By The Associated Press
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Back on the road in the playoffs, the Texas Rangers won again.
Colby Lewis outpitched All-Star David Price, Mike Napoli hit a go-ahead two-run homer and the defending AL champions survived a shaky night from the bullpen to hold off the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 Monday night in Game 3 of their postseason series.
The Rangers’ fourth straight division series road win matches the third-longest streak in major league history and gives Texas a 2-1 lead heading into Game 4 Tuesday. Texas won three ALDS games here a year ago, when it eliminated Tampa Bay in five games.
Playing in front of the first sellout at Tropicana Field since opening day, foremer ICC Indian Desmond Jennings hit a pair of solo homers for the Rays. Tampa Bay kept it interesting by scoring twice off Rangers relievers before Neftali Feliz got four outs for his second save of the series.
“It was three of the toughest innings that we experienced all year,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said of the late-game drama.
Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre, playing deep and guarding the line to prevent a double in the ninth, started an around-the-horn double play on Kelly Shoppach’s grounder to end it.
Price was the losing pitcher in two of Tampa Bay’s playoff losses in 2010 and welcomed the opportunity to try to redeem himself against the only AL opponent he’s yet to beat in his career.
The left-hander shrugged off a poor outing in his last regular season start to take a 1-0 lead into the seventh, thanks to Desmond Jennings’ fourth-inning homer off Lewis.
Beltre singled leading off the seventh against Price and took second a wild pitch. A crowd of 32,828 fell silent when Napoli lifted a 2-2 pitch into the seats in left-center for a 2-1 advantage. Josh Hamilton extended the lead with a two-run single off reliever J.P. Howell.
” Napoli has just been — this is the year of the Napoli, man,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He is just hot. And he got a pitch.”
As good as Price was early, Lewis was better in limiting the Rays to one hit over six innings. Jennings’ first homer was the only hit off the right-hander, who had worked 16 consecutive scoreless innings against the Rays up to that point — a stretch that began with a five-inning stint in last year’s ALDS and continued with an eight-inning performance to beat Price and the Rays on June 1.
But the Rangers bullpen nearly let a three-run lead slip away.
Johnny Damon, Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman singled to load the bases against reliever Darren Oliver in the seventh. Damon scored when pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez grounded out, and the Rangers escaped further damage when the second pitcher of the inning, Alexi Ogando, induced pinch-hitter Sam Fuld to hit a roller to second base.
The Rays weren’t finished. Jennings led off eighth with his second homer, trimming Texas’ lead to 4-3. Mike Adams walked B.J. Upton, who was caught stealing, and then walked Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce to get himself into trouble again.
“We never feel like we’re out of a game, especially this close,” Jennings said. “We feel we always have a chance until the last out is made.”
The Rangers wiggled off the hook when Michael Gonzales struck out Damon. Feliz came on to fan Zobrist with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.
Price lost at home to Cliff Lee and the Rangers twice in last year’s ALDS and was coming off a disappointing outing against the Yankees in which he allowed six runs in four innings of a game that the Rays needed to win to ensure they stayed alive for the wild-card berth on the final night.
Tampa Bay rallied from a seven-run deficit to grab the playoff spot on Longoria’s homer, but that didn’t stop questions about whether the Rays could count on him in a big game.
The 26-year-old lefty was 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA in eight career starts against Texas before Monday, yet insisted he didn’t lack confidence to get the job done in Game 3.
The Rangers had chances against him early, stranding runners in scoring position in the first, second and sixth innings. Michael Young lined to first baseman Kotchman, who made a diving catch to end the first. Nelson Cruz and Mitch Moreland grounded out after Napoli singled and stole second base in the second. Price escaped the sixth by retiring Hamilton and Young on groundballs.
With Lewis pitching, Maddon tinkered with the bottom of his batting order, stacking six consecutive left-handers behind righty-hitting Jennings, Upton and Longoria, who went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts against the Rangers starter — once with Upton in scoring position after walking and stealing second in the fourth.
NOTES: Only two teams have won more than four consecutive LDS road games. The Atlanta Braves won eight straight from 1995-99. The Yankees won five in a row from 2003-05. … Lewis allowed an AL-leading 38 home runs during the regular season. The Rays have outhomered the Rangers 7-2 in the first three games of the series. … Hamilton and Young combined to go 0 for 6 against Price and are 5 for 45 against the Rays pitcher in their careers. … The family of pro football Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end died on Sept. 4.