two days to come away with at least one of them, which is our goal to win series. To do it against a team like this, in their ballpark, is huge."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.