ARLINGTON -- Joe Nathan expects it. Ron Washington expects it. Every Texas Rangers player expects it.
When Nathan is on the mound to protect a lead in the ninth inning, the Rangers just know that they are going to win the game.
Nathan had the ball late Thursday night with a two-run lead, but the All-Star closer fell short of everyone's expectations.
Cleveland scored three times against Nathan in the ninth, sending him to his first blown save since April 11 and sending the Rangers to a 5-4 loss on a night when they had a chance to add a game to their division lead.
Nathan's streak of 31 consecutive converted saves sailed out of Rangers Ballpark like the two homers he surrendered in the ninth, all while failing to record an out.
"It's always tough when you lose late," Nathan said. "I was not locating today, falling behind in the count and throwing the ball in the middle of the plate. You can't do that against hitters who are going to be looking for a fastball."
Derek Holland allowed two runs in seven innings, and Michael Young went 3 for 4 with two RBIs. Adrian Beltre, who left Wednesday's game with a sore shoulder, went 2 for 3 and scored twice as the designated hitter.
But the loss kept the Rangers' advantage over Oakland in the American League West at three games after they failed to sweep the worst team in the league since the All-Star break.
The Indians looked the part for eight innings, generously committing three errors that led to three unearned runs. Two each came in the eighth inning to help the Rangers take a 4-2 lead.
But Ezequiel Carrera opened the ninth with a homer, and Russ Canzler followed with a pinch-hit single to bring the go-ahead run to the plate.
Jason Kipnis knocked a two-run shot to put Cleveland in front, and Carlos Santana followed with a double to end Nathan's worst outing of the season.
Nathan was working for a third straight night and pitching in his 59th game. He admitted that he might be going through a dead-arm phase that isn't unusual for a pitcher to encounter during the season.
The best way to work through it is to keep pitching, he said, and it's not easy to give up the ball when he's going so well. He hadn't blown a save since Seattle got him in the sixth game of the season.
"When you're in a groove you want to keep taking the baseball," he said. "There are going to be patches when you get dead-arm even when you are feeling good. I might be going through one of them right now, but you've just got to keep throwing through them."
Koji Uehara did well to prevent Santana from scoring and give the Rangers a shot against Chris Perez. Elvis Andrus tripled with two outs, but David Murphy struck out to end it.
The Rangers, though, liked where they were after the eighth. And they still like Nathan.
"We're incredibly lucky to have him as our closer," second baseman Ian Kinsler said.
"When we have the lead going to the ninth, we're very confident in our situation. Tonight wasn't his night."
The Rangers staked Holland to a 2-0 lead in the fourth, and Holland managed to keep the Indians off the scoreboard for five innings despite no shortage of Cleveland base runners.
They had two apiece for four straight innings, and finally cashed in when Matt LaPorta hit a two-run homer in the sixth.
The Rangers moved in front in the eighth, an inning that started with a Cleveland error and included another error to plate the go-ahead run. But not even the insurance run provided by Young was enough of a cushion.
There was some disappointment to not gain ground in the standings, but the Rangers weren't fretting the missed opportunity.
"We're disappointed," Washington said. "We're not frustrated because we've got a game tomorrow. We'll bounce back. It's been a long time since Joe didn't get us the three outs we needed. He's only human."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760