ARLINGTON, Texas -- Joe Nathan departed the mound after his second blown save of the season, lifted up his glove and appeared to offer up a few choice words up to plate umpire Kerwin Danley. Nathan gave up the lead in the top of the ninth, and the Texas Rangers suffered a gut-wrenching 5-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Tuesday night.
Nathan was more gracious at his locker after the game, but no doubt was confused by Danley's strike zone.
Nathan played his part in not getting his 32nd save -- instead Mariano Rivera got his -- as the Rangers' closer allowed a game-tying triple to Eduardo Nunez and a go-ahead single to Brent Lillibridge with one out in the top of the ninth. All of that after a walk to Vernon Wells to set up the Yankees' rally.
"There's nothing we can do about it now," Nathan said. "You give up a big hit, you have to come back and get the next guy. It's not going to help to dwell on what just happened or dwell over anything. It's about grinding it out and getting the next guy out."
The Rangers wouldn't come out and say it after the game, but they had reason to be upset over an inconsistent strike zone in the ninth inning. Nathan appeared to get squeezed both on the walk to Wells and Nunez's triple.
Then Rivera, baseball's all-time saves leader, got three straight called strikes on cutters to pinch hitter Leonys Martin that appeared to be off the plate for the second out of the bottom of the ninth. David Murphy grounded out to end the game.
"I'm not going to start using excuses like that," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Even if the pitches were close to Wells, he walked. He was on first base. And Nunez battled for his at-bat, got a pitch and hit it well. And then Lillibridge did the rest to give them the lead."
Nathan was diplomatic about Danley's strike zone.
"Today was a little tougher day to figure out where the zone was, but that's no fault to him," Nathan said. "It's a tough gig to call balls and strikes, especially when it's a game of inches. It's a tough gig for him. Unfortunately, it went against us today."
There was more to the inning than the strike zone. On a 2-2 pitch to Nunez, Nathan slipped trying to throw a fastball and the pitch bounced 30 feet, got away from catcher A.J. Pierzynski and allowed Wells to get to second base.
Nathan said he had no issues after slipping and falling to the mound. Washington came out to check on him and quickly went back to the dugout.
Nunez, who came into the game batting .234, then laced a triple on a Nathan slider over the glove of Rangers' center fielder Craig Gentry, and the game was tied at 4-4.
"The only pitch I wish I could take back is the one I slipped on," Nathan said. "That was a big pitch in the inning. A 2-2 pitch and if I make a better pitch there it at least sets something up for the 3-2 pitch. I don't think he's going to chase after a 30-footer where I slipped and fell."
Nathan did make a mistake to Lillibridge, whose error in the bottom of the sixth helped the Rangers rally for four runs and a 4-3 lead. Nathan got a 1-0 slider up to Lillidridge, who was able to punch it into left field for a 5-4 lead.
Washington also didn't think the slip on the mound impacted Nathan.
"I thought his stuff was still good," Washington said. "I was wary the way it happened. But I thought he was throwing the ball well."
Just not well enough to avoid a rare blown save, one that Nathan said he'll be ready to make up for on Wednesday night.
"Any time we put Joe out there, we figure it's over," Washington said. "He's only human. He's saved a lot of games for us. We just didn't get it shut down tonight."