<
>

Rays improve to 14-5 since All-Star break

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Even though they are 20 games out of
first place, the young Tampa Bay Devil Rays are playing like
postseason contenders.

Jorge Cantu drove in the tiebreaking run with an eighth-inning
single, and the Devil Rays won their season-high sixth in a row by
beating the Texas Rangers 8-5 Wednesday night.

The Devil Rays are 14-5 since the All-Star break and own their
longest winning streak since a 12-game run in June 2004.

"I'm pleasantly surprised," said manager Lou Piniella, who
challenged his players to be more competitive in a team meeting
after the break. "We've turned it on. We've been aggressive. These
kids are having fun playing and there is a lot of intensity. It's
rewarding for me to watch."

Rangers starter Ricardo Rodriguez (2-3) retired 11 of 12 batters
after Damon Hollins' fourth-inning homer. But with the score tied
at 3, Joey Gathright led off the eighth with a single.

Gathright sprinted to third on Carl Crawford's single off the
glove of third baseman Hank Blalock, and Cantu singled through a
drawn-in infield to put the Devil Rays ahead with his third hit.

Jonny Gomes' two-run single and Pete Laforest's RBI single off
Kameron Loe stretched Tampa Bay's advantage to 7-3. Aubrey Huff
added an RBI single in the ninth.

Travis Harper (2-6) pitched 2 2/3 innings for the win. He
allowed consecutive homers to Rod Barajas and Gary Matthews Jr.
with two outs in the ninth before Danys Baez got one out with a
runner on for his 22nd save in 29 chances.

"We know we have talent," Gathright said. "It just took time
for us to get it all together and show people what we can do."

The speed of Gathright and Crawford gave the Rangers problems
again. Gathright had two singles and a stolen base, and Crawford
had two hits, including a triple.

"We have to use our speed and use the little things to get some
runs because we're not going to hit a lot of home runs," Crawford
said.

The Devil Rays had eight road victories at the break. Since
then, they've taken six of nine on the road.

"Two wins here is a nice way to start a long road trip,"
Piniella said.

The Rangers have lost seven straight at home, their longest skid
at Ameriquest Field. Texas' last seven-game home losing streak came
in 1992 when the team played at Arlington Stadium. The club record
for consecutive home defeats is nine in 1990.

"Tampa Bay is playing really good baseball, but we're not
playing well," Michael Young said. "We're running into some hot
teams, but we can't worry how well other teams are playing. We have
to do our own thing."

Texas got a run in the first off starter Scott Kazmir on Phil
Nevin's RBI double. Nevin had been 0-for-8 since being acquired
from San Diego last week for right-hander Chan Ho Park.

In the second, Crawford's third triple in six at-bats drove in
Toby Hall from third. Crawford scored when Young committed a
throwing error on Cantu's grounder, putting Tampa Bay ahead 2-1.

Young's sacrifice fly in the third tied it, but Hollins' solo
homer put the Devil Rays in front 3-2.

Mark Teixeira's sacrifice fly in the fifth drew the Rangers
even. Kazmir, who started the night with a major league-high 68
walks, did not issue a walk until the fifth, when he had two.

Kazmir gave up three runs and seven hits, struck out six and
walked two in seven innings.

Rodriguez allowed six runs -- five earned -- and eight hits in
seven-plus innings.

"Ricardo deserved a better fate," Rangers manager Buck
Showalter said. "He pitched well and gave us a chance."

Game notes
Rodriguez was hit in the back of the left arm by Alex
Gonzalez's line drive in the second inning. Rodriguez recovered and
threw out Gonzalez. Team medical personnel ran onto the field, but
Rodriguez said he was fine and stayed in the game. "I knew right
after it hit me that I was OK," Rodriguez said. Last season,
Rodriguez sustained a season-ending broken right elbow when he was
struck by a line drive against the Angels on July 22. ... Crawford
has 12 triples this season, 46 for his career. ... Kazmir, who grew
up in Houston, said he had 46 family members and friends in
attendance to watch him pitch.