Texas had its own chance for a big rally when the team loaded the bases with nobody out against Minnesota closer Joe Nathan in the top of the ninth. But Nathan survived and the Rangers finished 4-5 on their nine-game trip to Tampa Bay, New York and Minnesota.
"This is the time of year, these are the ones that hurt," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "We played great, they played great. ... I'll take a one-run lead into the eighth inning with our bullpen. Unbelievable. It's one of those games ... it really hurts. It would have made the road trip sweeter."
Instead, the Rangers dropped to 3 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the American League Wild Card race and five behind the Angels in the AL West.
"A win today would have made it a decent road trip against three teams that play really well at home," starter Kevin Millwood said. "Winning the last two series would have been big. We just didn't pull it off."
The Rangers almost did in the ninth against Nathan. Down 5-3, Texas loaded the bases when Hank Blalock walked, Nelson Cruz singled and Ivan Rodriguez reached on Nathan's throwing error. For the second time in three nights, the Rangers seemed poised to get to the Twins' All-Star closer.
"Bases loaded, no outs," Nathan said. "All you can do there is make pitches. You can't worry about how the runners got on base, how many runners are on base. You can't worry about anything behind you. You've got to concentrate on the guy and try and make pitches and see what he does."
Nathan, in a righty vs. righty matchup, came back to strike out Elvis Andrus on three pitches. Rangers manager Ron Washington had left-handed batters Chris Davis and David Murphy on the bench, but decided to stay with Andrus, who had singled home Texas' first run in the third.
"He's my shortstop," Washington said. "He's gotten big hits for us and helped us win a lot of ballgames. I felt he could get something done."
Nathan then got Julio Borbon to pop out and Michael Young to ground out to end the game.
"We wanted to be within three games of the Angels on Sept. 1 regardless of the Wild Card," Byrd said. "We're making it tough on ourselves. We're still focused on winning the AL West, but we can't lose close ones like that."
Millwood held the Twins to two runs in six innings and left trailing, 2-1. But Cruz hit a two-run home run in the top of the seventh to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead, and suddenly Millwood was in line for his first career victory in 12 starts against the Twins. It didn't happen.
"I should have pitched deeper in the game," said Millwood, who threw 114 pitches. "I'm not saying taking me out wasn't the right call. I shouldn't have thrown as many pitches as I did. We've had a lot of close games lately and a lot of tough situations for our bullpen. Sooner or later it's going to catch up."
Jason Grilli got out of a tough situation in the seventh when Byrd made a terrific diving catch in center field and doubled off Denard Span at second base to end the inning. But that was only a temporary reprieve.
Wilson was brought in for the eighth, and the first two hitters were left-handed-swinging Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel. Wilson walked Morneau on a full-count fastball that just missed, and Kubel, on an 0-2 slider, lined a single to center.
"We had the right guy out there," Washington said. "If we get Morneau and Kubel, we'll be fine. We just couldn't do that."
Wilson, after Carlos Gomez ran for Kubel, struck out Michael Cuddyer, but Brendan Harris grounded a single through the left side. Cruz charged the ball hard and had a shot at Morneau, but couldn't come up with the ball cleanly. It got behind him as Harris scored easily and Gomez went to third.
"I came in hard trying to come up with the ball, throw it and see what happens," Cruz said. "I tried to rush it. That's what happens when you do it too quickly."
Washington wasn't happy that Cruz threw to third, allowing Harris to get to second.
"We should have kept the double play in order," Washington said.
Mike Redmond, with the infield in, hit a high chopper to Blalock at first. But Blalock's throw home was high and wide, allowing Gomez to slide in safely with the go-ahead run. Washington admitted he thought about using Davis defensively at first, but Blalock, getting the start on Sunday, was up first in the ninth. A suicide squeeze by Nick Punto brought home an extra run.
"Obviously walking Morneau on a borderline pitch and not making Kubel miss hurt," Wilson said. "Everything else after that ... somebody sacrificed a chicken."