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Rays

Rays continue rivalry with Rangers

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 04:35 AM
ARLINGTON, Texas -

Rangers Ballpark is completely sold-out this weekend. ESPN will be here Sunday night for a nationally televised game. Based on that, you would think Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers is kind of a big deal.

And maybe it kind of is.

The Rays will always count the Yankees and Red Sox as their biggest rivals, and not necessarily in that order. But given the way the past two Octobers went for the Rays, the Rangers have to be considered a team they would love to beat.

"I think we're creating somewhat of a little bit of a rivalry between the two teams right now," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "They've gotten us a couple of times, and we're hoping to return the favor some time."

Maddon was talking about taking a postseason series from the two-time defending American League champions, whose road to the past two World Series was paved with a pair of wins against the Rays in the American League Division Series.

"I guess you can use the word 'rivalry,' " shortstop Sean Rodriguez said.

Friday's game, while just the first of nine these teams will play during the regular season, was every bit as exciting as an October matchup.

The Rays jumped out to a big lead and tried to old on against a Rangers offense that is never out of any game.

The Rays hung 14 hits in five innings on Rangers starter Matt Harrison, which were both the most hits by the Rays this season and a franchise-tying most allowed by a Rangers pitcher.

Evan Longoria started things with a three-run homer in the first inning as the first six Rays to bat reached base and the first four scored.

Designated hitter Jeff Keppinger had three hits in three at-bats before being lifted for pinch-hitter Luke Scott in the sixth inning. Scott homered.

Add Brandon Allen's ninth-inning game-winner from Thursday afternoon and the Rays received home runs in two straight pinch-hit at-bats.

Ben Zobrist, who walked and scored in the first inning against the left-handed Harrison, and doubled home a run off Harrison in the fourth.

B.J. Upton had a pair of singles in his first two at-bats and made the last out in both innings on bases.

Chris Gimenez had two hits and an RBI. Elliot Johnson singled and doubled in his first two at-bats.

Rays starter James Shields struck out a season-high eight and allowed a season-high 11 hits in six innings.

The Rangers brought a major league-best 15-4 record into the game. The pitching staff had the lowest ERA in the league while the offense led the league in batting, runs, hits, home runs and RBIs.

When asked if the Rangers have any flaws, Maddon said, "They don't. They're very good. They're a very good team like we are."

The Rays entered the night tied for first in the American League East with the Orioles and riding a five-game winning streak, the longest current streak in the majors heading into Friday's action.

When asked if the series could be viewed as a measuring stick for both clubs, Maddon said, "It's still early in the year. I think both teams have been measured a little bit already."

Maddon went on to talk about the past two postseason meetings between the two teams. The 2010 ALDS went the full five games, while the Rangers finished the Rays in four last season, winning the last two games by one run each.

"Regardless of what happens in these games I think both clubs will be there at the end of the year," Maddon said. "And the other point is I really try to not weigh in any more heavily on any particular game at any point. I want our guys to go out there and play our normal game regardless of the time of the year and regardless of who the opponent may be. For me, to really concede to something like that than I'm really applying more weight to this game, which I normally don't do."


rmooney@tampatrib.com

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