Gibson returned from the injured list to pitch 5 1/3 scoreless innings, Kennedy survived a 30-pitch ninth and the Rangers ended a nine-game losing streak, holding off the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 in their return to the site of last season's World Series.
“I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I knew for some reason that the five-run lead in the eighth, our two best two arms right now something was going to kind of make it get close,” manager Chris Woodward said. “But, you know, those guys haven’t been in situations like that in a while, especially Ian. We haven’t had the lead in the ninth inning in nine games.”
Joey Gallo hit in his 10th homer and Charlie Culberson drove in a run with a squeeze bunt for the Rangers, whose nine losses in a row were made up the longest winless road trip in team history. They hadn't won since wrapping up a three-game sweep over Houston on May 23 in their last home series.
Brandon Lowe homered late for the Rays (36-23), who have the most wins in the majors this season and lost for only the fourth time in 21 games. Their only previous visit to Globe Life Field had been last October in the neutral site World Series they lost in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Gibson (4-0) struck out five without a walk in his first start since May 21 before going on the IL with a right groin strain. The right-hander threw 73 pitches and lowered his ERA to 2.06, third-best in the AL, before coming out of his 11th start after consecutive one-out singles in the sixth.
“Body felt great, the arm felt great,” Gibson said. “Really fortunate for that and then thankful for that.”
Woodward said Gibson actually threw a few more pitches than planned, but that he got through everything good.
“It's just a smart move, you know, I think coming off a soft tissue injury like that and, you know, probably the shorter end of the rehab and rest period that they would call for that,” Gibson said.
The Rays managed only five singles off Gibson, and the hits in the sixth were the only time they had multiple runners on against him — reliever John King came on and got a strikeout and a flyout. Gibson picked off Joey Wendle at first base after a hit in the fourth.
Kennedy, the third Texas reliever, worked the ninth for his 12th save in 13 chances despite giving up a two-run single to No. 9 hitter Brett Phillips after the Rays loaded the bases with a single and two walks. Phillips' hit was to right field, like the walk-off winner he had against the Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series.
“I was hoping it was going to get past (right fielder) Gallo, but he can cover some ground,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
“Everyone knows what happened last year, but for me, it’s the same whatever ballpark we’re in,” Phillips said. “Every at-bat, just try and help this team win, put together a good at bat. That’s all I try to do.”
Kennedy then struck out Lowe, who hit a two-run homer in the eighth, on three pitches to end the game.
“He looked fine,” Woodward said. “He’s got like zero pulse out there."
It was Kennedy's first save chance since his only blown save, which was also Gibson's previous start.
Tampa Bay left-hander Josh Fleming (5-4), who had won his last four decisions, allowed 10 hits and five runs over a career-high seven innings. He threw 72 of 100 pitches for strikes, with two strikeouts and no walks.
Texas went ahead to stay on rookie Adolis Garcia's grounder in the third for his 42nd RBI. The Rangers opened the fourth with three consecutive singles, including a run-scoring hit by Nate Lowe, before Culberson's bunt that scored Nick Solak. Willie Calhoun followed with an RBI single to make it 4-0. Gallo's towering 438-foot homer to straightaway center came in the fifth.
Rays: 1B Ji-Man Choi was put on the 10-day injured list because of a left groin strain. Choi had played only 15 games since missing the first six weeks of the season when recovering from arthroscopic right knee surgery.
Rangers: RHP Hunter Wood was transferred from the 10-day to 60-day injured list. Wood, on the IL since May 23, has a mild UCL sprain in his right elbow.
Rich Hill (4-2, 3.32 ERA), the Rays’ 41-year-old left-hander, makes his first start of June after being the AL pitcher of the month in May, when he was 3-1 with a 0.78 ERA in six starts. He had a no-decision at home against Texas on April 15, when he allowed four runs and seven hits over 4 1/3 innings. Rangers lefty Kolby Allard (1-1, 3.38) is set to make his second start in his 12th appearance this season.
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Cortes Jr. expected to start for New York against Baltimore
Baltimore Orioles (38-67, fifth in the AL East) vs. New York Yankees (56-49, third in the AL East)
Maeda expected to start for the Twins against Reds
Minnesota Twins (44-62, fifth in the AL Central) vs. Cincinnati Reds (56-50, second in the NL Central)
Buehler expected to start for Los Angeles against Houston
Houston Astros (64-42, first in the AL West) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (64-43, second in the NL West)
Mets to face Marlins on the road
New York Mets (55-50, first in the NL East) vs. Miami Marlins (45-61, fifth in the NL East)
Peralta expected to start as Tigers host the Red Sox
Boston Red Sox (63-44, second in the AL East) vs. Detroit Tigers (51-57, third in the AL Central)