ARLINGTON, Texas (AP)—Nolan Ryan was waiting with a smile and a handshake when Matt Harrison walked off the field a winner in his major league debut for the Texas Rangers.
Harrison pitched seven strong innings when the Rangers needed it most, and Josh Hamilton provided the difference with his major league-leading 87th RBI in a 3-2 victory against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night.
The 22-year-old left-hander was just a little better than All-Star lefty Joe Saunders, who was trying to become the Angels’ first 13-game winner before the All-Star break since Ryan in 1977. Ryan, the Hall of Famer who is now Rangers president, watched every pitch from a seat near his team’s dugout.
Ryan was waiting in the tunnel after Harrison’s post-game television interview.
“It’s everything I’ve worked for all my life,” said Harrison, who was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma earlier in the day. “I can’t really explain how happy I am right now to be here.”
Saunders (12-5), pitching with his wife three days past the due date for their first child, had to settle for an eight-inning complete game after he couldn’t hold a 2-1 lead.
“Once the game got started, I was locked in,” said Saunders, who figures to be a father within a day or two. “I was more worried about the team on the other side. I haven’t pitched well here in the past. I wanted to put up some zeros.”
Harrison did that through four innings, facing the minimum of 12 batters. But he ran into trouble in the fifth when Torii Hunter walked and Howie Kendrick doubled with one out. Garret Anderson’s two-run single followed.
Chris Davis, another Rangers rookie, answered in the bottom of the fifth, tying the score at 2 with his fourth homer in four home starts. It was his fifth of the season.
After Ian Kinsler doubled in the sixth to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 20 games, Hamilton put the Rangers ahead with an RBI single. Kinsler scored his major league-best 81st run.
Harrison made it stand up with two more shutout innings. He gave up five hits with a walk and a strikeout in the longest outing for a Rangers starter in his debut since 2000.
“He’s a Carolina boy,” Hamilton said. “He grew up about an hour from me. So it felt good to help him by driving in that run. Hopefully I can drive in a few more for him.”
Harrison boosted a Rangers rotation in shambles because of injuries. On Wednesday, Texas is likely to become first team since Milwaukee in 2002 to have major league debuts from consecutive starters when Michael Ballard comes up from Double-A Frisco for Wednesday night’s game.
“He threw a great game is what he did,” Kinsler said. “He commanded all three of his pitches. He worked down in the zone. He threw in effectively. He did all that in his debut, which is special.”
The Angels had a chance to spoil Harrison’s debut when they loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth against Rangers closer C.J. Wilson, but Juan Rivera grounded out with the bases loaded. It was the 22nd save in 24 chances for Wilson.
“Both pitchers went pitch for pitch,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t get anything going early.”
An MRI confirmed that the right shoulder of Angels C Mike Napoli was just irritated, meaning the injury won’t be season-ending. He joined the team Tuesday to continue rehabilitation and therapy. “We’re relieved that Mike is going to return to our lineup,” manager Mike Scioscia said. … The Rangers turned double plays in the first two innings, pushing their league-leading total to 111. … Rangers C Jarrod Saltalamacchia started for the first time since leaving Saturday’s game at Baltimore with a right groin strain.