Nathan, Rangers weathered the storm but need one more

Posted Sunday, Sep. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton And on the sixth day of the do-or-die homestand, it rained.

A blinding rain. A ridiculous rain. A rain so intense in Saturday’s ninth inning that Angels began to appear in the ballpark mist, threatening all that the Texas Rangers had recouped in their memorable week of redemption.

“Fortunately,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said, “we had the right guy on the mound.”

At age 38, pitcher Joe Nathan was summoned to put the punctuation on a Rangers victory for the third consecutive day.

But there are no days off when it’s Game No. 161 and there’s a postseason berth at stake.

“Nobody’s sitting at this stage,” Nathan said after the 7-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

“We’ve got one more game. There’s no rest now.”

Count him in for No. 162, he was saying. Count fellow reliever Tanner Scheppers in. Count all the pitchers in, manager Ron Washington said.

“Believe me,” Washington assured. “They’ll be there if the opportunity’s there.”

And so, after six months and 161 games, after the streaks and the slumps, after the deals and the trips to the disabled list, after reveling in the AL West lead and then losing it, it has come down to one game, one final day.

Win Sunday and the Rangers will play another day — one more game at the least. Win Sunday, hope the stars align, and win the wild-card game Wednesday night, and the Rangers will be headed for a postseason series with Boston.

The Rangers have won six games in a row. The baseball gods, alas, seem to have decreed that the Rangers must win one more.

At least the gods have a sense of humor. The pregame talk Saturday was all about former Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson’s claim that many of the baseballs he threw in Friday’s game weren’t properly rubbed down. Hogwash, said the umpires.

C.J. wanted mud? Saturday’s game literally ended in it when the gods unleashed their rainy fury in the final inning.

The retreating crowd lost its levity when Josh Hamilton, pinch-hitting, rapped a double for the Angels and Mike Trout walked, bringing Howie Kendrick to the plate as the potential tying run.

Nathan described the situation best.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said of the increasingly heavy downpour. “To say it was coming down was an understatement.

“I was just trying to throw strikes. But my hand was soaked. I had no breaking ball. Breaking balls were out the window, because it was like trying to throw an ice cube.”

Watching from the infield, Andrus said he worried about the dangers that could ensue if Kendrick, a good hitter, put the ball in play.

“I couldn’t see anything,” he said. “I was praying that Kendrick didn’t hit a fly ball, because we wouldn’t have seen it.

“It was crazy. I wish I had a surf board out there.”

A rain delay would have been problematic from a scheduling and logistical standpoint. So the teams played on.

As Nathan stood on the mound, broad puddles were forming in the outfield. The dirt in front of the Rangers’ dugout had turned into a moat.

“A pop-up would have been an adventure,” Nathan said. “A ground ball would have been an adventure, too, because it was basically a lake out there. Fortunately, I was able to sneak one by him.”

Nathan struck out Kendrick, ending his third inning of work in as many days. Scheppers also pitched for the third game in a row and for the fifth time in seven days.

But now that their postseason fate is in their own hands again, there’s no time to rest.

“This is what we were hoping for,” Nathan said. “We just have to come in tomorrow and try to take care of business one more time.

“It feels like we’ve been playing Game Seven for a week now.”

One game, one final day remains.

After the rain, will the Rangers see a rainbow?

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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