ARLINGTON, Texas -- You have to turn the calendar back more than five months to find the last time Joe Nathan took the mound with a save opportunity on the line and didn't get the job done.
That's why Thursday's blown save in the ninth inning of a 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians was surprising. Sure, the law of averages says Nathan is bound to blow a save at some point. After all, there's a reason his 31 consecutive saves is a club and career record. But Nathan has made the job look almost automatic. When he comes out from the bullpen, you feel like the game is over.
"When I give the ball to Joe, I expect him to get the three outs," manager Ron Washington said. "I'm surprised that he didn't get it. You always feel that when you give the ball to your closer that the game is over. I don't think there's any closer out there that's perfect."
It was the third straight game Nathan had pitched, the first time he's done that since late June. But the veteran closer didn't believe that had anything to do with his performance. He allowed a leadoff home run to Ezequiel Carrera to make it a one-run game and then, after Brent Lillibridge singled, Jason Kipnis hit a two-run homer on a pitch that Nathan said he wanted to go down and away with, but caught too much of the middle of the plate.
"I had no location today," Nathan said. "I was falling behind in the count and throwing balls middle of the plate. You can't do that, not against hitters that are going to be looking for a fastball. Unfortunately, they left the yard today."
The Rangers have lost in their last six sweep attempts and haven't swept a series since June in San Diego. They were able to turn a tie game into a 4-2 advantage thanks in part to two Cleveland errors that led to two unearned runs in the eighth inning.
"We got where we wanted to get with the lead in the ninth inning and got the ball to the person we wanted to have it," Washington said. "We just didn't close it down."
Nathan, for his part, answered every question after the outing and vowed that it wouldn't bother him. He said he felt good, but that the ball didn't have the life on it that he wants to see.
"But that can change on a nightly basis," Nathan said. "I have to work on my location and get that back to what I was doing."
That will be his focus down the stretch and he prepares for the postseason.