ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Texas Rangers had a chance to exhale Tuesday evening after ending an ugly seven-game losing streak the night before.
Instead, they are right back to answering questions about the toughest losses of the season and whether their September crash has resumed following Wednesday night's painful 4-3 loss in 12 innings to the Tampa Bay Rays.
This one hurt.
Twice the Rangers were a strike away from putting away the Rays in the bottom of the 11th with their lock-down closer Joe Nathan on the mound. But for only the third time in 42 chances, Nathan couldn't get it done.
The Rays then stole the game in the bottom of the 12th against rookie reliever Joseph Ortiz when Desmond Jennings singled to right to score pinch runner Sam Fuld, propelling the Rays into the first wild-card spot by themselves.
The Rangers are 3-13 in September. They've gone from leading the American League West when the month started to only holding onto the second wild-card position by a half-game over the Cleveland Indians and one game over the Baltimore Orioles.
But the Rangers insist they aren't done, at least if you believe Nathan, who was standing by his locker waiting to explain to reporters what happened in the 11th.
A defiant Nathan disagreed when asked if this was the toughest loss of the season.
"That's not true," Nathan said. "Because it's not the last game. If it was the last game and we were out of it because of this, it would be the toughest loss. We still have 11 games to go.
"We're still actually in the postseason, aren't we? So I can't see how this is going to be the toughest loss of the year. We have plenty of baseball to go and we're going to come out here tomorrow and hopefully get another opportunity and go out there and do it."
This one was set up exactly how the Rangers would have planned it:
It was Jennings who gift-wrapped two runs in the top of the second when he misplayed Leonys Martin's line drive to center field. Jennings broke in and then watched it sail over his head for a two-run triple for a 2-0 Rangers lead.
Rangers starter Derek Holland was able to work out of two-out trouble in the third, fourth and fifth innings. But a botched double play and a bad pitch by Holland had the game suddenly tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth.
With one on and one out, Rays designated hitter Delmon Young grounded into what looked like a sure double play, but 20-year-old Rangers second baseman Jurickison Profar made a poor throw on the relay and pulled first baseman Mitch Moreland off the bag.
"I missed that double play," Profar said. "I knew I should have made that play. I put [Holland] in a bad position."
Then, with terrible timing, Holland threw a fastball down to the middle to Sean Rodriguez, who didn't miss it, crushing a two-run home run to left field to tie the game.
The Rangers had their bullpen all set up to finish off a 2-0 game. But they didn't get the chance after the missed double play and home run.
"That was a big inning right there," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "If you make the error it doesn't mean you come back and give up a two-run bomb.
"We just didn't make [the play]. Not turning that double play changed the whole outcome of the game. Once they tied the ball game up, I went to the bullpen and they held it down."
The Rangers still had two chances to make the outcome end in their favor. They scored in the top of the 11th, when Elvis Andrus was hit by a pitch and, with two outs, Adrian Beltre lined a single into right field. Rays outfielder Wil Myers was slow getting to the ball and Rangers third-base coach Gary Pettis alertly sent the hard-charging Andrus home. He slid in safely for a 3-2 lead.
That brought in Nathan. He handled the best two hitters in the Rays' lineup, Evan Longoria and Myers, and had a 2-2 count on Joyce. Nathan tried to throw a fastball inside on the 2-2 pitch but left it up high. He tried a back-door slider with a full count and Joyce didn't bite and drew a walk. With DeJesus up, Guzman stole second base on a play that was very close, according to several replays.
"It looked like he was out from my view," Nathan said. "I haven't gone back and looked at it. It looked like the tag was high, but it still looked like we may have had a shot of getting him right there. Unfortunately, the call goes against us."
Nathan still got two strikes on DeJesus, but couldn't finish. DeJesus singled up the middle on a 2-2 slider to tie the game.
The Rangers had runners on first and third with one out in the top of the 12th but couldn’t regain the lead. Martin hit a soft line drive to the shortstop and Ian Kinsler struck out.
Washington then went to Ortiz instead of Neftali Feliz in the bottom of the 12th. Feliz, who returned after the start of the month after being out for more than a year after Tommy John surgery, had warmed up in the 10th and again in the 12th. But he was passed over for Ortiz, who had allowed runs in four of his last six outings but also had a changeup the Rangers felt would give the next Rays' hitters problems.
Still, it was a strange decision and one that didn't work when Ortiz allowed a single on an 0-2 fastball to Jose Lobaton and a game-winning single to Jennings.
Instead of a two-game winning streak, the Rangers have lost eight of nine games. They put on their best face again. "We're all right," Holland said. Maybe they are.
After not leading for 63 innings before Tuesday night's win, they had their closer in the game with a chance for a huge victory and a two-game winning streak. Instead, it's a loss the likes of a kick in the gut.
"It's tough," Washington said, "because we were right where we wanted to be with the right person on the mound. Joe's been solid for us all year. It just didn't happen tonight."