Manager Ron Washington stayed with Ortiz, and it didn't work out the way he hoped. Desmond Jennings singled home the winning run off Ortiz, and the Rays outlasted the Rangers, 4-3, on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.
"We had Joe in there because of his changeup," Washington said. "We felt [Jose] Lobaton and Jennings were weak on the changeup. We felt we were in a good position. We felt Joe's changeup would get the job done we needed to get done. It didn't happen."
The extra-innings loss was the Rangers' 14th in their past 18 games, and they're one game behind the Rays in the American League Wild Card race. But Texas is a half-game ahead of the Indians for the second Wild Card spot. The Rangers and Rays have now split the six games between them this season. They play one more on Thursday, and the winner would get home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card Game should the two teams be tied for first in the race at the end of the regular season.
"If this were the last game of the season and we were out of it, this would be the toughest lost of the season," Nathan said. "But it's not. We still have 11 games left, and right now, we're still in the postseason. We still have plenty of baseball to go."
The Rangers had led, 3-2, going into the 11th and Nathan was going for his 40th save. The closer had been successful on his last eight opportunities going back to July 23, but he suffered his third blown save of the season. It was also Texas' eighth extra-innings loss of the year.
Nathan started the inning by getting Evan Longoria to pop out and then struck out Wil Myers. But he walked Matt Joyce, who was replaced by pinch-runner Freddy Guzman, the former Ranger who had stolen 73 bases in 99 games in the Mexican League this year. With the count 2-1 on David DeJesus, Guzman stole second base, just beating a strong throw by catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
"He looked like he was out from my view," Nathan said. "It looked like the tag was high, but we had a shot at him."
DeJesus then bounced a 2-2 slider up the middle for a single to bring home the game-tying run.
"It was a grind, but I had good stuff," Nathan said. "I was facing some very good hitters, and I got the first two, the toughest hitters in their lineup. But I didn't let my guard down. I didn't make a bad pitch [to DeJesus]. Could it have been better? Sure. But I'll take my chances with that pitch. He didn't hit it great, but he hit it in the right spot."
Ortiz took over in the 12th and gave up a single to Lobaton to start the inning. After Sam Fuld replaced Lobaton as a pinch-runner, Yunel Escobar dropped a sacrifice bunt that moved Fuld to second. That brought up Jennings, who lined a single to right to end the game.
"All kinds of crazy nuances in the game," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That is why the game is so beautiful. It's even more beautiful when you win a game like that. But there were so many subplots in tonight's game."
The Rangers wanted to win this one in nine after Leonys Martin put the Rangers ahead with a two-run triple in the second. Starter Derek Holland took that lead into the sixth, and that was going to be his last inning before Washington turned it over to his bullpen. But Holland was going up against the heart of the Rays' order.
"I felt great," Holland said. "If I get through that inning, we're going to keep rolling."
Myers started the rally with a one-out single. Delmon Young, swinging on a 3-0 pitch, followed with a grounder to shortstop Elvis Andrus, but the Rangers could only get one. Myers slid hard into Jurickson Profar, who was playing second base, and Profar's relay to first was off target.
"That was the big inning," Washington said. "Not turning that double play changed the whole ballgame."
That's because Sean Rodriguez followed by hitting a 1-0 sinker over the left-field wall for his fifth home run of the season. Rodriguez was 2-for-3 with a double and a homer off Holland after coming into the game 1-for-14 off him.
"Just because we didn't get the double play, I'm still focused," Holland said. "I made a bad pitch, and it cost us. The pitch cut back over the middle. I couldn't have made it more easier on him. I felt good over my previous starts, but I didn't get the job done."
The Rangers finally regained the lead in the 11th when Andrus, running on a full-count pitch with two outs, scored from first on a single by Adrian Beltre, with Myers unaware that Andrus was running all the way home.
But Nathan couldn't hold the lead, and the Rangers also failed to score in the 12th despite having runners on second and third with one out.