ARLINGTON, Texas — Saturday night’s game may have been just another July contest on the schedule for the Texas Rangers, but the club didn’t approach it that way.
Texas made lineup moves before the game. Then the Rangers extended their closer for two innings against Minnesota during the game. Things like that have to happen to snap a five-game slide. And for the first time this month, the moves worked as Nelson Cruz doubled home the winning run in the 10th inning to lift Texas to a 4-3 victory. It was their first win of the month.
“We needed this one bad,” said closer Joe Nathan, who picked up the win with his first two-inning performance since Aug. 21, 2009. “We fell into a little funk. For us to pull this one out and pull it out the way we did, these usually do get teams rolling.”
The Rangers were going in the wrong direction before Saturday. But all that ended in the 10th inning, when Adrian Beltre started it with a single to left off Kyle Waldrop. Cruz, who has five walk-off hits in his career, followed with a double to left that rolled under the glove of Josh Willingham.
The Willingham misplay allowed Beltre to score from first and give the Rangers just their second walk-off win of the season. They had six last year.
It also capped a day in which Cruz was inserted into the No. 5 spot in the batting order — where Michael Young had appeared 60 times this year. Young batted sixth, the lowest he’s hit in the order since 2003.
Cruz responded by going 3-for-5 with two RBI. He didn’t think the change in the batting order had anything to do with his big night.
“When the game starts everybody [said they] didn’t see a difference,” he said. “That’s just another way to see it. We got in a slump and it’s going to happen. We’ve been through that before. We know what it takes to come back, and we showed that today.”
Cruz wasn’t the only Texas player to have a solid night. Derek Holland, who hadn’t pitched for Texas since June 5, went six innings and allowed three runs. The bullpen worked four scoreless innings. Texas also had 10 hits for the first time in six games and got home runs from Josh Hamilton and Beltre. The Rangers had just one homer in the first five games this month.
“It was important that we finally got back on the winning side,” said Texas manager Ron Washington. “We earned everything we got tonight. We battled tonight. We didn’t stop. We kept getting guys out there. The opportunities were there. Then finally in the 10th Beltre and Cruz took care of things for us.”
The Rangers trailed 2-0 in the second before Cruz got things going with an RBI double in the bottom of the inning. The Rangers tied the score on Hamilton’s 27th homer in the fourth and then after getting down 3-2, Beltre tied the score again with a homer in the sixth inning.
Texas had chances to take the lead for good after that but stranded a runner at second in the sixth, left the bases loaded in the seventh and runners on first and second in the eighth.
But the bullpen kept Minnesota in check long enough for Cruz and the offense to find a way to win.
Washington said before the game that there were no guarantees about how the batting order would shake out in the future, saying the lineup was however it came out of his pen. But he did say he would use the same pen for Sunday’s final game before the break, which bodes well for those hoping to see Cruz continue to hit fifth.
“I’m not going to pat myself on the back,” Washington said. “Like I told you, it just came out of my pen that way. Cruz swung the bat well tonight. We were due to finally put something together offensively. We got the one inning that was important.”
The Rangers weren’t the only team with missed opportunities Saturday. Minnesota stranded runners in scoring position in the last four innings.
Nathan worked around two hits in his two innings and struck out Willingham with the go-ahead run at third in the top of the 10th on his 36th pitch of the night.
“Both innings were a lot of stressful pitches,” said Nathan, who hadn’t pitched in the last eight games. “A lot of thought. A lot of fast runners on base, trying to keep them at bay and mix up looks and mix up throwing over and mix up everything and doing that all while trying to make pitches. Today was definitely one of the harder ones that’s why I was pretty excited to get out of those innings.”