Upton back from benching, helps Rays add to East lead

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- B.J. Upton responded to a benching exactly the way Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon hoped he would.

Upton homered and drove in three runs, Scott Kazmir allowed two runs in six innings and the Rays added a game to their AL East lead with a 7-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on Sunday night.

Maddon pulled Upton during Friday night's game against the Rangers for failing to run hard on a double-play grounder. Maddon kept Upton in the dugout for all of Saturday night's 3-0 loss to Texas before deciding to return his center fielder to the lineup.

"I thought he was pretty darned good," Maddon said. "He was swinging the bat well. I saw him raise the level of his play. He was getting the bat head out in front of the ball. Before the game I was saying what a catalyst he can be for us."

Upton had three hits and Carlos Pena homered for the Rays, who took two of three from the Rangers and have won seven of nine overall.

Upton said he didn't change anything about his preparation for the game.

"I used the same approach as every day," Upton said. "I just happened to swing the bat a little better."

Texas challenged in the ninth, but Maddon employed an unusual bit of strategy with his closer Troy Percival sidelined.

After Brandon Boggs' RBI groundout off Grant Balfour in the ninth made it 7-3, Michael Young walked to reload the bases. With Josh Hamilton coming to bat as the potential tying run, Maddon had the major league RBI leader walked to force in a run.

"I don't think I've ever done that, even in the minors," Maddon said. "But I told [pitching coach] Jimmy [Hickey], if we walk Young to load the bases, we're going to walk Hamilton. I just thought that was prudent. With the kind of year [Hamilton] has been having -- I wouldn't say it's spectacular, it's beyond that -- he very easily could have hit a grand slam there."

Maddon brought in Dan Wheeler, subbing for Percival. Wheeler struck out Marlon Byrd swinging for his fifth save in six chances.

"That just shows the respect [Maddon] has for Hamilton," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I was hoping that Hamilton would get the chance to swing the bat but Joe didn't let that happen. I still felt good with Marlon up there. He had a couple pitches that he could have done something with, he just didn't do it."

The victory coupled with Toronto's 15-4 win over Boston gave the Rays a 4½ game pad over the second-place Red Sox.

Kazmir (9-6) earned his first win since July 21, giving up four hits with seven strikeouts and four walks to help the Rays improve to 20-9 since the All-Star break.

Kazmir won six straight starts in May and June, but has scuffled lately. Entering Sunday, he had lost three of four decisions and failed to pitch into the sixth inning in any of his previous four outings.

"I felt a whole lot better," Kazmir said. "Being able to go out in that sixth inning was huge. I was relaxed, my slider was working. I got a lot of called strikes and a couple of swinging strikes with it."

Travis Metcalf homered for the Rangers, who've lost nine of 11.

Tampa Bay scored four runs in the third inning against Texas starter Dustin Nippert (1-3), highlighted by Upton's RBI double and Pena's three-run homer, his 25th.

The Rays stretched their lead to 7-1 in the fourth on Jason Bartlett's run-scoring double and Upton's two-run homer, his eighth.

Vicente Padilla, who's won a team-high 12 games, was originally scheduled to start Sunday night, but Padilla's ongoing neck problems forced the Rangers to bring Nippert out of the bullpen for his first start of the season and sixth of his career.

Nippert allowed seven runs and eight hits in four innings.

"I left some pitches up and they capitalized," Nippert said.

Game notes
Percival, on the DL with cartilage damage in his right knee, played catch on Sunday. "I felt good. There was nothing debilitating," he said. Percival will visit the Rays' team doctor at home on Monday, with arthroscopic surgery an option. ... Rangers 2B Ian Kinsler was removed from the game after seven innings due to a strained groin. He's day to day. ...Texas DH Milton Bradley was a late scratch due to back stiffness. ... Rangers INF Hank Blalock's sore right shoulder prevented him from a pregame infield session. Blalock, on the 15-day DL since July 29, is still set to begin a three-game rehab assignment with Double-A Frisco on Monday night. Normally a 3B, Blalock is expected to rejoin the Rangers on Friday to play 1B with rookie 1B Chris Davis moving to 3B. ... The Rangers announced an attendance of 18,363 plus 378 canines in the park for a Dog Day promotion.