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Lewis allows just three hits over six frames

ARLINGTON -- Colby Lewis gave up an early home run and walked three times as many batters as he had in the previous four games combined, but there was no reason for the Rangers right-hander to panic in a 7-2 victory over the Rays on Saturday.

That's partly because Lewis had only walked one batter all season entering the night, having faced 104 consecutive batters over 25 2/3 innings without issuing a free pass. But the simplest reason for Lewis' fortitude is that he knew he was pitching with the Rangers' electric defense behind him and their explosive offense in support of him.

Lewis was unimpressed with his own performance, but raved about the play of his team.

"I felt like I didn't really have a whole lot," Lewis said. "I felt like I kind of battled at times. But overall, it worked out."

It always seems to work out for the Rangers. After Saturday's win, Texas leads the Major Leagues in hitting (.297) and is second in fielding (.989). Lewis was the beneficiary of quintessential examples of both: a two-run single by Josh Hamilton that gave the Rangers the lead for good in the first inning; a gorgeous glove-flip to second base by Elvis Andrus that enabled a crucial sixth-inning double play; and an Adrian Beltre three-run homer that punished Tampa Bay for intentionally walking Hamilton in the seventh.

Andrus' play, with nobody out and a man on first as the Rays threatened the Rangers' 3-1 lead in the seventh, was certainly the game's most dazzling. In a play similar to his World Series Game 6 highlight from last postseason, Andrus showed his range by getting to a ball far to his left, then showed his innate sense of where second base is -- and his flair for the dramatic -- by flipping the ball with his glove to waiting second baseman Michael Young.

Young turned two and said after the game that he considers such theatrics by Andrus to be "routine plays" by now.

"If I get to the bag," Young said, "I know it's going to be on its way."

While Tampa Bay made two costly errors that led to runs, the Rangers ran down faraway fly balls and dug out tough grounders.

"We can play defense," manager Ron Washington said. "It's something that we respect -- something that we take pride in.

"I'm not surprised by anything they do out there. You put it in the air, if you got a hump in it, it's coming down in the glove. You put it on the ground, if they can get to it, it's going to be thrown to the first baseman."

Lewis pushed his record to 3-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.93, further solidifying his reputation as the Rangers' most unflappable starter thus far in 2012.

Lewis has allowed homers in four of his five starts, including Matt Joyce's shot to start the second inning on Saturday, but Lewis has yet to allow more than one homer.

Lewis threw 96 pitches on Saturday, but only 56 strikes. Yet, the control issues didn't rattle the right-hander, who turned in six solid innings and benefited from ample run support.

The Rangers broke the game open at 7-1 when Rays manager Joe Maddon elected to walk Hamilton to face Beltre, who hit a three-run home run, his fourth of 2012.

"You always want to hit in those situations," Beltre said. "I don't want them to walk him, I want him to get some pitches to hit, too. ... But I'm always gonna be up to the challenge. My job is trying to do a better job, so maybe they'll think a little bit harder and pitch to him."

Maddon preferred to face the right-handed hitter against right-handed pitcher Burke Badenhop, and the move backfired.

"The chances of either one of those guys putting the ball on the ground against Badenhop are about equal," Maddon said. "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."

Alexi Ogando pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and Mike Adams yielded one run in the eighth before Koji Uehara worked a perfect ninth to seal the win.

Rays starter Jeff Niemann allowed five hits and walked one in falling to 1-3 this season. Comments