Rays hit midpoint with setback

Kazmir comes up short vs. Rangers

ARLINGTON -- The Rays rang in the halfway point of the season with a loss Friday on a steamy night in Texas.

With the game time temperature at 100 degrees, the Rangers got a big home run while the Rays made several mistakes as the Rangers took a 3-1 win in front of a crowd of 39,123 at Rangers Ballpark to send the Rays to their second straight loss.

"I think we're on the right course" at the midway point, Carl Crawford said. "We've been winning lately, playing well and hitting well; seems like things are starting to click. We've lost the last two, but before that we were doing fine. We feel like we're on our way right now."

After 81 games, the Rays find themselves with a record of 44-37 and in third place, five games behind Boston in the American League East. At the same point in their AL championship 2008 campaign, the Rays had a record of 49-32 and they were in first place by a half a game.

"I really do [like where we are]," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We got off to a tough start. We really did not have a good game tonight. We made mistakes tonight and we could not hit in the clutch. More about the mistakes, we just did not have a good night.

"But for the most part we've played some pretty good baseball. You look at what the pitching's been doing. I think it's been outstanding. And that's a reason we're jumping up there a bit. I really believe the esprit de corps is excellent and our guys believe. So I like where we're at right now."

The mistakes included a running gaffe by Crawford in the first. When he attempted to steal second, Evan Longoria flied out to center field. By the time Crawford figured out the lay of the land, the ball was well on its way to first, where he was doubled-off to end the inning. Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist each had fielding errors, and Rays starter Scott Kazmir made an ill-fated pitch to Rangers slugger Hank Blalock.

Blalock broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the fourth. The Rangers DH connected on a 2-2 slider from Kazmir and deposited the ball 402 feet from home plate into the right-field stands for his 17th home run of the season.

"Just one pitch cost us the game," Kazmir said. "I got him out on the same hanging slider on the at-bat before, he popped it up. I was trying to go low and away slider to him the whole time, I just wasn't getting it there.

"He made me pay. You don't throw that pitch to Blalock, anything that's hanging, anything that's up. I got away with it the first time and the second time he made me pay."

Kazmir was making his second start since returning from the disabled list with a right quadriceps strain and the Houston native took his first career loss to the Rangers, falling to 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA in eight career starts.

"He looked good," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He didn't have his best stuff. He's trying to get back to 100 percent. That's how good he is. When he's not 100 percent, he can get hitters out."

Rangers starter Tommy Hunter made his third start of the season and sixth of his career, earning his first Major League win after holding the Rays to a single run on three hits over 5 1/3 innings. In addition, the right-hander celebrated his 23rd birthday.

"Their guy was deceptive, Hunter, and we had a hard time picking it up," Maddon said. "Everybody came back in and had a different idea of what he was trying to do. We just had a hard time seeing the ball on him."

Added Crawford: "He got us out. He pitched well. He did what he had to do. He got ahead a lot. He did what he had to do. We got some hits that went right at people that probably would have changed the game. But other than that, he did his job."

Jason Jennings, C.J. Wilson, and Frank Francisco came out of the Rangers' bullpen to finish off the Rays with 3 2/3 scoreless innings on a night that saw the Rays tie a season low with just three hits. "They did a nice job," Maddon said. "They just pitched pretty well tonight."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.