TORONTO -- It didn't take long for Michael Kirkman to call the past three days the biggest in his major league career.
"Yeah, absolutely," Kirkman said.
Kirkman came through for the second time in three days, protecting a one-run lead late and helping secure the Texas Rangers' 2-1 victory Saturday over the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Rangers won for the second time in six games, and maintained a five-game lead in the American League West over Oakland, which beat Cleveland 8-5 Saturday.
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Kirkman has played a pivotal role in those two victories. He had a scoreless inning of relief in the seventh to protect a 7-6 lead against the Yankees in the Rangers' 10-6 victory Thursday.
He entered Saturday with the Blue Jays threatening. With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, Kirkman retired David Cooper on a fly ball to shallow left, holding the runner at third, and then ended the inning by getting Yunel Escobar to fly out to center.
"I don't think I've pitched in a game that close, but it makes you feel good to go out there and help out in those situations," said Kirkman, who earned his first win of the season. "Anytime you can do something like that and bridge the gap, it feels great."
Kirkman highlighted a stellar day by the Rangers' bullpen.
Robbie Ross got the final out of the fifth, and worked out of a bases-loaded jam in a scoreless sixth. Second baseman Ian Kinsler made a run-saving play that inning, too, snagging a sharp grounder hit by Jeff Mathis to prevent the runner on second from scoring.
Tanner Scheppers struggled to start the seventh, but got Colby Rasmus to pop up in foul territory with runners at second and third and no outs. He then intentionally walked Edwin Encarnacion to load the bases, and Kirkman came in and did the rest.
Mike Adams worked a perfect eighth, and Joe Nathan converted his 24th save of the season. Nathan has converted 22 consecutive save opportunities, the longest single-season stretch in franchise history.
"It was excellent," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Between Ross, Scheppers and Kirkman, we got the ball to the point where we wanted it, and that was Mike Adams and Joe Nathan. They were outstanding the way they got their three outs."
Roy Oswalt pitched well in a spot start, allowing only a run in the third. Anthony Gose drew a one-out walk, stole second, went to third on a balk and scored on a single by Adeiny Hechavarria.
The Rangers rallied for the lead in the fifth against Blue Jays right-hander Carlos Villanueva. Adrian Beltre led off with a routine fly ball to right-center field that bounced over the fence after Gose lost it in the sun. Nelson Cruz then roped a first-pitch changeup over the left-field fence to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead, which held up the rest of the way.
"I was looking for something up, something I could drive, and it was one of the few mistakes he made in the game," said Cruz, who served as the designated hitter because his hamstring issues are compounded on the Rogers Centre's artificial turf.
Cruz joked that he had an easy day on his hamstrings with a home run, strikeout and grounder back to the pitcher, but he knew what the most important part of the day was.
"Any way you can win the game is important, and I feel it showed how good the bullpen is," Cruz said. "At least we've got a chance to win the series [today]."
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760