ARLINGTON -- Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins have a saying for their pitchers when they face tough situations: You're one pitch away from greatness.
"That's the one thing they pound into our pitchers when they're in trouble," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
Rangers starter Justin Grimm seemed to be one pitch away from greatness for six innings on Sunday. He faced 26 batters and 13 of them came to bat with a runner in scoring position. But Grimm did a superb job of damage control, and his offense did some serious damage to the Mariners' pitching.
The combination of the two allowed the Rangers to complete a three-game sweep of the Mariners with an 11-3 victory on Sunday afternoon at the Ballpark in Arlington. The 11 runs were a season high, and this marks the first time the Rangers swept a series since June 18-20 last season in San Diego.
Nelson Cruz's fifth-inning grand slam was one of four home runs hit by the Rangers as they moved past the Athletics and into first place in the American League West. They had been in second place for 11 straight days.
"That's the way we see ourselves as a lineup," Cruz said. "We can do damage one through nine and I was glad to see the whole team doing damage. It was a good series for us. The pitching was amazing and when the offense needed a clutch hit, we got it done."
Leonys Martin delivered the first of those clutch hits. The Rangers trailed, 1-0, going into the third, but Martin tied it up with a one-out homer off Harang with a fly ball to right-center. It was his first Major League home run.
"I just made contact," Martin said. "I didn't know it was a home run until I saw it land into the stands.
"It was exciting. I'm not going to forget that for the rest of my life."
Mitch Moreland put the Rangers ahead with a two-run home run in the fourth, Cruz's grand slam was the highlight of a five-run fifth inning and Adrian Beltre hit a two-run homer in the sixth.
"It's nice to have that breakout ... it all started on the mound with Grimm," Washington said. "He was able to make good pitches at the right time, he kept the ball down and changed speeds and threw the ball the way he is capable. It all started there."
The Mariners were 1-for-11 off Grimm with runners in scoring position, and that's why he was able to hold them to two runs in six innings. He allowed allowed six hits and a walk, and one of the runs was unearned because of an error by Ian Kinsler on the first play of the game.
"I was just going out there and being aggressive, I wasn't worried about the runners in scoring position," Grimm said. "I was just trying to pitch a close game and attack hitters. My whole mindset was to keep it close and just keep executing pitches."
Grimm also struck out a career-high nine batters, mainly with his breaking ball that he used aggressively all afternoon.
"He threw a lot of curveballs," Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. "It's a good pitch for him; it's got a lot of bite on it. It's sharp. It's an effective pitch for him, but we need to make adjustments in the game and do something with it."
Grimm was in trouble early, when Kinsler couldn't come up with Endy Chavez's grounder to lead off the game. Chavez raced to second on the play and scored on Seager's double. But Grimm left Seager stranded by getting Kendry Morales on a grounder to the mound, Michael Morse on a grounder to second and Justin Smoak on a strikeout.
Kelly Shoppach led off the second inning with a double, but Grimm left him stranded as well. Dustin Ackley bunted the runner to third and, after Jason Bay walked, Grimm struck out Brendan Ryan and got Chavez on a grounder to first.
Seager led off the third with a single and went to second on a grounder by Morales. Grimm then struck out the next two hitters.
At that point, the Mariners had sent 14 batters to the plate and ten of them came up with a runner in scoring position. But they only had a 1-0 lead because of the way Grimm battled through trouble.
"You're one pitch away from greatness," Washington said. "He executed pitches when he was in trouble, he showed that in [his first start in] Seattle. We're just trying to make him understand to do that all the time. Not [just] when you're in trouble."
Michael Kirkman pitched the final three innings for his first career save, and the Mariners finished 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position on the afternoon.
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.