Zobrist, Pena homer as Rays down Rangers

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Scott Kazmir picked a great time for his best start of the season.

Kazmir took a shutout into the eighth inning, and Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena homered on consecutive pitches as the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Texas Rangers 5-3 on Friday night.

"That's as good as he's been all year in my mind," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "It was really fun to watch. I was really impressed."

Kazmir (8-7) didn't allow a run until Taylor Teagarden opened the eighth with a homer. The left-hander, who has won four straight starts at home, wound up allowing three runs and five hits over 7 1/3 innings.

"If he can keep that going, there's no telling what can happen," Rays center fielder B.J. Upton said.

Tampa Bay moved within three games of AL wild-card leader Boston. Texas remains one game behind the Red Sox, who lost 20-11 to the New York Yankees.

"We played all around good baseball," Kazmir said. "To get that first one [a win in the initial game of the series] is huge and gives us a little momentum."

It was just the second time this year Kazmir has gone seven or more innings.

Zobrist hit a two-run shot and Pena followed with his 32nd homer to put Tampa Bay ahead 5-0 in the fifth. Zobrist has homered in three straight games and has 22 this season, breaking a tie with Jose Cruz Jr. (2004) for the most by a Rays switch-hitter.

Dustin Nippert (4-2) gave up five runs and seven hits in five innings for the Rangers, who are 20-14 since the All-Star break.

"I don't know if it's like I lost my focus or what, but those two pitches were not where I wanted to throw them," Nippert said. "That was the deciding factor of the game."

Michael Young had three hits for Texas.

After Teagarden's homer, Marlon Byrd had an RBI single and Andruw Jones hit a run-scoring grounder off Grant Balfour, cutting Texas' deficit to 5-3. The eighth inning ended when pinch-runner Julio Borbon was thrown out trying to steal second with Josh Hamilton batting.

Texas had a no steal situation in place for Hamilton's at-bat.

"Am I going to call a steal from the dugout with Hamilton at the plate?" Texas manager Ron Washington asked. "You just don't force things. There's certain situations in the ballgame that say that the best thing to do is let the guy at the plate do his damage if he's going to do his damage. He learned from it. We'll move on."

"I just got a little mixed up on the sign there," Borbon said. "It wasn't the smartest thing to do, going on that pitch."

Kazmir worked out of a second-and-third, one-out jam in the sixth by striking out Byrd and Jones.

J.P. Howell pitched the ninth for his 15th save. The Rays improved to 41-20 at home.

Carl Crawford put the Rays ahead 1-0 when he drove in Jason Bartlett with a grounder in the first. Bartlett made it 2-0 during the second with a sacrifice bunt-fielder's choice.

Game notes
The Rays are 9-17 against the AL West this season. ... Pena has two homers in four at-bats against Nippert. ... Teagarden has homered in four of his last 10 games. ... Byrd has driven in 12 runs over his last 12 games. ... Texas RHP Jason Grilli (right elbow) rejoined the team after a minor league rehab stint and is expected to be reinstated from the 15-day DL this weekend. ... Rangers C Kevin Richardson, designated for assignment earlier this week, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Oklahoma City,