The Texas Rangers are starting to get comfortable atop the AL West.
The Tampa Bay Rays are anything but content, but they could change that very soon.
While the Rangers attempt to continue building their division lead, the Rays will try to stay close in the AL East race in the opener of this three-game series Friday night in St. Petersburg.
Texas (82-55) owns the league's best record and has a 5 1/2-game lead on second-place Oakland in the West thanks to an 11-4 run. While the A's were swept by the Angels this week, the Rangers took advantage by taking three of four at Kansas City following Michael Young 's run-scoring single in the 10th inning of Thursday's 5-4 victory.
Texas is aiming to reach the postseason for a franchise-record third straight year, but so is Tampa Bay (75-62).
The Rays are two games behind East co-leaders Baltimore and New York while sitting 1 1/2 back of Oakland for the AL's second wild-card slot.
While the Orioles and Yankees square off this weekend, the Rays have a heavyweight matchup of their own to worry about against Texas. After that, Tampa Bay visits Baltimore for three games before three more in New York.
The Rays won the first two at home against the Yankees earlier this week before falling 6-4 in Wednesday's finale.
"I still like the idea about winning two out of three against a very good baseball club," manager Joe Maddon told the Rays' official website. "We weren't going to win the rest of our games from now until the end of the season, but if we play with that kind of intensity, intent and effort, God bless it; I'll take it."
The Rays have split six season meetings with the Rangers, all in Texas, and most recently lost two of three Aug. 27-29.
Derek Holland (10-6, 4.79 ERA) opened that series with a 6-5 win for the Rangers, allowing five runs - three earned - in six innings.
That's part of a streak of five starts by the left-hander that have ended in Texas wins. He's 3-0 with a 3.51 ERA in that stretch, getting 8.37 runs of support per nine innings.
Holland got much more help than he needed Sunday in an 8-3 victory at Cleveland. He allowed two runs and scattered seven hits in seven innings.
Josh Hamilton 's recent success at the plate may give Holland another large margin for error. He's hitting .346 with five homers, 14 RBIs and seven walks in his last 14 games, as half of his six hits over the past five have left the park.
Hamilton hasn't come close to being that productive at Tropicana Field, batting .167 with one homer and 12 RBIs in 20 career games, five of which have come over the last two postseasons as Texas has eliminated the Rays each time.
Adrian Beltre , however, has a .341 average with six homers and 17 RBIs over his last 22 visits to Tropicana Field. That includes the Rangers' last visit in Game 4 to clinch of the AL division series, as the third baseman connected for three homers - with two coming off Jeremy Hellickson , Friday's starter.
Beltre enters this series as the hottest player in baseball over the past few weeks, hitting .443 with 11 homers and 21 RBIs in his last 15 games.
Hellickson (8-10, 3.41), who was pulled after four innings in Game 4 last fall, hasn't faced Texas since, and he's again had issues at home in the past three months. The right-hander is 1-5 with a 6.29 ERA in his last seven starts in St. Petersburg.
He's pitching better overall of late, though. Hellickson has a 2.88 ERA in his last four outings, but is 1-3 due to a lack of run support.
|September 02, 2012||Ian Kinsler||Day-to-Day||Lower back stiffness|
|August 31, 2012||Tyler Tufts||15-Day DL||Surgery, perforated bowel|
|August 30, 2012||Robbie Ross||15-Day DL||Strained left forearm|
|August 28, 2012||Nelson Cruz||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left elbow|
|August 22, 2012||Yu Darvish||Day-to-Day||Right quad tightness|
|August 11, 2012||Mike Napoli||15-Day DL||Strained left quadriceps|
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|August 31, 2012||Sean Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand|
|August 28, 2012||Matt Joyce||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left forearm|
|August 05, 2012||Ben Zobrist||Day-to-Day||Left game - upper back spasms|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|July 21, 2012||Alex Cobb||Day-to-Day||Left game - right knee contusion|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- In another time or situation, Ben Zobrist might have dropped down a bunt.
Instead manager Joe Maddon told the Rays shortstop to swing away, and Zobrist delivered a two-run walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Tampa Bay's 3-1 victory over the Texas Rangers on Friday night.
"I've never had a walk-off home run before in my life, regardless of whether it was Little League or high school or college," Zobrist said. "I thought about if it was ever going to happen, but when you're in the moment you just try to have a good, quality at bat."
Zobrist's 16th homer came off Mark Lowe (0-1) after a leadoff walk to B.J. Upton.
Maddon reminded Zobrist not to bunt because with Upton on second base, the Rangers probably would have walked Evan Longoria , the Rays' next hitter.
"If (Upton) stole a bag, then I would have (bunted)," Zobrist said.
For Zobrist, the home run was a perfect finish to a night that started with his wife, Julianna, singing the national anthem.
"That may be the first time in Major League Baseball history that happens, where the wife sings the national anthem and the husband hits a walk-off homer," Maddon observed. "Maybe Honus Wagner and his wife, back in the day. Whenever amplification came on board, you'd have to check that out."
Wade Davis (3-0) got the win after striking out five of the six hitters he faced in the 10th and 11th innings.
The Rays' fifth win in six games featured a total of 29 strikeouts after a duel between starting pitchers Derek Holland of the Rangers and the Rays' Jeremy Hellickson .
Holland struck out a career-high 11 while giving up only two hits and two walks in eight innings. He threw a season-high 116 pitches, retiring five Rays in a span of seven pitches at one point.
Longoria's fourth-inning homer, his 11th, was the first hit off Holland, who was trying to win a fourth straight start for the first time in his career.
"I'm definitely pleased, but at the same time I'm pretty upset," Holland said. "A win is what we really want."
It was the second straight extra-inning game for the Rangers, who arrived at their hotel at 4:40 a.m., Friday after a 5-4, 10-inning win at Kansas City on Thursday night.
Hellickson pitched six innings, giving up four hits including a home run to Michael Young in the fifth inning. It was Young's seventh home run and his third in the last five days.
David Murphy walked after Young's homer, and then Hellickson and four relievers retired the next 17 Rangers in order. The Rays bullpen gave up one single in five innings.
"The fifth inning was a little long," Hellickson said. "I could have gone back out, but with the bullpen we have, there was no reason not to go to them. I mean, they've been doing that all season."
NOTES: Rays 17-game winner David Price has been scratched from his Saturday start because of shoulder soreness. Rookie RHP Chris Archer , called up from Double-A Montgomery on Friday, will start against the Rangers on Saturday night. Maddon expects Price's next start to come next weekend at New York . . . Matt Harrison , the Rangers' 15-game winner, had his next start pushed back from Sunday here to Tuesday at home against Cleveland.