Harden did just that against former teammate Dan Haren. Harden, coming off the disabled list and pitching for the first time since June 11, held the Angels to one run over seven innings and the Rangers held on for a 2-1 victory.
"Whew ... I mean we needed that," third baseman Michael Young said. "Haren was on a roll, and it was nice to see Rich come back and go after batters. He threw a lot of quality pitches and needed all of them. He was definitely the story of the game."
Vladimir Guerrero provided Harden with all the runs he needed with a two-run home run in the fourth inning. It was his first home run since July 9, as he had gone 68 at-bats without going deep.
"You go through those stretches where you're not feeling as good or swinging as good," Guerrero said. "This was one of those stretches, but tonight I was able to pick it back up."
Guerrero is 8-for-20 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in five games at Angel Stadium against his former teammates. Guerrero played for the Angels from 2004-09.
"More than anything I was able to do it on my son's fourth birthday," Guerrero said. "That means more to me than doing it against the Angels."
Guerrero's home run followed David Murphy's walk and gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead. Howard Kendrick hit a home run off of Harden in the seventh, but that was all for the Angels, who had scored nine runs the night before in beating undefeated Tommy Hunter.
"Rich had been telling us he was ready," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We certainly needed him to do what he did. He put zeros on the scoreboard, gave us seven strong innings and made it hold up. It was a great night for the Texas Rangers and Rich Harden."
Harden, who was 3-3 with a 5.68 ERA in his first 13 starts, allowed five hits, walked two and struck out three while throwing an economical 88 pitches. This was his first victory since June 1 against the White Sox.
"It definitely feels good to get back on the mound," Harden said. "I've been thinking about it, but this is a good first one to get out of the way."
The pitch count was astounding. This is only the second time in 14 starts that Harden has been able to go seven innings in a game, but it was still his third-lowest pitch count this season. He had 87 pitches in six innings against the White Sox on April 28 and 86 in 2 2/3 innings against the Blue Jays on May 14.
"They were aggressive, so that was my plan," Harden said. "Throw strikes, make them swing the bat and put the ball in play. The defense behind me was outstanding."
Especially on the right side, where first baseman Jorge Cantu and second baseman Cristian Guzman -- making their first starts for the Rangers -- both made a couple of excellent stops on ground balls to take away hits.
Haren, in his second start for the Angels, ended up throwing a complete game. But the Rangers made Guerrero's home run stand up.
"Danny Haren pitched his heart out," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Both those guys pitched well. Harden was in the zone a lot, throwing strikes. We really couldn't get any momentum going on the offensive side. He's reinvented himself. He used to have that power fastball with a split. He's got a good changeup and a breaking ball he'll make small. Obviously, he's learned to pitch with less velocity."
Harden said he could have gone farther, but the Rangers were happy with seven. Frank Francisco and Neftali Feliz finished the job. Feliz earned his 29th save, but Francisco was particularly outstanding in the eighth. He went through the Angels' best, getting Bobby Abreu on a grounder to second before striking out Torii Hunter and Hideki Matsui.
"Frankie has been our MVP," Washington said. "He's been doing that all year, going through the heart of the other team's lineup and getting the ball to Feliz."
It was a huge moment in the game for the Rangers. But the night belonged to Harden, and the Rangers can only smile in thinking of what might happen if he pitches this way down the stretch.
"It would be a huge boost," Washington said. "We have a pitcher ... a guy who has been through it before. We never gave up on Rich Harden. He had some things to straighten out and straightened them out."