ST. PETERSBURG -- Ian Kinsler did something he had never done in his career, and the Rangers found themselves in a position they hadn't been in over 63 innings. They had a lead.
Kinsler put them in that unfamiliar position by hitting the first pitch of the game from Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson over the left-field wall for a home run. That put the Rangers out front, Alexi Ogando kept them there until they added four more in the third and the seven-game losing streak came to an end with a 7-1 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night.
The Rangers hadn't led in a game since the end of their 4-3 victory over the Angels on Sept. 8. But now they are back in a tie with the Rays for the top spot in the American League Wild Card race. Cleveland is a half-game back.
"Obviously it's just one win and the end of our losing streak," closer Joe Nathan said. "But the most important thing is everybody in this clubhouse knows that if we get things right, we can win some games. Hopefully this is a step so we can close out the season on a good note, win some games and see where the chips fall after 162 games."
"It's definitely a big win," Kinsler said. "It's not something we're just going to push aside. Given the circumstances, it was a big win. Now we need to build off it and come back tomorrow and be ready to win."
Kinsler has hit 29 home runs to lead off the first inning in his career, and this was the 10th time he has done it on the road. But it was the first time he has ever done it on the very first pitch. Kinsler, who hit a 92-mph fastball, also had a two-run single in the Rangers' four-run third. Elvis Andrus followed that up with a two-run home run to give the Rangers a 5-0 lead.
"It was huge, that home run by Ian," said Andrus, who added a sacrifice fly in the fifth. "That just made the whole team relax. We hadn't scored first in a while, and I think that helped Ogando, too. He did a tremendous job."
Leonys Martin also had a big night for the Rangers. He was 3-for-4 with two doubles, a home run and three runs scored. The Rangers had gone seven games without a home run before hitting three on Tuesday night. Martin was 2-for-22 in his last eight games before this.
"It's good for me, emotionally and mentally," Martin said. "First of all, though, winning the game is going to help the whole team. We've been struggling as a team, so hopefully this will give us confidence. I was struggling, so hopefully this will turn things around."
Ogando, making his first start since Aug. 13, gave the Rangers what they were looking for by getting through five innings on an economical 69 pitches. He allowed one run on two hits and a walk while striking out four in earning the first victory by a Rangers starting pitcher since Martin Perez on Sept. 3.
"You've got to have a sense of relief when you lose seven in a row, when you know you're a better team than that," manager Ron Washington said. "The thing is, Ogando went out there and did way beyond the call of duty of what we expected. I think he deserves a lot of credit."
Ogando had pitched six scoreless innings over four relief appearances since coming off the disabled list at the beginning of September. It was the third time this season Ogando has been on the disabled list, but Tuesday's outing suggests he may finally be over his arm troubles. The Rangers were hoping he would give them three or four innings, but he was able to pitch five before turning it over to the bullpen.
"I had a little bump ... but I think I'm back where I was early in the season," Ogando said. "It's been a while since I had a really good feeling about my pitches."
He is now 7-4 with a 3.15 ERA on the season while finally settling who will be the Rangers' fifth starter in the final two weeks of the season. Ogando will pitch again on Sunday against the Royals.
Ogando essentially had three up and three down in four of five innings. The only run came in the third, when Jose Lobaton hit a one-out home run over the right-field fence. Ogando then walked Yunel Escobar and gave up a single to Ben Zobrist. With runners on first and second, Ogando got Wil Myers on a fly to right. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, but James Loney grounded out to end the threat.
The Rays managed just two hits the rest of the game against relievers Joakim Soria, Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers and Nathan.
The victory was the Rangers' 82nd of the season. That guarantees them a winning record for a club-record fifth straight year. For a while, that looked in doubt, but the losing streak is finally over.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.