ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers got their game into the situation manager Ron Washington wanted Thursday night.
For one of the few times this season, closer Joe Nathan couldn’t deliver.
Nathan yielded three runs in the ninth inning as Cleveland rallied for a 5-4 victory at Rangers Ballpark.
The 36,000-plus fans witnessed something that most of the three million who have shown up in Arlington this year haven’t seen — a blown save by Nathan. It was just his second blown save of the year, the other coming April 11. He had converted a career-high 31 consecutive save opportunities before Thursday’s setback. It was the longest overall streak in the majors and tied for the 18th longest since saves became an official stat.
“He just didn’t miss bats,” Washington said. “It wasn’t his night.”
Nathan, who had saves in each of the first two games of the series, came on with the Rangers up 4-2 after scoring a pair of unearned runs in the eighth inning. But Ezequiel Carrera led off by hitting his second homer of the season to right.
Pinch-hitter Russ Canzler followed with a single to right to bring up Jason Kipnis. The Indians second baseman drilled a 1-0 pitch to the home-run porch in right, extinguishing the Rangers’ chance of increasing their AL West lead to four games over Oakland.
Carlos Santana followed with a double, forcing Washington to lift Nathan for Koji Uehara. The Rangers right-handed reliever ended the scoring threat, but the damage had been done.
Nathan had allowed just one run and eight hits in his last 15 games. Those numbers took a beating Thursday as Nathan failed to retire a better for just the fourth time in his career, the first since Aug. 30, 2008.
Nathan (2-4) sounded like a real-estate broker when talking about his troubles, but he didn’t use pitching in three-consecutive games as an excuse.
“It’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “It’s fine with me. I’ve got to get back to locating anyway and doing that. I’m not worried about dead arm or anything like that. I’m concentrating on hitting the mitt and throwing the ball where I’m supposed to.”
The Rangers were really fortunate to be in a situation where they needed Nathan to save the game. Texas scored four runs, but three were unearned.
Texas scored two runs in the fourth, with a throwing error by Brent Lillibridge being the key play. After Cleveland tied it with two in the sixth, the Indians helped Texas in the eighth inning with two more errors.
The first one allowed Elvis Andrus to score to put the Rangers up 3-2 and then Michael Young delivered his second RBI single to make it 4-2. The Rangers loaded the bases in the inning and had a chance to add more runs but Geovany Soto grounded into a double play to end the inning.
While Nathan struggled, there were plenty of positives. Texas received seven innings of two-run ball from Derek Holland. Holland didn’t allow a run until Matt LaPorta’s two-run homer in the sixth.
Holland was able to work out of jams early, something that eluded him earlier this season. Cleveland had multiple baserunners in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings against Holland.
“That’s huge for me just to keep that confidence and momentum going with me with the consistency,” said Holland, who gave up seven hits, struck out seven and walked one. “I just made one pitch I thought was kind of a mistake (to LaPorta). I should have went inside. It’s my fault for not keeping them down when I should.”
Alexi Ogando, who had arm issues last week, cleaned up a bases-loaded mess in the eighth inning by striking out Lonnie Chisenhall on a 97-mph fastball and retiring Jack Hannahan on a fly out. Uehara also retired all three batters he faced for the second consecutive night.
One player no one in the Texas clubhouse is worried about is Nathan.
“I’m not even going to worry about it,” Holland said. “It happens to the greats. Joe is an unbelievable closer. I tip my cap to them. They got the best of him one time. I’m not worried about him. I know for a fact he’s not. I know for a fact these guys (the Rangers) aren’t either.”