ARLINGTON -- It was nothing out of the ordinary for the Twins to see Joe Nathan pitch two key scoreless innings in relief on Saturday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Only this time, Nathan did it for the opposing team, as his impressive outing set the stage for Nelson Cruz's walk-off RBI double against Kyle Waldrop in the 10th to hand the Twins a 4-3 loss.
Nathan, Minnesota's all-time saves leader with 260, was able to strand a runner at third with two outs in both of his innings, as he struck out Jamey Carroll to end the ninth and Josh Willingham to end the 10th.
"He's pretty good -- that's all you have to say about him," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Nathan is used to those situations. He's been in a lot of them. Those are big moments for him. He's a big-time pitcher."
Nathan, making his first two-inning stint since Aug. 21, 2009, said it was a big moment to pitch so well against his former club, and admitted it was awkward facing Joe Mauer in the 10th. But he was able to get him to line out to deep left field with Ben Revere on first base for the second out of the inning.
"Today was fun," said Nathan, who had a 1.97 ERA in 16 two-inning stints while with the Twins. "It was cool facing some of the guys that I didn't get to face when we were in Minnesota. I don't think it's ever fun facing Joe. He's one of the best hitters in this game and he knows me so well."
So while Nathan threw two clutch innings, it was Cruz who made him the winner by lacing the game-winning double to left field.
Waldrop gave up a leadoff single to Adrian Beltre before surrendering the double to Cruz that was mishandled by Willingham in left field to score Beltre. It was Cruz's fifth career walk-off hit and came on an 0-2 sinker that Waldrop wanted back.
"I was trying to bury it in right there, work for a double play or soft contact and I just left it up a little bit, didn't execute," Waldrop said. "It sunk some, it just didn't sink out of the zone like I wanted it to in that count."
Twins right-hander Samuel Deduno, making his first Major League start, gave up three runs on six hits and three walks over 5 1/3 innings.
He was hurt by the long ball, as he served up a solo shot to Josh Hamilton in the fourth and a solo blast to Beltre in the sixth.
"They were the pitches I wanted to throw, but the slider to Beltre was a little bit high," Deduno said. "The Hamilton pitch was pretty good, he just hit it hard. He's a pretty good hitter."Deduno also gave up a run in the second on an RBI double by Cruz but was able to strand Cruz at second base to limit the damage. He also pitched his way out of a jam in the fifth, when the Rangers had two on and nobody out.
The Twins got on the board first with two runs off left-hander Derek Holland in the second inning. Justin Morneau started things off with a single and advanced to third on a double from Ryan Doumit before Trevor Plouffe scored Morneau with an RBI groundout.
Brian Dozier came through with an RBI single but was later doubled up at first base, as he lost track of how many outs there were on a fly ball hit to center by Jamey Carroll.
Willingham gave Minnesota another run in the sixth on a solo homer off Holland. It was Willingham's 19th of the season to put him in a tie with Plouffe for the team lead. But it was all the Twins could do against Holland, who was making his first start since June 5 after dealing with elbow and shoulder issues.
"It was his first time back winging out here," Gardenhire said. "He's a battler. You can tell. We've seen him better, but like I said, it's his first time back there. He's really tough."