ST. PETERSBURG -- Rangers president Nolan Ryan, having retired 18 years ago, had to watch this one from the stands and -- four tension-filled hours later -- seemed exhausted."That was nerve-racking," Ryan said. "That was about as stress-filled of a game as I've ever sat through." The last three innings were definitely high anxiety on the Rangers' side, but they were able to hold on for a 4-3 victory over the Rays in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field. This one wasn't over until closer Neftali Feliz got Kelly Shoppach to hit into a double play to end the ninth, and now the Rangers are one win away from going to the AL Championship Series for the second straight year. "Oh, my God, my heart is still pounding," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "That was a great game. That's what you would expect." The Rangers trailed, 1-0, going into the seventh inning before rallying for four runs. Mike Napoli hit a two-run home run off of Rays starter David Price to put his team ahead, and Josh Hamilton later added a two-run single. The Rangers then needed five relievers get the final nine outs. They gave up two runs on five hits and three walks while throwing a combined 74 pitches before finally saving it for starter Colby Lewis. Lewis was outstanding for six innings, holding the Rays to one hit -- a home run by Desmond Jennings to lead off the fourth -- while walking two and striking out six. He is now 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in five career playoff starts. "Colby was great," designated hitter Michael Young said. "That was fun. Those last three innings are what playoff baseball is all about." "This is the reason you play," first baseman Mitch Moreland said. "Just another great team effort." Added second baseman Ian Kinsler, "A great atmosphere ... that's the reason why you can't play every game like postseason. You don't feel anything, you are just so focused." This is the 20th time that a team has held a 2-1 lead in the ALDS. In 14 of the previous 19, the team that led 2-1 has gone on to win the series. That includes the Rangers over the Rays last year. In the National League Division Series, the team up 2-1 has won 16 of 17. The Rangers will send Matt Harrison to the mound for Game 4 on Tuesday to try to wrap up the series. If not, Game 5 will be Thursday at the Ballpark in Arlington with C.J. Wilson in line to pitch for the Rangers, who, by the way, have won four straight playoff games against the Rays at Tropicana Field. "We wanted to win this game so badly because it would guarantee we would go back home," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "Now we want to come back out with the same intensity and win tomorrow so we don't have to play them again at home." Beltre was the one that got the Rangers started against Price, who took a four-hit shutout and a 1-0 lead into the seventh. Beltre was hitless in his first nine at-bats of the series before lining a single to left. Napoli then came up and crushed a 2-2 sinker over the left-center-field wall for a two-run home run. "I felt good, pretty much the entire game," Price said. "That's what it takes is one pitch in the postseason and that's pretty much what cost me today."
Price then got Nelson Cruz and Moreland on ground balls but Craig Gentry kept the inning alive with a single to center. That also was it for Price. Right-hander Brandon Gomes took over and walked both Kinsler and Andrus to load the bases. Hamilton then singled to left off left-hander J.P. Howell to give the Rangers a 4-1 lead.But it was far from over. The Rangers' bullpen pushed the game to the brink of disaster before holding off the Rays. "It was three of the toughest innings that we experienced all year," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "You had two ballclubs out there that never quit playing baseball. And it certainly showed up today. And if you ever wanted to see a great baseball game, that was one out there today. It was quite intense." Darren Oliver took over for Lewis in the seventh and got Matt Joyce to foul out leading off the inning. Then he gave up three straight singles to Johnny Damon, Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman to load the bases. When Sean Rodriguez, a right-handed hitter, pinch-hit for Jaso, Washington brought in right-hander Alexi Ogando. The Rangers' All-Star starter-turned-reliever got Rodriguez on a grounder to Moreland that scored Damon and then got pinch-hitter Sam Fuld on a grounder to Kinsler to end the inning. "It was a tough situation," Ogando said. "But when you come in like that, you have to do your job and put your heart into everything on the mound." Mike Adams took over in the eighth and gave up a leadoff home run to Jennings to make it 4-3. B.J. Upton then drew a walk but was thrown out by Napoli trying to steal off a pitchout. Adams then walked Evan Longoria and Joyce. Washington then brought in Michael Gonzalez and he struck out Damon. Then Feliz came in and, despite throwing a wild pitch to move the runners to second and third, struck out Zobrist to end the inning. "I was just trying to keep my pitches low and that's what I did," said Feliz, who had an effective curve he was able to mix with a fastball that hit 100 mph at least once. Feliz also gave up a one-out single to Rodriguez in the ninth before getting Shoppach to hit into the game-ending double play. The Rangers are now one win away. "That was nerve-racking because you know they were only one swing away from taking the lead," Beltre said. "Hopefully tomorrow we'll give ourselves a little more cushion." Ryan will be in the stands and is expecting another long day. "We're not taking these guys lightly," Ryan said. "They have a lot of momentum and they play with a lot of heart. We still have our hands full."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.