(Reuters) - Texas starter Colby Lewis pitched the Rangers into a 2-1 lead over Tampa Bay in their American League (AL) division series on Monday, with Mike Napoli crushing a two-run homer in a 4-3 victory at the Rays’ Tropicana Field.
The Rangers can clinch the best-of-five series, and advance to the AL Championship for the second consecutive year, with another win at Tropicana Field in Game Four on Tuesday.
The Rangers have now won four consecutive post-season games at the Rays’ home, including three in last year’s ALDS.
”Believe me, this thing is not over,“ Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters. ”You have seen what we have done over the last month.
“We’ll take this, we’ll get back out there tomorrow night ... win that game, take it back to Texas.”
The Rays drew first blood when Desmond Jennings led off the fourth inning with a solo home run, taking Lewis over the wall in left field to bring the sellout crowd, the first at Tropicana Field since opening day, to its feet.
It would be the only hit surrendered by the righthander, who struck out six over his six innings with a pair of walks.
”You had two ballclubs out there that never quit playing baseball,“ said Rangers manager Ron Washington. ”And it certainly showed up today.
”If you ever wanted to see a great baseball game, that was one out there today. It was quite intense.
“Each one of the clubs had opportunities to do some things, and I am just so happy we were able to get the 27th out.”
Tampa Bay’s All Star starter David Price had cruised through six shutout innings before the Texas batters finally came alive in the seventh.
Napoli slammed a two-run shot to deep center and Josh Hamilton drove in two more runs with a single to push the visitors ahead 4-1.
The Rays responded in typical fashion, Sean Rodriguez scoring Johnny Damon in the bottom of the same inning and Jennings slamming another home run in the eighth to narrow the Rangers’ lead to 4-3.
The Rays have grown accustomed to battling back this year, clinching their place in the playoffs on the last day of the regular season by rallying from a 7-0 deficit against the New York Yankees.
They had trailed the Boston Red Sox by nine games in the wild card race in early September.
However, there would be no late heroics on Monday as Rangers closer Neftali Feliz snuffed out the Rays rally by getting the final four outs to clinch the win for Texas. (Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Peter Rutherford/Patrick Johnston)