CHICAGO -- Closer Joe Nathan earned his fifth save on a frigid Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, but it was center fielder Craig Gentry who made the game-saving catch and prevented the Rangers from blowing a four-run lead.
Gentry, with two outs and the bases loaded, made a terrific diving catch on Darwin Barney's line drive, and Texas held on for a 4-2 victory. Gentry's catch allowed Derek Holland to get his first win of the season after pitching seven scoreless innings.
"In that situation, unless you're sure you can catch it, you don't do something like that, especially with the winning run out there," Gentry said. "But as I got closer, the ball seemed to hang up there and I was able to catch it."
The Rangers led 4-0 into the ninth, and reliever Michael Kirkman retired the first two hitters of the inning. But then the Cubs mounted a rally that the Rangers weren't able to snuff out until Gentry took away at least a game-tying hit from Barney.
"I wasn't worried at all," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I figured we would get one out before they got four or five runs. It took a great play to do it, but we got it done."
Texas relievers had not allowed a run in their last 10 1/3 innings before the Cubs scored two in the ninth. The Rangers are still one of four teams that has not suffered a blown save this season. They came close, though.
"Unfortunately, I got punched in the neck, it felt like," Barney said. "You get a good piece and you pray it drops and it doesn't. That's part of the game. What a catch out there. Gosh. That ball gets by him, it's game over. So that's a risky play and he made the play. Hats off to him."
Holland deserves the same respect after retiring 21 of 23 batters. He gave up two hits, did not walk a batter and struck out six over seven innings and 108 pitches. Holland, who retired the last 10 hitters he faced, also wasn't fazed by pitching on a night when the game-time temperature was 39 degrees with a brisk wind blowing in from right field.
"It's cold, but I can't use that as an excuse," Holland said. "Their guy has to pitch in it too. I know the hitters don't like it, so I have to do all I can to keep attacking them, make them put the ball in play and keep my defenders on their toes."
Cubs starter Travis Wood was almost as good as Holland, but the Rangers got one off him in the fourth on doubles by Adrian Beltre and Jeff Baker. The Rangers added three more in the eighth, with the big blow being a two-run home run by Beltre.
Texas was 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position before Beltre hit his home run. The Rangers are hitting .243 with runners in scoring position on the season and .200 in their last six games. But they are off to a 9-5 start because of a pitching staff that has a 2.85 ERA.
"We expect to be better. We're not where we need to be right now," Beltre said. "We have too much talent not to be better, but it's obviously nice to have a pitching staff that is solid like this."
It was just the ninth inning that was a bit shaky. Kirkman came in after Tanner Scheppers pitched a scoreless eighth. There have been times when Nathan has been called upon to protect a four- or five-run lead, even though it is not a save situation, but this time Washington gave the ball to Kirkman.
"Michael has been throwing the ball well," Washington said. "He got the first two outs. He couldn't get the third out."
Starlin Castro singled with two outs to start the rally, and Anthony Rizzo drew a walk. That's when Washington brought in Nathan, who entered 4-for-4 in save opportunities this season. His first batter was Alfonso Soriano, who hit a ground ball into the left-side hole that shortstop Elvis Andrus fielded, but couldn't do anything with.
Pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz followed with a fly ball to shallow left field. Baker, starting in place of David Murphy, tried to make a sliding catch and couldn't hold on to the ball. It went for a two-run double, putting runners on second and third.
Washington had used Leonys Martin as a pinch-hitter in the top of the ninth, but did not put him in on defense for Baker. Washington had already used Leury Garcia as a pinch-hitter earlier in the game, and said Baker had to stay in the game as protection in case something happened to one of his infielders.
"I put myself in a corner by pinch-hitting Garcia," Washington said.
Nathan got ahead 1-2 on Wellington Castillo and hit him with a pitch to load the bases. That brought up Barney, who hit a soft line drive to center. For a moment it appeared to be trouble, but Gentry raced in angling to his right and made his diving catch to save the game.
"I just kept making pitches," Nathan said. "That's the nature of the game, that's baseball in a nutshell. A ground ball in the perfect spot ... a flare to left. The ball hit the hardest in the inning ended the game. It was a weird inning, but I just told myself to keep making pitches and make it hard for them. Fortunately Craig made a great play in the end."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.