The high road was the route Joe Nathan opted to take Tuesday night, while many of the fans at Rangers Ballpark and those watching at home thought plate umpire Kerwin Danley must have been high.
But there were no excuses coming from the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse after they saw their closer blow his second save of the season in an eventual 5-4 loss to the New York Yankees.
Eduardo Nunez and Brent Lillibridge, fill-ins for Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, delivered RBI hits in the ninth inning, and Mariano Rivera nailed down his 39th career save against the Rangers.
The Rangers, meanwhile, were kicking themselves for failing to convert early in the game, well before Nathan felt the squeeze from Danley.
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“You just hope for the best, hope you get the borderline call,” Nathan said. “Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. I think they were OK, but, unfortunately, I’m not the one calling balls and strikes.
“He thought they were just off, so I’ve got to take his word for it, and that’s all that matters anyways.”
The Rangers scored four runs in the sixth inning, the final two coming on a two-out homer by Mitch Moreland, to erase a 3-0 deficit. Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus also had RBI hits after the Rangers came up empty in the first and third innings.
Ian Kinsler started the Rangers’ first with a double and was at third with one out. Nelson Cruz, though, bounced Phil Hughes’ first pitch back to the mound, and A.J. Pierzynski popped out to left field after Beltre walked.
Engel Beltre opened the third with a double, but the top of the Rangers’ order couldn’t get him in. Kinsler lined out to right field, Jurickson Profar walked, Cruz struck out and Adrian Beltre flied out to center field.
“You always worry about not taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you,” manager Ron Washington said. “You have to give Hughes credit. Whenever we threatened him, he was making pitches.”
Alexi Ogando came off the disabled list and allowed three runs in five innings. Four straight Yankees reached to start a two-run third, and another run came home in the fourth.
But Ross Wolf, Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts each tossed a scoreless inning to get the game to Nathan, who had converted 15 consecutive saves and 31 of 32 chances this season.
He struck out Lyle Overbay to start the ninth, but Vernon Wells drew a walk after taking a full-count breaking ball that appeared to hit the strike zone.
Nunez also took two close pitches to get ahead in the count, but the count was 2-2 when Nathan slipped on the mound while delivering a wild pitch. Nunez hit the next pitch off the center-field wall for a game-tying triple.
Lillibridge followed with a flare to left field for the go-ahead run. The Rangers had been 51-0 this season when leading after eight innings.
“The one pitch I wish I had back is the one I slipped on,” Nathan said. “That was a big pitch in the inning, for sure, 2-2 pitch. Obviously, you want to do more than fire a 30-footer you slip on. It could’ve changed the inning.”
Even when pressed about the strike zone, Nathan didn’t curse about Danley as he appeared to do as he left the field. Umpiring isn’t easy, said Nathan, who was the beneficiary of a questionable strike call to end an April win over Tampa Bay.
But Nathan was going to review the game tape just to make sure.
“It could’ve easily went the other way, for sure,” Nathan said. “I thought I threw some pretty decent pitches, but I guess they were just off. I don’t know. I’ve thrown them before, that’s for sure, but it wasn’t to be tonight.
“It doesn’t matter what I think about it, but, obviously, in a one-run game, one pitch could be huge. I think it was a couple, but we’ll see.”
Said Washington: “Even if the pitches were close to Wells, he walked. Nunez battled for his at-bat, and got a pitch and hit it well. Lillibridge did the rest. When we give the ball to Joe, I feel very comfortable. It just didn’t happen tonight.”