Unfortunately for them, the Rangers' starter on Sunday came up even bigger.
His name is Scott Feldman, and he hurled a seven-inning gem to almost single-handedly beat rookie David Price and hand Tampa Bay a 4-0 loss in front of 29,101 at Tropicana Field.
The Rays still finished up a nine-game homestand at 6-3. But because of Feldman's dominance, they moved to 3 1/2 games back in the American League Wild Card race behind the Red Sox -- who host the Yankees on Sunday night -- and two games behind the Rangers.
The Rays were the victims of a perfect game by Mark Buehrle on July 23, but that didn't stop manager Joe Maddon from calling Feldman's performance "the best-pitched game against us all year."
The skipper forgot about Buehrle's outing when he said that, but when reminded later, he didn't back off.
"Actually, stuff-wise, [Feldman's] stuff was much better today," Maddon said. "Buehrle, we hit a lot of balls right at people. This guy was really good."
So good, in fact, that he and the Rangers' bullpen -- which shut down the Rays in the final two frames -- combined to hand Tampa Bay's offense a season-high 15 strikeouts. Everybody in the starting lineup punched out at least once, except Gregg Zaun.
The Rays went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Sunday, and they combined to go just 1-for-25 in that situation while taking two of three in the series.
But in the finale, Maddon felt that stat had more to do with the Rangers' outstanding work on the mound, not his team's offensive struggles.
"I think their pitching was really that good," he said.
"That's how good [Feldman] was," added first baseman Carlos Pena, referring to the pitcher who accounted for 11 of those 15 K's. "I was on second base, and I saw a pitch that he made to B.J. [Upton], and I was like, 'Wow.' I thought to myself, 'That's unhittable right there.'
"Before I doubt our approach, I'd like to give him a little credit."
Using primarily what Pena said was three cutters -- one that cuts in, another that sinks and a final one that rises, all of which sport different speeds -- Feldman allowed only three baserunners through his first five innings and notched a career-high eight strikeouts by the sixth. The 26-year-old right-hander finished by scattering four hits and two walks over his seven frames.
His 11 strikeouts were the most by a Rangers hurler since Matt Perisho's 12 in 1999, and Feldman is now 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA in seven career games against Tampa Bay (three starts).
"You can't give their guys too much credit, but I thought Feldman did a pretty good job commanding the strike zone," third baseman Evan Longoria said.
"Sometimes you run into that, and you just have to tip your cap."
The Rays had their fifth man in scoring position in the seventh. But with runners on first and second and two outs, pinch-hitter Willy Aybar hit a hard comebacker to Feldman, who knocked it down, recovered and got the out on an off-balance throw to first base.
It turns out that was the last time Tampa Bay would come close to a scoring threat, and the Rays are now hitting .069 (4-for-58) against the Rangers' bullpen this year.
"They're a good hitting team, and I just tried to keep them off-balance a bit," said Feldman, who leads the Rangers with 13 wins.
"I just mixed my pitches. I had good command. I think that helped."
The last time Price took the mound against the Rangers, he was shelled for six runs in 1 1/3 innings in Arlington on July 4. But on Sunday, he kept his team in the game and registered a quality start despite battling a high pitch count all afternoon.
The 23-year-old left-hander gave up three runs on three hits and three walks, and despite throwing 94 pitches through five, he was able to pitch through the seventh -- finishing with 114 pitches under his belt.
"It's good on paper, but it's not good enough," said Price, whose five-game home winning streak was snapped. "Feldman threw well. You gotta tip your cap sometimes. I hate to do it, but it's part of it."
The Rangers' only runs off Price came on balls that snuck just through the infield.
The first was a slow roller off the bat of Michael Young that hugged the first-base line and rolled into right field, resulting in a two-run single. The second was a chopper to third base by Ivan Rodriguez that took an awkward high bounce over Longoria's head and turned into an RBI for Texas' third run.
"I was surprised," Pena said about Young's grounder. "When that ball went by me, I was like, 'Are you serious? That ball going between the bag and I, that hard?'
"But at that point, I was like, 'We're in this,' and [Price] did exactly what we asked of him. He came out and gave us a shot. We just couldn't score any runs."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less