ARLINGTON -- The main topic of discussion before the game was the uncertainty surrounding the Rangers rotation, but manager Ron Washington tried not to fret too much about it. "If this kid keeps us in the game, we're going to win," Washington said in his office 3 1/2 hours before the "kid" had thrown his first pitch. The kid was left-hander Matt Harrison, who was making his Major League debut against Angels All-Star left-hander Joe Saunders, and Washington ended up right in his assessment. Harrison more than kept the Rangers in the game.
Harrison ended up winning, pitching the Rangers to a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. "Outstanding," Washington said afterward. "I thought he was outstanding." Ian Kinsler extended his hitting streak to 20 games with a sixth-inning double, and Josh Hamilton had two more RBIs to give him 87 on the season. But the story of the night was Harrison and what he did for the Rangers' banged up rotation. "Huge ... huge," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "In the Major Leagues it's all about hitting your spots, and he put on a clinic tonight." Harrison didn't even arrive at the Ballpark until 3 p.m. and had to endure a 56-minute rain delay before throwing his first pitch. He was also going up against a first-place team with the best road record in the Major Leagues. None of that fazed him once the rain pushed off to East Texas. "That was special," Kinsler said. "Especially coming against one of the best teams in baseball. He hung in there with an All-Star through seven innings in his Major League debut."
Harrison, one of five players acquired from the Braves a year ago in the Mark Teixeira trade, went seven innings and allowed just two runs on five hits with a walk and a strikeout. He's the first Rangers pitcher to earn a win in his first Major League start since Josh Rupe on Sept. 16, 2005.
"It's everything I ever worked for in my life and coming up through the Minor Leagues," Harrison said. "I can't explain how happy I am to be here. I talked to a few of the pitchers before the game and they just said, 'Be aggressive and throw strikes.'"
The only strikeout came in the first inning, and it was a big one. Chone Figgins opened the game and reached on an error. That brought up Gary Matthews Jr., who struck out on a 3-2 pitch and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia gunned down Figgins trying to steal.
"That really helped a lot," Harrison said. "That gave me a big boost of confidence and helped me get the nervousness out of my system."
It also helped that the Rangers gave him a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a triple by Michael Young and Hamilton's sacrifice fly.
Harrison took that 1-0 lead into the fifth inning before walking Torii Hunter with one out. Howie Kendrick followed with a double to right, putting runners at second and third, and Garret Anderson then hit a ground ball up the middle just under Harrison's glove that went into center field for a two-run single.
Rangers first baseman Chris Davis, though, tied it up with a home run to center field in the bottom of the fifth, his fifth home run since being recalled from Triple-A and his second in as many games. He has hit a home run in each of the four games he has started at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. It's only the second home run Saunders has allowed to a left-handed hitter this year.
"I've never faced him before, so I was just trying to get a feel for him and he was trying to get a feel for me," Saunders said of Davis. "But he was sitting on a fastball, so I just have to tip my cap to him."
The Rangers then took the lead in the bottom of the sixth after Kinsler doubled to right-center. Saunders struck out Young, but Hamilton lined a single up the middle to drive home Kinsler.
"Both pitchers went pitch for pitch against one another," manager Mike Scioscia said. "[Harrison] did well tonight. He changed speeds and Joe pitched great tonight. There's a learning curve that goes on from one at-bat to the next, but [Harrison] made adjustments, too. You have to give him credit. He pitched a good game."
The Angels almost ruined it in the ninth against closer C.J. Wilson, who admitted to feeling more pressure than usual to make sure Harrison came away with the victory. Vladimir Guerrero singled with one out and Torii Hunter walked. Kendrick hit into a force play back to Wilson, putting runners on the corners with two outs. But Wilson walked Anderson to load the bases.
That brought up pinch-hitter Juan Rivera. and Wilson managed to finish it off by getting him on a hard grounder to Kinsler.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to ensure he got that win," Wilson said. "It was a well-pitched game. For him to step in like that, it was awesome to see him go out there with so much confidence. He went up against a big-time lineup and really neutralized them."
|"It's everything I ever worked for in my life and coming up through the Minor Leagues."|
|-- Matt Harrison|
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.