MINNEAPOLIS -- Third baseman Michael Young said Alex Cora did the right thing.

"We all would have done the same thing," Young said in the clubhouse afterward. "You've got to try to go from first to third in that situation. The guy just made a perfect throw. You just have to tip your cap to him."

Twins right fielder Jason Repko did make a great throw. He gunned down Cora trying to go from first to third on a one-out single by Julio Borbon in the ninth inning, and the Rangers' last threat died in a 4-3 loss to the Twins at Target Field on Friday night.

Cora went in to pinch-run for Vladimir Guerrero, who delivered a one-out single while pinch-hitting for Bengie Molina. Borbon then grounded a broken-bat single through the right side and Repko got to it quickly, putting him in good position to throw out Cora.

"Anything in that hole -- that's what I'm thinking," Cora said. "I'm trying to get to that next base. In a perfect world, we would have runners on first and third with one out. I know the safe play is runners at first and second, but you've got to be aggressive. As soon as I saw the ball, I made the decision to go from first to third."

That's the way it went for the Rangers on a night when two first-place teams sent a couple of young starting pitchers to the mound in improvised starts. Derek Holland made his first start for the Rangers since replacing Rich Harden in the rotation, and Matt Fox made his Major League debut for the Twins.

Both did admirable jobs, and in the end, the Twins simply did more things right than the Rangers did. The loss left the Rangers 2 1/2 games behind the Twins in the battle for the second seed in the American League playoffs. If the standings remain the same at the end of the season, the Rangers will open the playoffs on the road against the Yankees.

"We expect tight games against them," Young said. "We just didn't string enough good at-bats together."

There were other small things. Borbon made an ill-advised throw from center field at the wrong time. Holland relied too much on his offspeed stuff in the later innings. Alexi Ogando left an 0-2 slider over the plate and gave up a game-tying single. Nelson Cruz, with runners at the corners and one out in the eighth, chased a high fastball for strike three. Cora got thrown out as the tying run in the ninth.

"I thought Holland did a good job," manager Ron Washington said. "He just started missing on some pitches."

The Rangers getting just four hits off Fox in 5 2/3 innings didn't help either. Fox, 6-9 with a 3.95 ERA in Triple-A, was a last-minute replacement because Nick Blackburn, the scheduled starter, was used in relief in Thursday's 13-inning affair against the Tigers. The Rangers, who did not have an extra-base hit all night, managed just four singles off him. He walked one and did not strike out anybody.

"He missed the strike zone just enough and not in the strike zone too awful much where they could sit on something and bang it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "His fastball had a little deception. He threw a lot of nice breaking balls, and like I said, he missed the strike zone just enough to keep them off-balance."

The Rangers still had a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the sixth, and when Holland retired Denard Span on a grounder to second, he had retired 14 of 15 batters. Then things began to change.

"The last few innings I started using my offspeed pitches more," Holland said. "I wasn't pitching like I was a few innings before. I started falling behind, trying to trick them instead of attacking people."

Orlando Hudson singled with one out and Joe Mauer did the same. The Twins' All-Star catcher hit a grounder up the middle and Hudson raced to third on the play. Borbon threw to third in an attempt to get Hudson and the play wasn't close. At the same time, Mauer took second, taking away the double-play situation.

"He shouldn't have thrown it," Washington said. "Keep the double play in order. You've got to be 100 percent sure. He tried to make a play."

Michael Cuddyer then hit a ground ball right at second baseman Ian Kinsler, who had to go to first for the out while the tying run scored.

Borbon did get the run back. With runners at first and third in the seventh, he dropped a squeeze bunt to drive home the go-ahead run. But the Rangers couldn't keep the lead going for very long.

Instead, Holland gave up a one-out single in the seventh to Danny Valencia and then walked Repko after getting ahead 1-and-2 in the count.

Washington then brought in Ogando to face J.J. Hardy. Ogando came at Hardy with three fastballs in the 95-97-mph range for a called strike and two foul balls. Then, sitting 0-2, he tried a slider and Hardy whacked it into left field for a run-scoring single.

"You have to bury that pitch in the dirt," Washington said.

Matt Harrison came in to face Span, who grounded a single through the right side to drive home the go-ahead, and ultimately, winning run. Coming into the game, Harrison had allowed a relatively high 42.1 percent of inherited baserunners to score while Ogando had allowed 42.9. By comparison, Frank Francisco, who is on the disabled list, has allowed 15.4 percent to score.

"Their pitching in some situations they haven't been in before," Washington said. "They've been successful before. They didn't do it tonight. I had the matchups I wanted, we just didn't make the pitches we wanted."