ARLINGTON, Texas - The Tampa Bay Rays defense wasn't its usual stingy self Saturday night and the offense that pounded the Texas Rangers the previous game didn't put up much of a fuss, but Jeff Niemann survived an outing in his home state, so that's a plus.
Other than that, there wasn't much to like about the Rays' 7-2 loss at Rangers Ballpark, a defeat that snapped their winning streak at six and dropped them back into a tie with the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the American League East.
"Wasn't our best game overall, crispy-wise," manager Joe Maddon said.
Niemann overcame a rough first inning to keep the Rays in the game until he gave up an unearned run in the sixth. The Rangers then put it away with a four-run seventh, highlighted by a three-run homer by Adrian Beltre off a sinker from Burke Badenhop that didn't have much sink.
The blast had a familiar feel for Rays fans, of course, after Beltre's three-homer performance in Game 4 of last year's American League Divisional Series at Tropicana Field.
It was also the third home run allowed in 10 appearances this season by Badenhop, who allowed just one in 50 games last season with the Florida Marlins.
"He's gotten some ground balls and then again he's left some balls up over the plate," Maddon said. "We're going to keep throwing him out there. I really believe he's going to be good for us. ... It's all there. He's just not as sharp as he's going to be, but I'll take it. I think he's going to grow into a very good situational guy for us."
The homer came after Bandehop walked Josh Hamilton intentionally to face Beltre.
The Rangers had just scored a run when catcher Jose Molina's throw to third in an attempt to pick off Mitch Moreland instead hit him and bounced away from third baseman Evan Longoria. Ian Kinsler, who was on first, advanced to second on the error. Badenhop then struck out Elvis Andrus for the second out, but with first base open, Maddon decided to walk Hamilton and let Badenhop take his chances with Beltre.
"That was purely a right-left thing," Maddon said. "The chances of either one of those guys putting the ball on the ground versus Badenhop is about equal. Josh has been so darn hot let's just go with the other guy and go right-on-right and maybe get a nice ground ball somewhere and stay out of the big inning, but it didn't work out that way."
Badenhop's sinker stayed up and Beltre lined it the opposite way into the right field seats for a three-run homer that basically sealed the game.
"You can't afford to be remotely up," Badenhop said. "It's tough. He's a good hitter and they have decent pop here, but you got to be able to put the ball on the ground if you're going to pitch well here."
Niemann, who has struggled mightily against the Rangers in four appearances against them, allowed two quick first-inning runs on a walk to Kinsler, a double to Andrus and an opposite field single just over the infield by Hamilton.
But Niemann settled down and took a three-hitter into the sixth inning.
"First two guys I was trying to overthrow a little bit and we really settled in and told ourselves to calm down and I threw quality strikes," Niemann said.
And why was he overthrowing? Because he wanted to reverse the trend against the Rangers? Because the Houston native wanted to pitch well in his home state?
"I think it's just the (Rangers)," Niemann said. "They have a really, really good team over there, and the history with us the past couple of years, they've taken us out (of the postseason). We really want to come in and beat them, so that's all it was."
Niemann fell to 0-3 lifetime against the Rangers, but lowered his ERA to 8.35 against them and actually walked out of the clubhouse feeling good about his performance.
"Absolutely, for sure," Niemann said. "That was another thing that kind of played a factor, our lack of success against these guys and to be able to turn the tides and not let it snowball on us was a good thing for us, individually."
"I think he's got to leave here pretty good, he's got to be feeling pretty good about himself, how he pitched, the stuff that he had, how he got better with the game in progress," Maddon said.
A little more offense against Rangers starter Colby Lewis would have helped, but the right-hander continued his dominance against the Rays with six innings of three-hit ball. Lewis is now 4-0 lifetime during the regular season against Tampa Bay.
"It was one of those nights where it did not want to work offensively, because I'll take those at-bats every night. A lot of good things are going to happen," Maddon said. "We hit about five home runs foul. A lot of well-struck balls, but just a little bit more baseball luck (tonight)."
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