ARLINGTON, Texas – Joe Nathan’s 300th career save is one he’ll remember for a lot more than it making him just the 24th member of the 300 club.
He’ll also remember it because it came on a final pitch that should have been ball four.
Nathan got the benefit of a call on a full-count pitch to Ben Zobrist to preserve a 5-4 Texas victory over Tampa Bay on Monday night.
The curveball appeared to be outside, but home-plate umpire Marty Foster rung up Zobrist, who argued the call. Rayts manager Joe Maddon also came out to have a word, but to no avail.
The Rangers didn’t notice the complaints because they were too busy celebrating Nathan’s milestone save.
“Did I draw it up like this for my 300? No,” said Nathan, who mouthed the word “wow” after the call. “But we’ll take it. I knew I was throwing it there. The fact I thought it was ball four. I thought he (Zobrist) might offer at it. When he didn’t, my mindset went more to concentrate on what we’ve got to do with (on-deck hitter Evan) Longoria now. I think I might have been the last guy on the field to realize the game was over.”
Home-plate umpire Marty Foster said if he had a chance to make the call again, he would have called it a ball. But that’s not the case and the Rangers were fortunate to get a win on a night when the bullpen struggled.
The Rangers led 5-1 before Tampa Bay rallied with two runs in the eighth and another off Nathan in the ninth. Sean Rodriguez delivered an RBI single with two outs to bring Zobrist to the plate. He was 4 for 5 for his career vs. Nathan coming into the game.
He’s now 4 for 6 and the Rangers are just fine with the call.
“Fortunately I got a decent call there at the end,” said Nathan, who is just the 24th reliever to reach the 300-save mark. “I’ve seen plenty go the other way. It’s one of those situations where these guys battled back there. The umpires have a tough job, too. He’s back there for three hours, seeing a lot of pitches. I’ve seen plenty of close calls go against us.”
Texas manager Ron Washington’s reaction was similar to Nathan’s.
“Well, it was we won the game,” said Washington, who said he didn’t plan on watching a replay of the last pitch. “Of course I liked it.”
Nathan’s messy save summed up the night for the ever-evolving Texas bullpen.
Starter Alexi Ogando pitched 5 1/3 innings, piling up 89 pitches along the way but allowing just one run.
He left with Texas leading 3-1 and got instant help from rookie lefty Joe Ortiz, who needed just 17 batters to retire the five batters he faced.
Things started getting dicey from there. Elvis Andrus put Texas up 5-1 with a two-run single in the seventh but both Michael Kirkman and Derek Lowe struggled in the eighth, as Tampa cut the lead to 5-3.
Washington then called on Nathan, who was pitching on back-to-back days.
He gave up a leadoff single to Jose Molina to start the inning but retired the next two Rays before the Rodriguez hit brought up Zobrist with the tying run at first base.
That’s where the tying run stayed as Nathan becomes the first member of the 300-save club since Jason Isringhausen on Aug. 15, 2011.
“It’s one more closer to 400,” Nathan said. “I’m still competing. I hope I still have a few more years left in this game. What it means is we got a win tonight and we’re one step closer to getting to the postseason.”