"That was a tough one right there," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We had them right where we wanted them to be, and we had the right guy in the game."
Rangers starter Dustin Nippert threw five innings. Neftali Feliz made his Major League debut and struck out the first four hitters he faced. Twice he hit 101 mph. With the help of the bullpen, Rangers pitchers put together a stretch where they retired 22 of 23 batters they faced.
But all that was washed away in the ninth.
"It really hurts," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "Any time you have a head in the ninth inning and two outs, and the other team comes back, it hurts. Oakland is a Major League team, but it's a team we should beat. With our bullpen, 99 out of 100 times if we take a two-run lead into the ninth, we're going to win."
They didn't on Monday night and are now 4 1/2 games behind the Angels in the American League West and three games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card.
"Sometimes you get beat by the long ball, sometimes you get beat by the short ones," Wilson said. "Absolute luck, that's all it is. All of them were lucky hits, dude. They didn't hit any of those balls hard."
Cruz was hurt on the last play of the game. The Athletics, trailing, 2-1, with two outs, had runners on second and first. Wilson had a 1-and-2 count on Rajai Davis, who was pinch-hitting for Eric Patterson. Wilson threw a fastball, and Davis hit it down the right-field line. It wasn't a blooper, but it wasn't a rocket either.
Cruz got over to cut the ball off and braced his foot against the wall.
"The ball hit off the wall and I was trying to block it," Cruz said. "Then I tried to turn and the foot got stuck in the metal part of the wall. My ankle turned."
Cruz has a sprained left ankle and is listed as day-to-day. That leaves the Rangers with just two bench players. Cruz has swelling in the ankle and was having trouble walking after the game.
"We'll know more tomorrow," Cruz said.
Darren O'Day, the fifth of six pitchers used by the Rangers, started the ninth and retired Scott Hairston on a grounder to third base. Washington then brought in Wilson to close it out. First up was Jack Cust, a left-handed hitter who was hitting .216 with 38 strikeouts in 116 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.
Cust rolled a ground ball toward second baseman Joaquin Arias, who was playing on the outfield grass.
"I thought, 'OK, cool. That's a groundout,'" Wilson said.
But before the ball reached Arias, it hit the outer lip of the infield and flopped into the air. Arias grabbed it but the extra couple of seconds cost the Rangers and Cust reached without a throw.
Wilson struck out pinch-hitter Nomar Garciaparra, leaving him one out to go to secure the Rangers' seventh shutout of the season. It was also possibly, from a pitching standpoint, their most dominating game of the season.
"It doesn't matter how well we dominated. All it takes is one pitch and one swing to change the outcome of the game," outfielder Josh Hamilton said.
Tommy Everidge singled to right to keep the inning alive. Then Mark Ellis bounced a grounder to the left side. Normally it's an easy play for third baseman Michael Young going to his left. But Young was playing the line rather than his normal spot to guard against a double.
"I was trying to keep the tying run from scoring," Washington said.
The ball went through for a single. Cust scored and the Athletics still had runners at first and second. Then Davis delivered the back-breaking blow. It was ruled a triple by the time everybody had scored and the Athletics were dancing with walk-off joy between third and home.
The Rangers were tending to Cruz.
"Our bullpen has been outstanding," Washington said. "C.J. is only human. He has been nails for us. I'm not using C.J. as an excuse. Those other guys didn't quit. They fought hard and they took the game from us.
"That one was tough. That was tough."