Rangers 4, Rays 3
The Tampa Bay Rays simply ran out of comebacks.
Adrian Beltre hit three home runs, Ian Kinsler also went deep and the Texas Rangers knocked the Rays out of the playoffs Tuesday with a 4-3 victory in Game 4 of their American League division series.
''It's always painful, especially being around the league for this long,'' Tampa Bay designated hitter Johnny Damon said. ''You never know when your last opportunity is going to be. We battled very tough. We had a good enough team to win, and keep on winning. It just seemed Texas definitely had our number.''
Unable to win a home game against Texas again, the Rays were eliminated under their own roof by the Rangers for the second consecutive year.
Last season, it was Cliff Lee who pitched Texas to a first-round triumph in Game 5 at Tropicana Field. This time, Beltre powered the defending AL champions to a 3-1 victory in the best-of-five matchup.
''We just have to keep trying to get better for the next opportunity to meet them in the playoffs and hopefully come out on top next time,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ''I am very proud of our guys.''
Tampa Bay, which pulled off a remarkable rally in September to win the AL wild card, certainly went down fighting. Sean Rodriguez barreled over Rangers catcher Mike Napoli to score an early run and Casey Kotchman's one-out single in the ninth got the Rays within 4-3.
But closer Neftali Feliz retired Matt Joyce on a foul popup and Desmond Jennings on a grounder to earn his third save of the series.
The announced crowd at Tropicana Field was 28,299, well below the sellout of 32,828 for Game 3 on Monday.
Tampa Bay principal owner Stu Sternberg admitted there is frustration because the Rays' success on the field has not translated into improved attendance.
''We replicated last year and our numbers were down,'' Sternberg said. ''The (television) ratings were down. The rubber has got to hit the road at some point. We're four years into winning. We're getting to the point where we don't control our own destiny. This is untenable as a model.''
Local civic leaders are currently exploring options for a new stadium, but the effort is in the preliminary phases.
Kinsler hit a leadoff homer against rookie Jeremy Hellickson in the first inning and Beltre did the same in the second for a 2-0 lead.
Beltre hit another shot off Hellickson in the fourth and then put the Rangers ahead 4-2 with a seventh-inning drive against rookie Matt Moore.
The three homers allowed by Hellickson were the most he has given up in a game. The right-hander was pulled after four innings and replaced by Moore with Tampa Bay trailing 3-2.
Moore beat the Rangers in Game 1, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out six over seven shutout innings. The only hit he gave up in three innings Tuesday was Beltre's third homer of the game.
''We made it pretty interesting there,'' Moore said. ''Ever since I've been here, we always kind of had our backs up against the wall. It's weird. I wouldn't say we were comfortable, but we knew we had some work cut out. We made it pretty close.''
Hellickson yielded three runs and four hits.
Texas, which hit 210 homers during the regular season, had gone deep just twice through the first three games of the series.
The defeat was a bitter end for Tampa Bay, which earned its improbable playoff spot with the greatest September comeback in baseball history.
The Rays made up a nine-game deficit on Boston in the wild-card standings after Sept. 3 and claimed their third postseason berth in four years by climbing out of a seven-run hole in the eighth inning to beat the New York Yankees in the regular-season finale.
Evan Longoria's dramatic homer in the 12th inning last Wednesday sent Tampa Bay into the playoffs despite a $42 million opening-day payroll, the second-lowest in the majors.
The Rays rolled to a 9-0 rout in Game 1 at Texas, too. But all the excitement came to a sudden conclusion against the Rangers, who won all five games at Tropicana Field during two playoff series between these teams the past two years. In fact, the road team won eight of the nine games in those first-round matchups.
''It's sour the way it ended,'' Longoria said.
Joyce cut the Rays' deficit to 2-1 on a two-out RBI double in the second. Rodriguez, who had walked, scored all the way from first by crashing hard into Napoli on a clean collision at the plate, knocking the ball loose.
Texas went up 3-1 on Beltre's fourth-inning homer. He entered with one hit in 11 playoff at-bats this year.
Rodriguez doubled with two outs and scored on Kotchman's single in the fourth, making it 3-2.
Rangers starter Matt Harrison gave up two runs and five hits over five innings to earn the win. He struck out nine and walked two.
NOTES: Damon has not talked yet with team officials, but said he hopes to play again for the Rays next season. ''I don't feel like packing everything up,'' a smiling Damon said. ''I want to be back.'' ... A leading Rookie of the Year contender, Hellickson threw 47 pitches. His outing marked the 10th time since 1900 that a team used two rookie starters in one postseason. ... Longoria was hitless in three at-bats against Harrison after entering 4 for 4 with a homer vs. the left-hander. ... Moore's streak of 15 scoreless innings ended on Beltre's seventh-inning homer.