ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers flirted with the sixth no-hitter in the majors this season. Joe Mauer turned it into another near no-hitter.
Mauer became the fifth player this season to spoil a no-hit bid in the ninth inning, ruining the effort of starter Rich Harden and three relievers with a clean single off All-Star closer Neftali Feliz in the Rangers' 4-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night in a meeting of division leaders.
Rangers president Nolan Ryan threw two of his record seven no-hitters for Texas, and he was in the owner's box rooting for another one.
Then he saw Mauer, hitting .330, in the batter's box.
"When I looked at who was hitting in the ninth I worried about Mauer because he's a good hitter and with Feliz's fastball you feel like if he leaves a ball in the hitting zone that he's going to have a shot at it," Ryan said.
Harden, who was activated from the disabled list earlier in the day, went 6 2/3 innings before being lifted after throwing 111 pitches. Matt Harrison got the final out of the seventh. Darren O'Day pitched the eighth and Feliz got one in the ninth before Mauer broke through.
"I felt like I made a great pitch but he was able to make the adjustment and hit it," Feliz said through an interpreter.
Mauer broke up a no-hit bid by Gavin Floyd of the Chicago White Sox on May 6, 2008 with a one-out double in the ninth.
"We had some opportunities where Harden walked a couple guys and we just couldn't get that hit to get a couple runs across the board," Mauer said. "But you definitely don't want to get no-hit. It's nice to get a hit up there but we want runs."
Harden had the longest no-hit outing in Rangers history among starters who didn't finish the game.
Afterward, he was philosophical rather than angry.
"That's baseball," he said. "We had Feliz, who's one of the best closers in the game facing Mauer, who's one of the best hitters in the game. That's the way it goes."
Texas fell two outs shy of its first no-hitter since Kenny Rogers' perfect game against California on July 28, 1994.
There have been five no-hitters this season, including perfect games by Oakland's Dallas Braden and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay. The last no-hitter was Matt Garza of Tampa Bay against Detroit on July 26.
The home plate umpire Monday night was Jim Joyce. He was the first base umpire who made the incorrect call with two outs in the ninth inning that cost Detroit's Armando Galarraga a perfect game.
The Twins went through a similar situation to Harden's on Aug. 15, when Kevin Slowey was lifted after seven innings without allowing a hit. Reliever Jon Rauch gave up a hit with one out in the eighth.
Harden (5-4) struck out six. His fifth walk was of Michael Cuddyer and it brought manager Ron Washington to the mound for a lengthy discussion. It wasn't until Joyce came to the mound, where the entire Rangers infield was already patting Harden on the back, that the pitching change was made.
"I wasn't going to sit around and let him throw 120 pitches out there," Washington said. "The seventh inning was going to be his last one anyway."
Day, a submarine-throwing right-hander, got a fortunate bounce for an out when Delmon Young's leadoff grounder in the eighth ricocheted off first base. Rookie Mitch Moreland retrieved the ball and flipped to O'Day covering first.
Feliz had walked a batter in the ninth before Mauer broke up the no-hit bid.
Harden, who had been on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis, walked the leadoff hitters in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, but his infield turned double plays in the fifth and sixth.
Harden's last major league start was Aug. 7 at Oakland, taking the loss while allowing three runs in 2 1/3 innings. Harden showed he was ready to be activated when he allowed one run and struck out 10 in a six-inning minor league rehab start for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
Harden has been mostly a disappointment for the Rangers after signing as a free agent last winter for a guaranteed $7.5 million. That includes a $1 million buyout if an $11.5 million mutual option for next season isn't exercised.
Harden has been on the disabled list twice this season and nine times in six seasons. He missed six weeks earlier this year with a left gluteal muscle strain, then made only two starts after that before going on the DL again.
David Murphy had a two-run triple in the first for the Rangers, who were returning from a 2-5 trip.
Twins starter Nick Blackburn (7-8) allowed three runs and eight hits in seven innings, losing for the seventh time in his last eight decisions. Blackburn was called up from Triple-A Rochester on Sunday after making four minor league starts.
Murphy's triple was upheld by the umpiring crew when a video review clearly showed that the drive hit high on the center field wall and stayed in the ballpark.
Murphy's liner just eluded the glove of leaping Twins center fielder Denard Span, striking the top edge of the padding on the 8-foot wall and bouncing back toward the infield.
Murphy went to third standing up after Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero scored following infield singles.
"It was good to get Rich an early cushion there just to kind of put him in a little bit of a comfort zone with it being his first start in a couple of weeks," Murphy said.
The last time there was a no-hitter against the Twins was when David Wells threw a perfect game for the New York Yankees in 1998.