Rangers can't clinch after blown save in Game 1

Rangers can't clinch after blown save in Game 1

Rangers can't clinch after blown save in Game 1
ARLINGTON -- This was a classic pennant-race baseball game. However, the American League West race is getting much tighter down the stretch than the Rangers anticipated.

Torii Hunter hit a two-out, two-run double in the ninth inning off of Rangers closer Joe Nathan to give the Angels a 5-4 victory in the first game of a doubleheader at the Ballpark in Arlington on Sunday.

This was Nathan's third blown save of the season, and the loss left the Rangers with a 1 1/2-game lead in the division over the A's, who beat the Mariners on Sunday. The Rangers led 4-1 after three innings before the Angels came back.

"That's where we wanted to be," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They just fought back and took it from us."

The Angels were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position before Hunter delivered the game-winning hit against his former Minnesota Twins teammate.

"That's a heck of a game," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Both teams did a lot of things well, and fortunately for us, Torii came up big against one of the best closers in baseball. Needless to say, every game is critical for us, and that's no doubt the biggest hit of our season so far."

Nathan was trying to protect a 4-3 lead and was facing the bottom of the Angels' order. He retired Mark Trumbo on a grounder to second, but Maicer Izturis reached on a single. Nathan then got ahead 0-2 on Chris Iannetta, the Angels' No. 9 hitter, before throwing four straight balls.

"He took some good pitches," Nathan said. "I've seen some people chase, but he's 0-2 and he's able to lay off some good stuff. We knew that going in. We tried to give him some different looks with the same pitch and couldn't get him to offer at any of them, so good at-bat by him for sure."

The walk put runners on first and second. Nathan struck out Mike Trout, but Hunter, jumping on a 1-1 slider, doubled deep into the left-center-field gap to drive home both runners.

"It was a bad pitch," Nathan said. "One bad pitch in the inning. Honestly, the slider was probably up all inning. But they were taking it most of the time. Just when I was involved in an at-bat with him, you can't leave a slider up right there because he's going to be swinging. Bad pitch, wrong time.

"I've gotten him most of the time. He's a good player. He got me this time. Unfortunately, it was in a big spot."

Hunter was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts previously against Nathan.

"That's my buddy, man," Hunter said. "He's gotten me several times. This is really my first time ever getting him, so I'm pretty excited. He's a good friend of mine, but he knows this is baseball."

Rangers starter Yu Darvish, who was skipped in his last start because of a stiff neck, allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings. Nathan's blown save cost him his 17th win of the season. If the Rangers don't hold on to win the division, his next start may be on Friday in a Wild Card game. Darvish allowed nine hits, walked one and struck out seven.

"I didn't feel sharp, but I felt I did the best I could to give the team a chance to win," Darvish said. "My neck felt fine. Three days ago I couldn't even play catch, so my preparation was a little different, but under the circumstances I felt I pitched OK."

Darvish had a 4-1 lead after three innings. Nelson Cruz hit a two-run home run in the second and, after an RBI single by Albert Pujols in the top of the third, the Rangers put together a two-out rally in the bottom of the inning against Angels starter Zack Greinke. Elvis Andrus drew a walk to start the rally. Andrus then broke for second on a 1-0 pitch to Josh Hamilton, who lined a single to right-center. Andrus came around to score and Hamilton went to second on the throw. Beltre followed with a high pop to right that Hunter never saw. Izturis, the Angels' second baseman, raced out and tried to catch it, but the ball fell in for a run-scoring double.

That was it for the Rangers, as they managed just two singles the rest of the afternoon against Greinke and three relievers.

"You face Greinke, you're fortunate to score four runs," Washington said. "You get four runs -- that was enough to get us into the ninth inning. We just didn't shut it down."

The Angels got a rally started in the sixth, as leadoff singles by Hunter and Pujols put runners on the corners. Kendrys Morales drove home Hunter with a sacrifice fly and, after Alberto Callaspo flied out, Erick Aybar singled to center. That put runners on the corners again, but Darvish struck out Trumbo to end the inning.

But the Angels made it a one-run game with Trout's two-out home run in the seventh. Darvish then gave up a double to Hunter before Alexi Ogando got Pujols on a grounder to end the inning. Ogando retired the side in order in the eighth, leaving the ninth for Nathan.

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.