ARLINGTON, Texas — Joe Nathan feels like the Texas Rangers have been playing elimination games for a week.
Now they are down to the regular season’s scheduled finale, still with a chance to get into the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
A rain-drenched Nathan struck out Howie Kendrick with two runners on and the infield flooding to close out the Rangers’ sixth straight victory, and second in less than 24 hours. They beat the sloppy Los Angeles Angels 7-4 on Saturday.
“It doesn’t change what we need to do, we need to come in and win a game tomorrow,” Nathan said. “We don’t want to have to rely on somebody to help us all the time.”
They did get some help Saturday when Tampa Bay lost at Toronto, dropping the Rays (90-71) into a tie with the Rangers for the AL’s second wild-card spot. Cleveland (91-70) won its ninth consecutive game, winning at Minnesota to hold the top wild card by a game and ensure the Indians will play past Sunday.
The Rangers trailed only three batters in, but the Angels made five errors in a game for the first time since Sept. 16, 2006, also at Texas. Shortstop Erick Aybar, right fielder Kole Calhoun, left fielder Collin Cowgill, pitcher Garrett Richards and third baseman Andrew Romine had the miscues.
Texas got even with a gift run in the bottom of the first on a grounder through the legs of third baseman Romine. The Angels then made two more errors, and Richards (7-8) threw a wild pitch in the second when the Rangers went ahead for good with four runs — three of them unearned.
“You can’t sugar-coat the way we played defense. It was just brutal. They were silly mistakes, and it cost us. That’s the story of this afternoon,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Texas made four errors in one inning and overcame it.”
The Rangers opened the series with that four-error inning Thursday but won on rookie Jurickson Profar’s game-ending homer. Nathan was the winner after pitching the ninth of that game and saved the last two.
With 43 saves in 46 chances, Nathan said he is ready to go again if needed.
If the Rangers win the final game Sunday, they will be guaranteed at least a wild-card tiebreaker.
The 11:07 a.m. start was the earliest home game in the 42 seasons the Rangers have played in Texas — the game was moved up eight hours because of the threat of bad weather.
The game was played mostly under overcast skies, and there were quick showers while the Rangers batted in the first and fifth innings without any delays. It was a downpour in the ninth after Nathan got two quick outs before Josh Hamilton had a pinch double and Mike Trout walked.
“I was saying we’ve got to stop this game,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “The guys standing on the infield, if a ball is hit to them, I can’t see them throwing it across the infield. But we didn’t have to worry about that because Joe got him out.’
Nathan described it as “basically a lake out there.”
Joakim Soria (1-0) got his first major league victory since July 23, 2011, striking out two in 1 1-3 scoreless innings in relief of Derek Holland. Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers each worked a scoreless inning before Nathan took over.
A two-time All-Star, Soria was recovering from elbow ligament replacement surgery when he signed a two-year deal with the Rangers last offseason. The right-hander’s season debut July 7 was his first major league appearance in nearly two years.
Aybar led off the game with the first of his three doubles, then scored the first of his three runs. He came home on sacrifice flies by Trout in the first and third innings.
The Rangers got even at 1 when Alex Rios hit the grounder under Romine that sent home Ian Kinsler, who had a leadoff single.
Craig Gentry, 15 for 33 the last nine games, had a leadoff double in the second before David Murphy walked and Leonys Martin had the first of his two sacrifice bunts.
Kinsler hit a liner off the upper body of Richards, who grabbed the ball and looked the runner back to third before making an errant throw to first base that allowed a run. Rios had a sac fly and Elvis Andrus, who had singled, scored on a wild pitch that ricocheted only a few feet away from the plate.
The Angels closed to 5-4 in the fifth on doubles by Aybar and Kendrick that chased Holland.
Rios, acquired from the Chicago White Sox after Texas slugger Nelson Cruz was suspended, had a leadoff double in the bottom of the fifth and scored on a single by A.J. Pierzynski, who came home on a safety squeeze bunt that the speedy Gentry turned into an infield hit.
“We did the little things, we moved guys over, we were able to pick each other up and we played as a team,” said Rios, who has played 1,453 career games over 10 seasons without getting into the playoffs. “When you do that, you have a pretty good chance to do well. That’s what we’ve been doing.”
NOTES: All nine Texas starters had hits. … Yu Darvish (13-9, 2.82 ERA), the major league leader with 269 strikeouts, starts the finale for Texas. … The previous earliest home start for the Rangers was two weeks ago, a 12:06 p.m. game vs. Oakland. … Both teams wore red jerseys. … Hamilton’s 13-game hitting streak is his longest this season.