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Game Changer: Rangers finish off Rays, head to ALCS

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rangers' ultimate goal is to return to the World Series and this time win it. The American League West champions have just removed another obstacle by taking down the Rays in the AL Division Series on their home turf.

Adrian Beltre, 1-for-11 in the first three games, hit a playoff-record-tying three home runs as the Rangers advanced to the AL Championship Series with a 4-3 victory over the Rays in Game 4 on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. Neftali Feliz earned his third save in three games to preserve the victory for Matt Harrison and touched off another raucous ginger ale and champagne celebration in the visiting clubhouse.

"This never gets old," designated hitter Michael Young said with champagne flowing down his face. "It gets better every time and every time we do it, it seems like somebody else steps up, and today it was Adrian. He had a monster game. Three home runs in Spring Training is a great day, much less Game 4 of a playoff series."

Ian Kinsler also hit a home run on the second pitch of the game from Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. They led the rest of the way and are returning to the ALCS for the second straight year.

"It's unbelievable," Kinsler said. "We've fought all year. To get back to the ALCS, get a chance to defend our title and go back to the World Series, that's what we wanted all year."

"This is great," Beltre said. "This is the reason I wanted to sign with this team, to put a ring on my finger. We're looking pretty good, but we still have a long way to go."

The Rangers, after winning three of four from the Rays, now await the winner of the other ALDS between the Tigers and the Yankees. The Yankees won, 10-1, on Tuesday night to force Game 5 in New York on Thursday night. If the Tigers win the series, the Rangers will host them for Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday night in Arlington with C.J. Wilson expected to be on the mound. If the Yankees win, Game 1 will be at Yankee Stadium.

The Rangers will be in New York on Saturday if the Yankees come back to beat the Tigers. The Rangers beat the Yankees in six games in the ALCS last season.

"Anybody you play in the playoffs is going to be tough," Kinsler said.

"We came into Spring Training with the intention of getting back to the ALCS and beyond and we're doing that," outfielder David Murphy said. "It's so much fun to come through like this in meaningful games."

All that matters to the Rangers is they are back in the ALCS after three hard-fought wins against a gritty team from Tampa Bay.

"What a return," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "The guys knew what they had to do and they got it done. I'm so proud of them."

Harrison, who was left off the playoff roster last season, earned the victory in his first postseason start while holding the Rays to two runs in five innings. He allowed five hits, walked two and struck out nine before leaving after 97 pitches.

"This means a lot to me," Harrison said. "It feels great to be able to put what happened last year behind me and have this experience. A chance to go the ALCS is awesome. I will never forget this day."

Derek Holland, who started Game 2, took over in the sixth and pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Mike Adams, coming back from a terrible outing in Game 3, then retired the final two hitters in the seventh. Alexi Ogando retired the side in order in the eighth before Neftali Feliz worked the ninth.

He had a 4-2 lead going into the inning and gave up a run on a walk to Sean Rodriguez, defensive indifference and a single by Casey Kotchman. But he got Matt Joyce to foul out to Beltre and Desmond Jennings on a grounder to Kinsler, who flipped to shortstop Elvis Andrus for the force to end the game.

"Today, everybody [in the bullpen], all hands were on deck," Washington said. "We had the lead so we have to put the game away. We put the best we had out there today and we survived it."

Beltre is the sixth player to hit three home runs in a postseason game and the first since Adam Kennedy did so for the Angels in Game 5 of the 2002 ALCS. Babe Ruth did it twice in the World Series in 1926 and 1928 while Reggie Jackson, George Brett and Bob Robertson each did it once. Beltre is the first to do it in a Division Series game.

"He carried us on his back today," Andrus said. "He won the game today for us."

Beltre, who hit a Major League-high 12 home runs in September, hit two off Hellickson and one off reliever Matt Moore, the Rays' Game 1 starter who was also used out of the bullpen.

"What a day for him to break out," Washington said. "We needed everything he gave us. He carried us on his back today."

Beltre hit a leadoff home run in the second on a 1-0 fastball to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. After an RBI double by Joyce made it 2-1, Beltre jumped on another fastball from Hellickson, this time with one out in the fourth and just clearing the right-field wall.

"It seems like the strength of this ballclub is somebody different steps up and that's what happened with Beltre," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said. "I'm so proud of these guys."

The Rays got another run in the fourth on a two-out double by Rodriguez and a single by Kotchman. Moore, taking over in the fifth for Hellickson, had retired six straight hitters before Beltre took his fastball over the left-field wall to lead off the seventh and give the Rangers a 4-2 lead.

"He's just a phenomenal baseball player," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He has power to all fields and he showed that again today. It is a great moment for the Rangers and I do salute him."

This is the second year in a row that the Rangers have beaten the Rays in the first round, and they have done so by winning all five games played at Tropicana Field.

"I do want to congratulate Texas," Maddon said. "I'm getting a little tired of this, but they are fantastic. They did a great job against us two years in a row. They are truly a formidable opponent. Hopefully we will get a chance to try and even the ledger again next year. But they were fabulous.

"I think everybody as a baseball fan had to be entertained by this series."

The Rangers certainly were, and now they are one series closer to their ultimate goal.

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