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Joyce drills a solo homer to right field

ARLINGTON -- Saturday night's Rays loss to the Rangers felt a little bit like the one that got away.

Yeah, the final score appeared lopsided at 7-2, thanks largely to the Rangers' four-run seventh, but much of the damage could have been averted with a couple of inches in either direction going the Rays' way.

Instead, those inches went against the Rays, who saw their winning streak snapped at six. Though they fell to 13-8 on the season, they remain in first place in the American League East in a tie with the Orioles.

"I thought we were in the game the entire time until that last inning there," Carlos Pena said. "Even after the big inning from them. It does feel like it got away."

Credit Jeff Niemann for turning in an inspired performance against the Rangers' dangerous collection of hitters. When the Rays' starter took the mound on Saturday night, he brought along a history of struggles against Texas, going 0-2 with a 10.66 ERA in three career appearances the club.

And Niemann appeared headed for familiar territory when Josh Hamilton delivered a two-run single to left in the first inning -- giving Hamilton five RBIs in two games against the team that made him the top pick of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft.

Matt Joyce answered in the top of the second with a solo homer on an 0-1 pitch from Colby Lewis, giving Joyce five homers on the year while cutting the Rangers' lead in half.

Meanwhile, Niemann settled into a nice rhythm, adding four scoreless frames after the two-run first.

"First few guys, I really was trying to overthrow a little bit, then I really kind of settled in and told myself to calm down and throw strikes," Niemann said.

Niemann appeared headed for a fifth consecutive scoreless inning in the sixth, but the Rays' defense wasn't as crisp as usual. Third baseman Evan Longoria couldn't manage a backhanded stab of a ball that turned into an Adrian Beltre single, and later in the inning, shortstop Elliot Johnson's error allowed Hamilton to score from third with two outs.

"The play down the line with Longo, not an easy play," Maddon said. "And the backhand with E.J., we're so used to making these spectacular, really above-average plays that when we don't make them, it really stands out."

Niemann allowed two earned runs on five hits and three walks while striking out four en route to his third loss of the season.

"I thought he did a great job, giving up [two earned runs], and a couple of plays we could have made would have made it even closer," Maddon said. "I thought he did really well. He got better as the game was in progress. The ball started to come down."

Catcher Jose Molina's throwing error in the seventh while trying to pick off Mitch Moreland from third allowed Moreland to score. Maddon then elected to have Burke Badenhop intentionally walk Hamilton and pitch to Beltre, who promptly delivered a three-run homer to put the game out of reach at 7-1.

"That was purely a right-left thing there," Maddon said. "Chances of either one of those guys putting the ball on the ground against Badenhop are about equal. But Josh has just been so darn hot, let's go with the other guy, maybe get a nice ground ball somewhere and stay out of the big inning. But it didn't work out that way."

Beltre said having Hamilton intentionally walked to pitch to him provided him with some extra motivation.

"Of course," Beltre said. "You always want to hit in those situations. I don't want them to walk him. I want him to get some pitches to hit, too. But I'll always be ready for those situations."

Despite how the decision turned out, Badenhop defended it.

"It was the right move there to face Beltre instead of Hamilton," Badenhop said. "So we went with it."

Badenhop, who is a ground-ball specialist, has now surrendered three home runs on the season after allowing just one in 2011.

"Everything I throw down in the zone is usually pretty good, but guys are laying off those," said Badenhop, who described the pitch Beltre hit as a down-and-away sinker that was up a little bit. "You can't afford to be remotely up here. ... You've got to be able to put the ball on the ground if you want to do well here."

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