The Rangers didn't get the no-hitter, but they did get a big victory over the Twins. The no-hit bid ended with one out in the ninth, when Joe Mauer singled off closer Neftali Feliz, but the Rangers still held on for a 4-0 victory before 22,757 at the Ballpark in Arlington.
Mauer's single kept Harden and three relievers from combining for the sixth no-hitter in Rangers history and the sixth no-hitter in the Major Leagues this season. In both cases it would have been the first combined no-hitter.
That was obvious to everybody, but didn't alter the suspense that mounted inning after inning, even after Harden left the game and was followed by Matt Harrison, Darren O'Day and Feliz.
"In the end, it would have been a combined no-hitter, but they still don't happen every day," outfielder David Murphy said. "A combined no-hitter still would have been something special. It was fun to play out there. It's fun to be locked in on any ball hit to you and knowing anything even remotely within your reach, you're still going to dive for it."
Harden, who went 6 2/3 innings, was sitting on the bench when Mauer lined an 0-2 fastball from Feliz into center field for the Twins' only hit of the night. It's the fifth time in club history that the Rangers have had a no-hit bid end in the ninth inning.
"Hey ... that's baseball," Harden said. "We had Feliz, who is one of the best closers in the game, and we had Mauer, who is one of best hitters in the game. It was a good matchup. It's also pretty uncommon for Mauer to go 0-for. He's good. That's the way the game goes."
Feliz walked Orlando Hudson with one out before Mauer delivered his single. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, but Feliz struck out Jason Kubel and retired Michael Cuddyer on a comebacker to the mound to end the game.
"We're just trying to get some runs," Mauer said. "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. But you definitely don't want to get no-hit. It's nice to get a hit up there, but we want runs. Hits are good, but we want some runs."
Harden was activated off the DL before the game. He had been sidelined with inflammation in his right shoulder and had already missed six weeks earlier this summer with a strained muscle in his lower back.
This was just his 16th start of the season and easily his best, walking five and striking out six. He threw 111 pitches before coming out after walking Cuddyer with two outs in the seventh.
"Rich did a great job," manager Ron Washington said. "He had a good fastball and he mixed in his changeup. He just got to the seventh inning with 111 pitches, and he was through."
Washington, with left-handed hitter Jim Thome standing at the plate and the Rangers leading, 3-0, came out to get Harden with the crowd booing in dismay. Harden made an attempt to convince Washington to let him finish the inning, but also knew he wouldn't be back for the eighth anyway.
"I knew that was my last inning," Harden said.
"I couldn't have lived with myself if Thome had done something crazy," Washington said. "It was about winning the ballgame. Rich did a great job tonight in that heat, but I wasn't going to sit around and let him throw 120 pitches. The seventh was his last inning."
This was the 22nd one-hitter in club history, and the first since Sept 3, 2002. That was also almost a combined no-hitter as well, between Aaron Myette, Todd Van Poppel and Joaquin Benoit that was also broken up in the ninth inning.
"It was an interesting night," Harden said. "I was effectively wild. But I got out there and had a good arm slot. Even when I missed, I felt I was getting everything into my pitches. I made pitches when I had to and had good defense behind me."
The Rangers haven't had a no-hitter thrown since Kenny Rogers threw his perfect game on July 28, 1994. That is one of five thrown by a Rangers pitcher in club history. Nolan Ryan threw two in 1990 and '91, Bert Blyleven threw a no-hitter in 1977 and Jim Bibby threw the first one in club history in 1973.
Ryan, now the Rangers club president, watched from his front-row seat at the Ballpark, while Blyleven was upstairs working as an analyst on the Twins' television broadcast.
"I was hoping they would get it done," Ryan said. "That was a really well-pitched game."