ARLINGTON, TEXAS - Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had a thin bullpen to work with Tuesday night. But if the game was close in the late innings, he had Matt Capps, Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan ready to go.
Capps and Perkins combined for two scoreless innings as the Twins battled from four runs down to take a one-run lead in the ninth. Nathan was on the mound in the bottom of the inning against the middle of the Rangers order.
Five batters later, Nathan finished off a 9-8 victory and showed more flashes of the closer who dominated hitters before elbow surgery knocked him out of the 2010 season. And he tied Rick Aguilera as the Twins' all-time saves leader with 254.
"Joe Nathan tying Aggie for saves. A huge feat," Gardenhire said. "Very impressed with that and very happy for Joe. He's come a long way since having his surgery."
Nathan gave up a leadoff single to Josh Hamilton and hit Nelson Cruz with one out, so it wasn't a clean save. But, while striking out Mitch Moreland and David Murphy for the final outs of the game, Nathan hit 94 miles per hour on the stadium radar gun and threw some electric sliders.
"You saw the slider that went down into the dirt that [Moreland] chased," Gardenhire said. "That was filthy. That ball really [dived]. That's the pitch he used to throw all the time and get people swinging. You have to have the arm speed to be able to do that."
Nathan, who lost the closer's role in April but regained it earlier this month, now has eight saves and needs one more to be alone atop the Twins franchise.
"It's just an honor to be mentioned with a guy like Rick Aguilera," Nathan said. "I got a chance to meet him. He's such a great guy and had such a great career."
Nathan's efforts capped an evening in which the Twins had to rest several relievers because of overuse. The Twins needed starter Carl Pavano to pitch deep into the game, but he lasted only five innings and 105 pitches, giving up eight runs.
The Twins fell behind 7-3 but kept fighting back against All-Star starter C.J. Wilson and the Texas bullpen. They pulled within one twice, then reclaimed the lead with two ninth-inning runs off Rangers closer Neftali Feliz.
The tying run scored with one out when Tsuyoshi Nishioka hit a high chopper and reached on an error by Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus, who spun toward home in an attempt to throw out Delmon Young but dropped the ball.
Joe Mauer then hit for Drew Butera and doubled to left-center, scoring Jason Repko with the go-ahead run. Repko was running for Jim Thome, who hit a pinch-hit double off the left field wall earlier in the inning.
Several Twins stepped up in the clutch and showed no hangover from Monday's 20-6 clobbering by Texas.
"I think it's the biggest show of character from this team," Nathan said. "We got our brains beat in last night and fell down 7-3 tonight, but didn't give up. I think that's the one thing we've proven this year. We've been 16 1/2 games back this year, but there's never been any quit from this team."