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Texas Looks To Take Series From Tampa Bay

(Sports Network) - A pair of American League division leaders continue a three-game weekend series this afternoon in Arlington, where the AL West front-running Texas Rangers shoot for a second straight victory over the visiting Tampa Bay Rays.

Texas got the better of the Rays in Friday's opener, using a seven-run fourth inning to come through with a 9-6 triumph. Vladimir Guerrero capped the uprising with a three-run double and both Josh Hamilton and Justin Smoak homered to help the Rangers to their third win in four games.

Hamilton and Smoak each finished with three hits for Texas, which trailed by a 4-2 score before teeing off on Rays starter Wade Davis in the fourth.

"We battled back, we always battle back," said Hamilton. "We've always been a 'never say die' team until the last out is recorded. And that's the way we're always going to play."

The offensive outburst benefited Rangers starter C.J. Wilson (4-3), who surrendered five runs (three earned) on six hits while walking four over a shaky five-plus innings of work. Five Texas relievers teamed up to hold Tampa Bay to one run over the final four frames, with closer Neftali Feliz tossing a scoreless ninth to notch his 15th save of the season.

Davis (5-5) was roughed up for eight runs and nine hits before exiting after 3 1/3 innings.

"I thought he started out ok, but the command issues got to him," said Tampa manager Joe Maddon about his starter. "They didn't crush the ball, but [the Rangers] had a lot of well-placed line drives and that was just good hitting on their part."

Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored twice and Evan Longoria homered for Tampa Bay, which entered this set off back-to-back come-from-behind victories at Toronto.

The Rays own the best road record in baseball this year at 21-7, but Friday's setback was the team sixth defeat in seven visits to Rangers Ballpark dating back to last season. The Rangers have taken seven of 10 overall matchups between the clubs over that stretch.

Tampa Bay will try to reverse those fortunes behind James Shields, who's seeking to rebound from a bad performance in his last start. The competitive right-hander was tagged for seven runs and 11 hits over 5 1/3 innings in a home loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.

Shields won five of his first six decisions to start the year but has dealt defeats in each of his last two outings. Prior to Sunday's forgettable showing, he held Boston to two runs and just four hits over eight innings but came up on the short end of a 2-0 decision on May 25.

The 28-year-old is 2-1 with a 4.82 ERA in four career meetings with Texas, but has a 5.79 ERA in his two lifetime starts at Arlington.

The Rangers counter with Tommy Hunter, who'll making his first major league start of 2010 today. The young righty began the season on the disabled list with an oblique strain and was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma in April, where he went 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA in six mound trips.

Hunter had a solid rookie campaign for the Rangers in 2009, compiling a 9-6 record with a 4.10 ERA in 19 starts. One of those wins came against the Rays in Arlington last July, with the 23-year-old yielding just one run and three hits over 5 1/3 innings.

The Alabama product will be attempting to keep Texas ahead of the pack in the tightly-bunched AL West. The Rangers currently hold a one-game edge on Oakland for first place, with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim lurking 1 1/2 games back.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.