Mitch Moreland raced home from first base with the winning run after a wild pitch and a throwing error on Cruz's strikeout with two outs in the ninth inning, lifting the AL West champion Rangers over the last-place Seattle Mariners 6-5 on Wednesday.
"I sent Nelson up there to get it done, and he got it done," manager Ron Washington said.
Though certainly much differently than expected.
Cruz came on as a pinch-hitter after Moreland drew a two-out walk against Dan Cortes (0-1). The slugger with 22 homers struck out but reached on a wild pitch that bounced past catcher Guillermo Quiroz.
Quiroz retrieved the ball but threw wildly into right field trying to get Cruz at first. Moreland never stopped running and beat the throw home by right fielder Ichiro Suzuki.
"When I checked my swing, I saw the ball went by [Quiroz]," said Cruz, who then heard umpire Wally Bell call strike three. "And I ran hard."
By time Moreland touched second base with the ball in the outfield, third base coach Dave Anderson was already waving for him to keep running.
Neftali Feliz (4-3), the third Rangers reliever, struck out one in a perfect ninth.
The Rangers had scored three runs in the eighth to tie the game at 5-all, scoring on a bases-loaded walk and another wild pitch by Cortes.
"We've seen the good and the bad with young kids," Mariners interim manager Daren Brown said. "I can't remember ever losing a game that way but I just saw it."
It was the first time a game ended on a play that began with a strikeout since Aug. 3, 2005, when the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Chicago Cubs 4-3, according to Elias Sports. Pat Burrell struck out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, but Jimmy Rollins scored from third on a passed ball by Michael Barrett.
Cortes had been the first Seattle reliever since 1993 to open his major league career with consecutive appearances without allowing a runner when he struck out four while retiring the first six batters he faced. Nothing went right in the right-hander's third game.
Taking over for Jamey Wright in the eighth with two runners on, Cortes started with nine consecutive balls. The first walk loaded the bases and the second forced home a run before Julio Borbon hit an RBI single and a wild pitch allowed the tying run.
"I made a few mistakes, walked those two guys, and it cost me," Cortes said. "When you walk two guys like that, it's a sign of some weaknesses and they could tell some pitches weren't working. They take advantage of that."
Quiroz's throw was to the infield side of the bag, and rookie first baseman Justin Smoak was set up on the foul side. Suzuki made a strong throw home, but Moreland beat it.
Moreland had entered the game in the second when David Murphy left because of a strained left groin. Washington said Murphy was having an MRI exam and they would know more Thursday.
Smoak, sent to Seattle when the Rangers acquired ace left-hander Cliff Lee on July 9, homered for the third straight game against his former team. He hit a two-run homer in the first off Rich Harden, who might have made his last start for Texas.
The Mariners led 5-1 after Quiroz had a double in the sixth and scored when Suzuki reached on an error by shortstop Andres Blanco.
Texas (88-70) can still reach 92 wins, the mark that team president and co-owner Nolan Ryan had set as a goal before the season, with a sweep in the upcoming four-game home series against the Los Angeles Angels.
The Mariners (61-97) have to split their four-game home series against the Oakland Athletics to avoid their second 100-loss season in three years.
Smoak's homer was a 412-foot shot onto the hill in straightway center field, almost identical to his homer the night before. He has 13 homers this season.
Franklin Gutierrez hit a two-run double in the fifth to make it 4-1, chasing Harden, who allowed four runs and six hits.
Texas signed Harden last winter to a free-agent deal for $6.5 million with a chance to earn another $2.5 million in performance bonuses. There is an $11.5 million mutual option for 2011 with a $1 million buyout for the Rangers.
Harden has been on the disabled list twice this season and is 5-5 with a 5.58 ERA that is the highest in his career. It is unlikely that the right-hander will even be on Texas' playoff roster.
Right-hander Mark Lowe, who came with Lee from Seattle, struck out two in his debut for Texas. Lowe was activated from the 60-day disabled list Wednesday after being out since May 3 with a back injury that required surgery. He will pitch two more games so the Rangers can determine if he is a postseason option. ... Seattle finished 26-55 on the road. ... Michael Young went 2-for-5 with an RBI double, upping his Rangers records to 542 multihit games and 1,845 hits. ... Mariners third baseman Jose Lopez won't play in the field again this season after dislocating the tip of the middle finger on his right hand Tuesday night. He can swing a bat and might be used as a pinch-hitter.