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TEX@TB: Rays walk off on Zobrist's two-run homer

ST. PETERSBURG -- Julianna Zobrist started the game off by singing the National Anthem with Brother Norwood. Almost four hours later, Julianna's husband, Ben, finished off the game with a walk-off two-run homer in the bottom of the 11th.

Zobrist's blast gave the Rays a 3-1 win over the Rangers on Friday night before a crowd of 19,545 at Tropicana Field.

The Rays (76-62) have won five of their last six games and 20 of their last 30, remaining two games behind the American League East-leading Yankees and one back of the Orioles for the second Wild Card spot.

Mark Lowe entered the series opener for the Rangers to pitch the bottom of the 11th. B.J. Upton led off the inning and fell behind, 0-2, in the count before fighting back to draw a walk.

Going "0-2 to 4-2 is a concept that I love when we do it offensively, and I hate it when it happens against us," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It was a great at-bat by B.J. to start us off."

Maddon actually told Zobrist not to bunt prior to his at-bat.

"He said, 'If B.J. gets on, do not bunt," Zobrist said. "He said, 'swing away.'"

Actually, the thought of not swinging away never entered Zobrist's mind.

"I wasn't thinking about [bunting]," Zobrist said. "I was thinking about what to do with a pitch."

Zobrist got ahead in the count, 2-0, when he connected on a fastball for his 16th home run of the season.

"He threw me two sliders, so I just had to be ready for the fastball if he threw it in a place I could hit it," Zobrist said. "I am just thankful that I was able to get enough of it to get out."

Zobrist's walk-off hit was the third of his career, but the first on a homer in career -- and his life, which explained Zobrist's emotional display rounding first when his right hand shot up in the air.

"That's the first time I've ever done it, never had a walk-off homer in my life," Zobrist said. "So regardless of whether it was Little League, high school, or college. I never did it.

"Today was a fun day. I've thought about it, if it's ever going to happen. You know when you're in the moment, you're just trying to have a good quality at-bat, and I just feel very blessed we were able to win the game tonight."

Zobrist's bat ended what had been a highlight reel for the quality of pitching for both teams.

"It was a pitchers' duel out there all night," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "[The Rays] got the last blow. You never want to lose. It was a real good game. They had the last opportunity out and they got it done."

Derek Holland started for the Rangers and held the Rays hitless through 3 2/3 innings. But he fell behind, 3-1, to Evan Longoria with two outs in the fourth and the Rays' slugger ripped a 94-mph sinker deep into the left-field stands for his 11th home run of the season. That would be all the Rays could muster against Holland, who struck out a career-high 11 in eight innings while surrendering one run.

Meanwhile, Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson tossed four scoreless frames, before Michael Young connected on a 2-2 changeup, depositing the ball into the left-field stands for his seventh home run of the season to tie the score at 1.

Hellickson recorded his 17th quality start of the season -- holding the Rangers to one run on four hits in six innings in a no-decision.

Both bullpens were solid, particularly Tampa Bay's, as Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Fernando Rodney, and Wade Davis covered five scoreless innings, while allowing just one hit with eight strikeouts.

"They all had great stuff, not good stuff, great stuff across the board," Maddon said.

Davis, who earned the win, struck out the side in the 10th.

"That first inning out of Wade was about as electric as you're going to see out of any pitcher," Maddon said.

Davis then returned to pitch the 11th, allowing a leadoff single to David Murphy before striking out the next two hitters. Jose Molina then threw out Murphy attempting to steal second to end the inning.

"I think I was a little stiff from the long inning before," said Davis of the 11th. "I think they went through one or two pitchers, so it took me a little bit to get going, but we got it."

Since the All-Star break, the Rays' bullpen owns a Major League-best 1.39 ERA.

"We've got a lot of competitors down there," Davis said. "We've got a lot of guys who don't give in, ever. You're going to have success when you have guys like that. They're not having bad days every day, and if they are, they're going to come out and they're going to compete. It's pretty fun to watch."

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