ARLINGTON, Texas -- Tampa Bay's pitching staff cooled off a hot-hitting lineup for the second night in a row. That's just the sort of thing good teams do.
J.P. Howell pitched two innings of hitless relief, Dan Wheeler gave up a run in the ninth but got the last four outs for a hard-earned save, and the Rays held on for a 5-4 victory over the Rangers on Saturday night.
Texas had scored eight runs or more in six straight games before running into the Rays, who have held them to four a night while winning the first two of the three-game series. Tampa Bay bounced back to take the series after being swept by Boston. Incidentally, the Red Sox are only a half game up on the Rays in the AL East.
"(The Rangers) are very hot offensively," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I have a lot of respect for them. Our pitchers have done a tremendous job against them. Wheeler had a very difficult job against the middle of their lineup. You could see he was under control. I felt good about having him out there."
Willy Aybar hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning to make it 4-2.
Reliever Joaquin Benoit allowed two runs and two hits, and walked two in one inning for the Rangers, who've lost five of their last seven.
Milton Bradley's solo homer in the eighth off Trever Miller -- his sixth in the last seven games -- made it 4-3.
In the top of the ninth, Jason Bartlett raced home on Jamey Wright's wild pitch with an insurance run.
Howell (5-0) pitched two near-perfect innings, marred only by a walk and Wheeler got his second save in two chances.
Against Wheeler in the ninth, Ramon Vazquez singled and took third on Ian Kinsler's second double of the night. After Wheeler walked Chris Shelton to load the bases major league RBI leader Josh Hamilton grounded into a fielder's choice to drive in his 69th run.
"I wanted to hit it hard somewhere," Hamilton said. "We just didn't get it done tonight."
Milton Bradley was retired on a ground ball to end the game as Wheeler breathed a sigh of relief.
"I watched these guys battle to get in a position to win," Wheeler said. "The last thing you want to do as a reliever is deprive them of that."
Normally a setup man, Wheeler is subbing for injured closer Troy Percival, and Wheeler's new role requires an adjustment.
"I try to treat the ninth inning as the eighth inning or seventh, but there's just something different about the ninth," Wheeler said. "With Percy here, the game is one inning less. We've got to make up the slack for him."
Meanwhile, the Rangers search for more consistency from a pitching staff that is last in the majors with a 5.10 ERA.
"Offense comes and goes depending on the pitching you're facing," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We just want to get (the pitching) straightened out. Those guys are capable of doing the job."
With a first-inning single, Texas' Michael Young extended his hitting streak to 22 games, longest in the majors this season and three short of his career high. Young raced home on Bradley's RBI double.
Rangers starter Scott Feldman lasted seven innings and exited with the score even at 2 after allowing five hits, striking out five and walking two.
Tampa Bay starter Andy Sonnanstine left after five innings in a 2-2 game. He gave up six hits, struck out three and walked one.
Hamilton has been bothered by viral infection for several days and is expected to get a day off on Sunday. ... Rays OF Jonny Gomes dropped his appeal and began serving his five-game suspension on Saturday night. RHP James Shields will drop his appeal after Tuesday night's start and will begin his six-game suspension on Wednesday. ... Gomes and Shields were two of five Rays suspended for a total of 23 games for their parts Thursday night's bench-clearing melee with the Red Sox. The other three Tampa Bay players -- Crawford, RHP Edwin Jackson and 2B Akinori Iawmura -- are expected to appeal before their suspensions begin later in the month. ... Bradley snapped a bat over his knee after a swinging strikeout in the fifth.