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08/24/09 12:40 AM ET

Feldman, Rangers blank Rays in finale

Hurler fans 11, wins ninth on road to help avoid sweep

ST. PETERSBURG -- Scott Feldman was 112 pitches into the best start of his young career, but he was against the ropes in the seventh inning with Rays pinch-hitter Willy Aybar representing the tying run at the plate.

With two runners on and two outs in a three-run game Sunday, Aybar hit a comebacker that glanced off the tip of Feldman's glove. The Rangers right-hander spun backward off the mound, scrambled and fired off-balance to first base to end the inning and put his seven shutout innings in the books.

"I made a pretty routine play into something that ended up looking pretty hard," Feldman said smiling. "I should've just probably caught it."

It was a breathless finale to a fantastic day for Feldman, who struck out a career-high 11 and allowed four hits to lead Texas past Tampa Bay, 4-0, in front of 29,101 at Tropicana Field. The Rangers avoided a sweep at the hands of the Rays, the team directly in their rearview mirror in the American League Wild Card standings.

Feldman's gem earned him his ninth road win this season -- one behind New York's CC Sabathia for tops in the American League -- and snapped a streak of six straight starts in which a Texas pitcher failed to get through six innings.

"We needed a well-pitched game," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We shut out a pretty good team today. It just goes to show the resiliency in that clubhouse."

The win adds a morale boost for a team still squarely in the hunt for a postseason appearance, and the Rangers head into a series against the Yankees on Tuesday in New York with a refreshed outlook. Despite losing four of its past six, Texas sits 1 1/2 games behind Boston -- pending the Red Sox's game with the Yankees on Sunday night -- and two games ahead of Tampa Bay in the AL Wild Card standings.

And after dropping two straight to Tampa Bay, including Saturday night's game in extra innings, a bounceback win was especially important for the Rangers.

"We needed a starter to go out there, even if we have the day off tomorrow, it was nice to give our bullpen a rest," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "[Rays starter David] Price was throwing the ball really well, and Feldy kept us right there. It was huge. We definitely needed that."

Young's two-run single in the third inning put Texas on the board early against Price, who allowed only three hits and three runs in seven innings. Young finished the series 7-for-12 with five RBIs.

"He's been doing that all year," Washington said. "Michael's a pro, and the deeper we go into the season, the better he gets. That's why they call him a baseball professional, because that's exactly what he is. He grinds it every day."

The true story was Feldman, though, who improved to 13-4 on the season and lowered his ERA to 3.87 with the scoreless outing. His 11 strikeouts were the most by a Rangers pitcher since Matt Perisho fanned 12 on Oct. 3, 1999.

"I just mixed my pitches and I had good command," Feldman said. "I think that helped."

Feldman's final strikeout -- on an inside fastball to B.J. Upton in the seventh -- was quintessential of the command of his cutter he possessed all game.

"I was on second base, and I saw a pitch that he made to B.J.," Rays first baseman Carlos Pena said. "I was like, 'Wow.' I thought to myself, 'That's unhittable right there.'"

As for why such disparity exists between his home and road records, neither Feldman nor Washington could offer much explanation. In 11 road starts, Feldman is 9-1 with a 2.90 ERA away from home this season, and he has won five straight road starts.

"I don't do anything different," Feldman said. "I don't know. I don't know why I have such a different line on the road than at home."

The outcome could've been different without Feldman's ugly but effective play on the comebacker by Aybar, which ended one of Tampa Bay's only true rallies on the day and demonstrated Feldman's determination to finish off what he started.

"That was the one inning we definitely needed him to get through," Washington said. "He did -- he had to make a great play -- but he did it. That's the type of thing that get you to the back of the ballgame."

It was also the type of performance that Texas desperately needed -- a resounding reaffirmation of the Rangers' starting pitching capabilities that have caught most of the league off guard. In the previous six games, Texas' ERA was 4.92, far above its season numbers, and the rotation's ineffectiveness had been putting extra strain on the bullpen.

With one gem on Sunday, Feldman put a stop to those issues and revived the Rangers' morale as they plug along on this crucial road trip.

"We needed the win," Washington said. "I thought we got a slow start the first day. Last night we played and left our hearts out there. Those guys showed that each day they take it as they come out there."

Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.