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Rangers stumble in series finale

Rangers stumble in series finale

ARLINGTON -- That winning feeling continues to tease and elude the Texas Rangers early this season. Just when they think they've grabbed hold of it, it slips through their fingers like a mist.

Having won four of five games to claw their way back to the .500 mark, the Rangers fell back under the break-even line Wednesday with a 6-5 loss to Tampa Bay before 33,674 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

As with the Boston set that preceded it, the Rangers (4-5) won the first two games of a series but were unable to complete the sweep. Still, embarking upon a six-game road trip that begins Friday in Seattle on the heels of a 4-2 homestand isn't all bad.

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"Well, 6-0 would've been preferable," grumbled Rangers shortstop Michael Young, "but it didn't happen."

Neither did 5-1, mainly because starting pitcher Robinson Tejeda had such difficulty against the team with the American League's worst record.

Tejeda, who threw seven shutout innings against Boston last Friday in his season debut, wasn't nearly as sharp against the Rays (3-5). Tejeda was roughed up for six runs on 10 hits, put his team in a 6-1 hole after three innings, and left after needing 90 pitches to make it through the fifth.

"I just tried to get them off-balance," said Tejeda (1-1), "but it was like they knew what was coming already. I don't know what was going on. Maybe all those guys had dreams about me last night."

Or maybe they just had good scouting reports and a game plan. While the Red Sox were content to take pitches and fall behind in the count against Tejeda, the Devil Rays took a different approach. When it became apparent that Tejeda wasn't spotting his breaking pitches consistently, the Rays started going after the fastballs he was using in hopes of first-pitch strikes.

"They made some things happen," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They may be young, but they can swing the bats over there. And they took advantage of [Tejeda] trying to get ahead of them with the fastball.

"We just didn't start recognizing what they were doing until after the third inning. By that time, they had six runs. We just didn't get in a rhythm early enough. They came out with a game plan to attack those first-pitch fastballs, and they did."

A first-inning home run by Ben Zobrist and a second-inning RBI single by Dioner Navarro offset the first of Young's two home runs and gave Tampa Bay an early 2-1 edge. The lead swelled to 6-1 after a four-run fourth, powered by Ty Wigginton's RBI double, Delmon Young's sacrifice fly and a two-run homer to right by former Rangers first baseman Carlos Pena.

The Rangers, meanwhile, were stymied for five innings by Rays right-hander James Shields. He retired 13 of 14 hitters after Young's first home run.

Ian Kinsler opened the sixth with his team-leading fourth homer of the season. After a Kenny Lofton single and a fielding error by Rays shortstop Zobrist, Young blasted a three-run shot to left-center that pulled Texas within 6-5. It was the seventh multihomer game of Young's career.

But the Rangers never threatened again. Shields combined with relievers Brian Stokes and Al Reyes to retire 12 of the Rangers' final 13 batters, and it was game over. After racking up 20 runs and 27 hits in the first two games of the series, the Rangers finished with five runs (four earned) on five hits against Shields (1-0), who set a career high with eight strikeouts.

Shields' victory was the first win by a Tampa Bay starting pitcher since last Sept. 27, when Tim Corcoran was the winner in a combined 11-0 shutout at Boston.

It was hoped that Tejeda's victory over Boston last week marked a turning point in his ability to perform at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. But in seven career home starts as a Ranger, the Dominican right-hander is 1-4 with a 6.21 ERA.

"No, it's not a concern," Washington said. "You just have to give Tampa Bay credit for taking advantage of him needing three innings to find his rhythm. But those last two innings of his were pretty good. He has something to grow on, those last two innings. So, it wasn't a total loss."

After a night off, Sammy Sosa returned to the Rangers' starting lineup as the right fielder, but his hitting woes continued. Sosa went 0-for-4 with his eighth strikeout in 28 at-bats. Sosa is batting .143 and is hitless in his last 14 at-bats.

"That's why I'm trying to get him as many at-bats as I can," Washington said of the Hall of Fame candidate who hit .408 in spring exhibitions.

"It's a different animal in the [regular] season, we all know that. But Sammy's a fighter, and we're going to stick with him. We're not going to give up on him. We're just going to keep trying to get him at-bats. And we know that, pretty soon, he'll break out of it. He'll be OK."

Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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