ARLINGTON, Texas — Rays manager Joe Maddon has shown he doesn't have a problem intentionally walking Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, even with the bases loaded.
That holds especially true now, with the 2010 MVP leading the league in homers and RBIs.
"Josh has been so darn hot," Maddon said. "Let's just go to the other guy."
But when the "other guy" is Adrian Beltre, Maddon acknowledges it's not a "warm and fuzzy" feeling. Beltre showed why Saturday, belting a three-run homer in the seventh to break open a close game as the Rays fell 7-2 in front of a sellout crowd of 49,197 at Rangers Ballpark.
With two outs and Tampa Bay down three, Maddon had Burke Badenhop walk Hamilton to put two on for Beltre, who made them pay in a big way.
"It was just a down-and-away sinker that was up a little bit," Badenhop said. "But you can't afford to be remotely up here. It's tough."
So was the loss for the Rays (13-8), whose six-game win streak ended, defensive miscues leading to a close game getting away.
Jeff Niemann had struggled against the Rangers but was encouraged after going 52/3 innings Saturday. It didn't look good early as he gave up a leadoff walk to Ian Kinsler then a double to Elvis Andrus Hamilton followed by knocking both in with an opposite-field single.
Niemann, who said he was overthrowing in the first, settled down, holding Texas to three runs (two earned).
"To be able to turn the tide and not let it snowball on us, it's a good thing," he said.
Problem was, Rangers righty Colby Lewis was better, continuing his stronghold on the Rays, against whom he is 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA in the regular season. Maddon said they had great at-bats and hit several balls hard. But they mustered only a solo homer by Matt Joyce in the second.
Niemann helped himself in the sixth, darting off the mound to grab a Michael Young grounder and starting a 1-6-3 double play, looking like a quarterback rolling out and throwing on the run.
"It was a good pass," shortstop Elliot Johnson said. "And we completed it."
But the turning point came on the next play, when Johnson bobbled a Nelson Cruz two-out grounder in the hole and couldn't throw him out, allowing a run to score.
"I didn't anticipate the hop coming up as it was going to," Johnson said.
The Rays made another defensive miscue in the seventh, when catcher Jose Molina — with runners on first and third and one out — tried to pick off Mitch Moreland at third. Maddon said he thought Molina had a good shot at getting him. But the throw bounced in the dirt and off Moreland, allowing him to score.
Andrus stuck out. But the ensuing intentional walk to Hamilton set up Beltre.
"We're so used to making these spectacular plays or really above-average plays," Maddon said. "But when we don't make it, it kind of stands out."
But what has been evident in the first two games of a series matching two of the league's top teams, the margin for error can be small.
"It's going to be who blinks first in all these games with two teams who are evenly matched," Niemann said.
"We're both good."