ST. PETERSBURG -- Cole Hamels' tendency in his first four starts had been to struggle early and get better as the game progressed. The reverse proved true on Wednesday in the Rangers' 4-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Hamels took a two-hit shutout into the sixth, but Tampa Bay scored three runs that inning en route to the victory. The Rangers, after taking two of three from the Astros, ended up losing two of three to the Rays to split their six-game road trip.
The Rangers' injury-depleted lineup managed just six hits, but they did get the winning run to the plate before a ninth-inning rally fell short.
"We're just really trying to put it together and play as a team," Hamels said. "For us and what he have at stake, it's going to be a battle and not easy. There are a lot of tremendous teams in our division, and we as a team are nicked up with injuries. We have to battle through that, and the big hits and the big pitching performances will come. We'll start rallying off a few wins and get on a roll."
Hamels, leading 1-0 after five, was in position to deliver a big pitching performance, having overcome the early struggles that had marked his previous four starts. The left-hander had allowed 13 runs in those four, with nine of them scoring in the third inning or earlier. In each outing, Hamels got stronger as the game progressed, with opponents hitting .364 against him the first time through the lineup, .250 the second time and .208 through the third trip through the order.
That did not hold up on Wednesday. All the damage was done late. The Rays' final 11 batters against Hamels were 4-for-8 with a hit batter and two sacrifice flies. He gave up four hard hits (95 mph or more) after the fourth inning Wednesday. Comparatively, Hamels gave up one hard hit in each of his other games this season after the fourth.
The one that bothered Hamels in the sixth was Johnny Field, the Rays' No. 9 hitter leading off the inning. He started the rally by slamming a single to right on an 0-2 changeup that was up in the zone.
"I think allowing Field to get on base, especially when I was ahead in the count and not being able to finish, changed the momentum of the game," Hamels said. "When it really matters, you have to make the right pitches, and I just wasn't able to do so. As the game creeps along and just understanding where we are at with that 1-0 lead, you definitely have to preserve it."
Hamels retired Denard Span on a fly to left, but Daniel Robertson followed with a double to left that got past Nomar Mazara and rolled to the wall. Field came around from third and the Rangers tried for the play at the plate, but shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa's throw was just late.
Robertson went to third on the play and, after Carlos Gomez was hit by a pitch, scored on C.J. Cron's single to center. Gomez ended up at third and scored on Adeiny Hechavarria's sacrifice fly. An RBI double by Span made it 4-1 in the seventh.
"A little challenged in the sixth," manager Jeff Banister said. "Still felt he threw the ball well in the sixth. Couple changeups that they put good swings on, but I still felt he was in good shape at that point."
Shin-Soo Choo gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with a one-out home run in the third, his fifth of the season.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The Rangers almost rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the ninth against Alex Colome, who put himself in trouble by walking Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo to lead off the inning. Colome struck out Robinson Chirinos, but Drew Robinson lined a single to left to bring home Beltre. Texas then had Ronald Guzman pinch-hit for Renato Nunez, and he hit a grounder to the second baseman Joey Wendle for a game-ending double play.
"I love the fact that the first two guys went out there and stayed patient," Banister said. "That is all you can ask for in the ninth inning is a situation where you bring the tying run to the plate and take your chances after that."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Mazara led off the Rangers' sixth and popped into foul territory. Brandon Snyder gave chase. Approaching Texas' bullpen, Tampa Bay's third baseman made a backhanded grab just before reaching the stands.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Nunez may have had a home run taken away from him by a fan with one out in the fifth. Nunez drove one over the padded part of the right-field wall, but there was some doubt whether it would have cleared the yellow line. That's because a fan reached out and caught the ball. Nunez was held to a double. The Rangers received a crew chief review, and the call stood upon review.
"From our vantage point, I'm surprised it wasn't overturned," Banister said. "If you look at their outfielder, he made no reaction when the fan caught it. That's one of those things in the world we live in. It's got to be clear and convincing, and it wasn't clear and convincing."
The Rangers open up a three-game series with the Mariners at 7:05 p.m. CT on Friday at Globe Life Park with left-hander Mike Minor on the mound. He will be opposed by Seattle right-hander Felix Hernandez. This will be the first meeting between the American League West rivals this season. The Rangers lost 11 of 19 to the Mariners last year, including six of 10 at home.