ARLINGTON, Texas —B.J. Upton homered and drove in three runs in his return from a benching, Scott Kazmir allowed two runs in six innings and the Tampa Bay Rays added a game to their AL East lead with a 7-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on Sunday night.
With the bases loaded in the ninth and Josh Hamilton coming to bat as the potential tying run, Rays manager Joe Maddon had the RBI leader walked to force in a run and help protect the lead.
The victory coupled with Toronto’s 15-4 win over Boston gave the Rays a 4 1/2 game pad over the second-place Red Sox, who lost to Toronto.
Kazmir (9-6) earned his first win since July 21, giving up four hits with seven strikeouts and four walks to help the Rays improve to 20-9 since the All-Star break.
Kazmir won six straight starts in May and June, but has scuffled lately. Entering Sunday, he had lost three of four decisions and failed to pitch into the sixth inning in any of his previous four outings.
Maddon pulled Upton during Friday night’s game against the Rangers for failing to run hard on a double-play grounder, and Maddon kept Upton in the dugout for all of Saturday night’s 3-0 loss to Texas.
Maddon said prior to Sunday night’s game that he decided to return Upton to the lineup, “When I had a conversation with him. There’s not a malicious bone in this guy’s body. He’s a huge part of our potential. We’ve got to eradicate that part of the way he plays.”
Upton had three hits and Carlos Pena homered for the Rays, who took two of three from the Rangers and have won seven of nine overall.
Travis Metcalf homered for the Rangers, who’ve lost nine of 11.
Texas loaded the bases with one out in the ninth and Brandon Boggs’ RBI groundout off Grant Balfour got the Rangers to 7-3.
Balfour walked Michael Young to reload the bases, and in an unusual move, Maddon ordered Balfour to intentionally walk Hamilton to force in another run for Hamilton’s 114th RBI, narrowing the deficit to 7-4.
Maddon brought in Dan Wheeler, who was subbing for injured closer Troy Percival. Wheeler struck out Marlon Byrd swinging for his fifth save in six chances.
Tampa Bay scored four runs in the third inning against Texas starter Dustin Nippert (1-3), highlighted by Upton’s RBI double and Pena’s three-run homer, his 25th.
The Rangers got a run in the third on Hamilton’s RBI double.
Tampa Bay stretched its lead to 7-1 in the fourth on Jason Bartlett’s run-scoring double and Upton’s two-run homer, his eighth.
Vicente Padilla, who’s won a team-high 12 games, was originally scheduled to start Sunday night, but Padilla’s ongoing neck problems forced the Rangers to bring Nippert out of the bullpen for his first start of the season and sixth of his career.
Padilla’s start was pushed back to Tuesday night against Detroit. He came through a 45-pitch bullpen session on Sunday reporting no problems with his neck.
Nippert allowed seven runs and eight hits in four innings.
Metcalf’s leadoff homer in the fifth—his second—pulled Texas to 7-2.