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TEX@TB Gm4: Kotchman ropes an RBI single to right

ST. PETERSBURG -- And so, the frog did not turn into the prince on Tuesday afternoon, when the Rays' fairy tale came to a crashing halt in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers in Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field with 28,299 watching.

But to those on the team, and to the many following its every move, what an incredible ride the 2011 season has been.

"Unfortunately history only remembers the champions at the end," Johnny Damon said. "But I do think that the month of September really won a bunch of hearts of the fans in the St. Pete, Tampa, Orlando area. I'm sure it was fun for people to watch."

After winning the first game of the series 9-0, Tampa Bay dropped three in a row -- by a total of four runs -- to get eliminated from the postseason in the ALDS by the Rangers for the second consecutive year.

The Rangers needed a Texas-sized performance from Adrian Beltre to end the Rays' season that looked to have a date with destiny. Tampa Bay simply had no answer for the slugger on Tuesday.

Jeremy Hellickson started for the Rays and allowed a solo home run to Ian Kinsler in the first and two solo jacks to Beltre, in the second and fourth innings, before getting replaced by rookie Matt Moore.

"[I] took [Hellickson] out quickly today because he doesn't give up homers like that to righties, so I was a little bit concerned," manager Joe Maddon said. "If the homers came from the lefty, it wouldn't have bothered me as much, but the homer to the righty bothered me a little bit.

"This is a lot of innings for Jeremy for this season. It's above his threshold basically. I had to get him out of there, I thought."

Moore had been extraordinary against the Rangers on Friday, when he picked up the win in the opening game of the series, so the entrance by the 22-year-old left-hander sent a wave of excitement through the crowd. After Moore retired the first six batters he faced, the mood grew enthusiastic about the possibility of yet another Rays comeback.

Unfortunately for the Rays, where Beltre was concerned, it didn't matter who was pitching. In his third trip to the plate, the Rangers slugger repeated what he did in his first two at-bats by hitting his third home run of the game.

"I missed pretty bad there to Beltre," Moore said. "You know, he was on today. That kind of took the air out of us. ... Not a lot of guys hit that pitch where it was. It was up above his letters and out. I'm just more mad about the situation I created for us than the pitch, because the location wasn't that bad. He just got it."

Beltre had not recorded an extra-base hit in seven previous playoff games and was only 1-for-11 in this postseason entering Tuesday's game.

"You know, it is just one of those days," Beltre said. "The first two games, they were tough on me. Moore pitched really good, really well. [James] Shields has always been tough on me. And I was talking to my hitting coach, trying to find a little point where I was kind of not feeling right at home plate. I wasn't feeling comfortable, and yesterday I felt better. And today in batting practice I feel a lot better, and it happens today I was able to put a good swing on pitches over the plate and connect good, put a good swing on it."

In doing so, Beltre became the first playing in Major League history to hit three home runs in an ALDS and the sixth player all-time to hit three home runs in a postseason game. Adam Kennedy of the Angels was the last player to accomplish the feat when he did so while playing for Angels in the 2002 AL Championship Series against the Twins.

Tampa Bay's last hurrah came in the ninth. Trailing 4-2 with one out, Sean Rodriguez drew a walk and moved to second via defensive indifference. Casey Kotchman then laced a single through the right side of the infield to drive home Rodriguez and cut the Rangers' lead to one run. One out later, Desmond Jennings stepped to the plate to face Neftali Feliz. The Rangers closer got ahead of Jennings 1-2 in the count when the rookie outfielder grounded to second base. Kinsler fielded the ball and flipped to shortstop Elvis Andrus to complete the forceout for the final out of the game -- and the Rays' season.

Tampa Bay's offense had been a problem throughout the season, so when two of the main cogs in the order went silent the last two games, winning became more of a tall order. B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria combined to go 7-for-18 in Games 1 and 2 at Texas. Then in Games 3 and 4, the pair went 0-for-13 with nine strikeouts.

"I didn't show up when I needed to and I needed to show up today, and I didn't produce," Upton said. "I think that's what's kind of weighing on me right now. When my team needed me, if you keep your [Nos.] 2-3 hitters off the bases, obviously it's going to be tough to win. Obviously we have the talent to still get the job done.

"I just didn't get it done. I think if I get it done, it kind of trickles down to Longo, and I just couldn't get anything going for us."

Maddon noted that the Rays would not have even made it to the postseason without Upton and Longoria's huge contributions.

"We wouldn't have been in this position at all without B.J. doing what he did the last month or what Longo did on the very last day of the season," Maddon said. "So it's just one of those things that occurs.

"Again, this is one of those moments where you just credit the other team. You don't criticize your group; you don't point fingers. The other team was really good, too, and they beat us. They beat us pure and simple."

Rangers manager Ron Washington said they pitched Upton and Longoria as they normally do.

"We were attacking them the same way we tried to attack them all year," Washington said. "You know, the thing about Upton and Longoria, when you make mistakes, they make you pay. And we were fortunate enough after the first game to not make very many mistakes against them. And in the process we got them out."

Now the Rays head to the offseason, but the end of 2011 did not feel as bittersweet as it did in '10, when much of the team was earmarked to head elsewhere the following season.

"There are obviously a couple of question marks as there is with every team at the end of the year," Longoria said, "but definitely not as much as we were looking at last year. And the benefit of it is we know that we can win with any nine guys at any time regardless of the budget, regardless of our payroll, regardless of the name on the back of the jersey.

"It's really become like a college atmosphere around here. You go out there and have fun and it doesn't really matter what the name says on the back, it's more about what's on the front of the jersey. It's pretty cool." Comments