Nathan halts Astros’ ninth-inning rally

05/11/2013 11:38 PM

05/16/2013 6:00 PM

Yu Darvish and Nelson Cruz said the same three words to describe their emotions in the bottom of the ninth inning when the Houston Astros were threatening to come back from a four-run deficit.

No, they weren’t nervous about seeing the game slip away.

“We got Nathan,” they said.

That would be Texas Rangers closer Joe Nathan, who came through again. Nathan prevented a potential meltdown as he closed out an 8-7 victory over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Darvish and Cruz were the standout players for the Rangers until the ninth. Darvish turned in another solid outing by allowing three runs over seven innings, and Cruz delivered a game-tying home run for a second consecutive night in a six-run sixth for the Rangers.

And the game seemed to be all but over when the Rangers had an 8-4 lead going into the ninth and handed the ball to Michael Kirkman.

“It’s going to take a whale of a rally to tie the game,” Lance Berkman said of the situation. “Obviously whenever they can get the winning run to the plate, it’s a credit to them. But Joe was there to nail it down. Probably not the way you draw it up, but we’ll take it.”

The first two batters reached against Kirkman, which forced Nathan into the game.

Nathan allowed the two inherited runners to score on an RBI single by Trevor Crowe and a wild pitch that also allowed Crowe to advance to third. But he retired Matt Dominguez with a nice play on a dribbler and got the second out on a sacrifice fly by Marwin Gonzalez.

Nathan walked Robbie Grossman to bring the game-winning run to the plate but ended the threat by getting pinch hitter Chris Carter to pop up.

“Nothing is comfortable until the last out,” Nathan said. “We play nine innings; a lot of teams do, and they showed they had some fight in them.”

The close call at the end overshadowed Darvish’s first start in Houston since his near-perfect game on April 2. That night, Marwin Gonzalez broke up the potential perfecto with a two-out single in the ninth.

Another relatively unknown Astros player, Dominguez, introduced himself to Darvish on Saturday. Dominguez, known more for his defense than offense, homered twice in the first five innings, the first big leaguer to do that against Darvish in the same game.

Dominguez sent a two-seam fastball over the left-field fence in the third inning and then delivered a two-run homer on a cut fastball in the fifth inning to give the Astros a 3-1 lead.

“He was really aggressive; that’s why he was able to get me,” Darvish said.

“Darvish’s Achilles’ heel today was Dominguez,” manager Ron Washington said. “Other than that, I thought he did a good job.”

At that point, Houston appeared to be in control of the game. Astros starter Erik Bedard had only given up a solo homer to Adrian Beltre and worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning.

But Bedard was pulled after giving up a single to Berkman in the sixth inning, and the Rangers teed off on Astros reliever Philip Humber as they turned a two-run deficit into a four-run lead.

Cruz came through with a game-tying two-run homer, his second game-tying blast in as many days. Mitch Moreland followed with a triple, pinch hitter David Murphy had an RBI double, Geovany Soto walked and then pinch hitter Leonys Martin ripped a two-run triple to left-center.

After Ian Kinsler popped up, Elvis Andrus drove in the Rangers’ sixth run of the inning with a single to center.

The scoring spree continued in the seventh inning when Berkman led off with a solo shot, which proved to be the game winner. The Cruz homer, though, is the one that Washington called the “really, really big hit.”

“In those situations, I feel good about being able to deliver when the team needs it the most,” said Cruz, who has three game-tying homers in the past week.

“I get more focused. It’s something I can’t explain, but it’s something I’ve done all my career. In the late innings, I get more focused.”

Darvish, somewhat fittingly, finished his night by retiring Dominguez and Gonzalez to end the seventh, but the Rangers made getting the final six outs interesting until the end.

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