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Ace-off: Darvish takes on Moore in St. Petersburg

In a truly wild American League Wild Card race, the Rangers and Rays are currently in possession of what everyone else is after -- the coveted final two playoff spots.

And as evidenced by the first three games of their four-game set in St. Petersburg this week, neither club is going to give it up without a fight.

On Thursday night, the two AL Wild Card contenders will put on an encore performance following their 12-inning thriller Wednesday, in which the Rays rallied for a 4-3 victory. Texas has now lost 11 of 13 games and finds itself just a half-game ahead of Cleveland for the second AL Wild Card slot.

The Rays, meanwhile, sit a game ahead of Texas atop an AL Wild Card race in which six teams are separated by just 2 1/2 games.

Thursday's finale will also decide who wins the regular-season series between the two clubs, which is pivotal if they both finish tied with the same record for the top spot in the AL Wild Card race. The season-series winner earns home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card Game.

Rangers ace Yu Darvish gets the ball Thursday, in the midst of a streak the club would like to see snapped. Darvish has lasted at least five innings in each of his past seven starts, but he has gotten two runs or fewer of support in all seven -- the longest such streak in franchise history.

But the lack of support doesn't seem to bother Darvish, a candidate for the AL Cy Young Award. Darvish currently sits fourth in the Junior Circuit in ERA (2.79), first in strikeouts (256) and third in WHIP (1.03).

"There is only so much you can do as an individual player," said Darvish, who is coming off a pair of 1-0 defeats. "I just have to go out there and throw my pitches and pitch my game and do what I can to help the team."

It may be Darvish's second big league season, but he's a seasoned veteran thanks to his seven seasons in Japan before he bolted for Texas. Basically, he's been here before.

"This is baseball -- you have some big years and months and you have some bad years and months," Darvish said. "This is not a new experience for me. This happened in Japan, too. Every individual is playing hard, but you don't always get the results."

Opposite Darvish will be 24-year-old left-hander Matt Moore, who is plenty familiar with Texas. As a 22-year-old rookie with just one career big league start, Moore threw seven innings of two-hit ball in Texas in Game 1 of the 2011 AL Division Series, which the Rays won, 9-0.

He's started against the Rangers just once since then, and he didn't allow a run then either. On April 10 in Arlington, Moore surrendered just one hit in 5 1/3 innings, though he suffered through a few control issues, walking six.

Since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 3, Moore has been that same dominant young pitcher, posting a 0.61 ERA in three starts.

For the Rangers, Geovany Soto will likely start to catch Darvish, with right-handed-hitting Jeff Baker starting as the designated hitter against the left-hander Moore.

Rangers: Nathan thriving in '13
• Despite blowing his third save on Wednesday, Texas closer Joe Nathan is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career at the ripe age of 38. He has posted a 1.56 ERA in 60 appearances and has kept his WHIP below one.

Nathan has saved 39 games for Texas, but his primary focus isn't on the individual numbers.

"It's all about getting to the playoffs. From there, I'm smart enough to know anything can happen," Nathan said. "That's why we're still in a great position, as bad as we've been the last two weeks."

Rays: Crain creeps closer
• Injured reliever Jesse Crain will pitch in an instructional league game in Sarasota, Fla., on Thursday, where he'll throw about 20 pitches.

Crain is rehabbing a strained right shoulder that he sustained as a member of the White Sox before he was traded to Tampa Bay at the Trade Deadline.

"This is one of those patient moments," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're looking for the big payoff, but we're only going to get it if we do it right."

Worth noting
• Hitters on the current Rays' roster are batting just .143 lifetime against Darvish. Sam Fuld is the only player with more than one hit. He's 3-for-6 against the tall right-hander.

• Texas' 43 away wins are the most in baseball.

• The Rays are 33-33 against the Rangers under Maddon. Comments