He had one thing on his mind as he took to the mound against the Blue Jays on Friday night at Rogers Centre and that was take his team deep into the game and come away with a victory.
Regrettably for Harden, he was not able to keep his end of the bargain, as the Rangers offense wasted an 11-hit effort, falling to the Blue Jays, 16-10, in a wild slugfest.
"It's hard knowing I let the team down," said Harden. "They gave me a bunch of runs, and all I had to do was get through five innings and give our 'pen a break. They've been throwing a lot with the extra-inning games lately -- not what the team needed."
Harden battled control problems right from the very first batter he faced, issuing a four-pitch walk to Blue Jays outfielder Fred Lewis, on his way to a five-walk, three-run first inning. Things didn't get any easier for Harden as both Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay and outfielder Travis Snider slugged home runs in the third inning, prompting manager Ron Washington to give Harden the early hook.
The Canadian-born Harden lasted only 2 2/3 innings, surrendering seven runs on only four hits, while walking six Blue Jays -- his shortest outing of the year. Coincidently, his second shortest outing came against the Jays on April 7 in Texas, when he labored through 3 2/3 innings in a 7-4 loss. Harden saw his ERA increase from 3.53 to 4.93 on the season.
"Rich just wasn't very good tonight," Washington said. "He couldn't find the plate.
"After he settled down there in the second inning and got through that [part of the lineup], I thought that maybe he was on his way. He got two outs quick in the third, but then gave up a walk, a base hit, and hung that breaking ball to Snider."
In spite of the poor outing, Harden left with an 8-7 lead with two outs in the third. Unfortunately, the Texas bullpen, which has pitched 14 innings over the past three days, was too worn down to maintain the slim margin.
Reliever Doug Mathis was tagged for eight runs over just 1 1/3 frames -- snapping a six scoreless innings streak from the Texas bullpen -- while Dustin Nippert surrendered one run over three innings of work.
"We're going to have to talk about some options," Washington said referring to his overworked bullpen. "We haven't decided yet, but we definitely got to talk about some options because Mathis went, [Chris] Ray came in and did what we needed him to do. We certainly didn't want to use him -- that's three times in five days. Nipert really saved us by giving us the three innings he gave us -- he pitched yesterday, too."
While the Rangers' pitching wasn't at its finest, their big bats stepped up and kept the game competitive.
The Rangers' offense started the game stringing together four consecutive singles off Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil -- who lasted only two innings, allowing eight runs -- resulting in a three-run first inning. The power continued when catcher Max Ramirez hit a towering solo shot into the second deck in a five-run second inning, which was capped off by a three-run Nelson Cruz double. Cruz, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday, went 1-4 with four RBIs.
Outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, coming off the walk-off single in extra-innings against the A's on Thursday, had another big game going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and scoring twice.
For Washington, however, the difference maker was Blue Jays reliever Casey Janssen, who entered the ballgame in the fourth and shut down the Rangers for three strong innings.
"They got a good couple innings out of Janssen," Washington said. "That was the big turning point right there because after that, they still couldn't stop us. We put men on the bases and kept coming, just couldn't get those [crucial] hits."
While the Rangers mounted a late charge, loading the bases with two outs in the seventh, outfielder Josh Hamilton was unable to capitalize, grounding out to second.
Ultimately, the game came down to one man -- a man with no excuses.
"It's tough on a personal level the way I pitched. I expect a lot out of myself and it's just embarrassing -- no excuses for not throwing strikes," said Harden.
James Hall is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less