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Rangers bullpen unable to protect lead for Martinez

Rookie prevented from claiming first win after quality start in debut

ST. PETERSBURG -- Neal Cotts said one walk was the killer. He wasn't referring to the intentional walk to Evan Longoria that put the go-ahead run on base.

Cotts was kicking himself over the eighth-inning leadoff walk to Wil Myers, especially after being ahead 1-2 in the count.

"That's the big thing about that inning," Cotts said. "I had the leadoff guy down and I let him go. I gave him a free pass, and you can't do that. I made some bad pitches."

Cotts was hoping to help shut the game down and give Rangers starter Nick Martinez his first Major League victory. He didn't do it. Instead, he gave up a two-run double to James Loney, and the Rays rallied for a 5-4 victory over the Rangers on Saturday at Tropicana Field.

Martinez ended up with a no-decision in a head-to-head matchup with All-Star left-hander David Price even though he left the game with a 4-3 lead after six innings.

"He pitched really well, exceptionally well," Cotts said. "He got deep in the game. It would have been great to get through that inning and get him a win. He deserved it."

Martinez, who was is from Miami and had a large, vocal fan club sitting near the Rangers' dugout, allowed just four hits, but two of them were home runs. He also had three walks, and one of them ended up scoring in front of Matt Joyce's fourth-inning home run. He also gave up a home run in the third inning to Yunel Escobar, the Rays' No. 9 hitter.

"I felt great," Martinez said. "I had a blast. I had some nerves, but I handled it all right. I made some mistakes that I wish I could have back but other than that, I did all right. I just executed my pitches, and they played great defense behind me."

The offense also gave Martinez a 3-0 lead after two innings against Price. Elvis Andrus and Josh Wilson each had three hits, and Shin-Soo Choo had two hits and a sacrifice fly. The Rangers forced Price to throw 99 pitches and had him out of there after six.

"David really fought through a difficult night," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He was sick as a dog last night. Pretty high fever, got through it, came out today and gave us six innings. Truly, I didn't even know how he did it because he was that bad yesterday."

The Rangers led, 4-1, going into the bottom of the fourth before Joyce's home run made it a one-run game, and they couldn't pad their lead. Instead, after a two-out single by Andrus in the fourth, Price and three relievers combined to retire 16 of the last 17 batters. The only hit was an infield single by Wilson with two outs in the sixth.

"A tough loss," Choo said. "We did a great job against one of the best pitchers, but that's baseball."

Jason Frasor got the Rangers through the seventh, stranding the tying run at third base with one out by inducing two straight ground balls to short. But Cotts couldn't follow through in the eighth, and it all started with getting ahead 1-2 on Myers before throwing three straight balls.

Ben Zobrist, the Rays' No. 3 hitter, then bunted Myers to second, leaving first base open with Longoria coming to the plate. Cotts missed with his first pitch to Longoria, and Washington decided to walk him intentionally.

"He's the one guy in that lineup we weren't going to let beat us," Washington said. "He's the one guy in that lineup that always comes up big for them. I felt good with Cotts vs. Loney. I was hoping for a ground ball and a double play. We just didn't get it."

Loney is a left-handed hitter with a career .255 average against lefties as opposed to .291 against right-handers. Cotts held left-handed hitters to a .204 average last year. But he also held right-handers to a .156 average, which is why Maddon didn't bring up a right-handed hitter for Loney.

"That's the way Cotts pitches," Maddon said. "It's almost the Mariano Rivera effect. He can be more difficult on the opposite side because that cutter bores in so much. I really felt good about James there, honestly. Longo has done some pretty good work. He's done some good work against these guys. You can't fault Wash for taking that chance right there. Loney could just as easily hit the ball on the ground right there."

He didn't. Cotts again got ahead 1-2 in the count, then missed with a slider in the dirt. He came back with a fastball and Loney hit it over Choo's head in left for a two-run double to put the Rays ahead.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.
Read More: Texas Rangers, Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Wilson, Alex Rios, Nick Martinez, Neal Cotts, Elvis Andrus