Rangers up 2-0, on cusp of first ALCS
Wilson shines as Young's three-run homer deflates Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- No playoff experience? No problem.Playing on the road? Bring on room service. Playing against the mighty American League East? Bring on the beast. The Rangers aren't letting anything faze them and now they are one win away from going to the American League Championship Series for the first time after starter C.J. Wilson pitched them to a 6-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday in Game 2 of the AL Division Series at Tropicana Field.
"Why should we be fazed by anything?" third baseman Michael Young said after delivering a three-run home run for his first playoff hit. "We expected to come in here and play baseball. People love to talk about our lack of playoff game experience, but we have hard-fought game experience. We got a ton of that this season and now we're playing our style of baseball right now. We're getting great pitching and we're battling them offensively."There is no doubt about the pitching, and Wilson was just as good, if not better, than Cliff Lee was in Game 1. He went 6 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out seven. Jason Bartlett had a leadoff single against Wilson in the first and the Rays didn't get their next hit until a double by Willy Aybar in the seventh. Darren O'Day and Darren Oliver finished up the two-hit shutout. "The pitching is making all the difference," outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "We're scoring enough runs early to give them a chance to be comfortable and pitch the way they want." In two games, Rangers pitchers have allowed one run on eight hits while walking five and striking out 23. This looks like what happened to the Rangers in 1998-99, when they managed just one run in three games over two straight series against the Yankees.
AT HOME ON THE ROAD
Now the Rangers are turning that on somebody else."I'm thrilled with it," club president Nolan Ryan said. "Our pitching took the fans out of it early and our offense took 'em out of it later by tacking on runs, and that's demoralizing for the other team. It's so hard to build on momentum and come back." If others are surprised by what happened over two days at Tropicana Field, the Rangers are not. "We're a very good team," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "It seems like throughout the year there were always challenges, but we played our best baseball when our backs were to the wall or when we were facing a tough team. We had our lapses but, for the most part, that's our game, that's our team and that's what we've been doing." The Rangers hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series as they fly back to Texas for the next two games on their home turf. Game 3 is scheduled for 4 p.m. CT on Saturday at the Ballpark in Arlington with Colby Lewis pitching for the Rangers. Tommy Hunter, if necessary, will pitch in Game 4 at noon on Sunday. The Rangers and Yankees, who beat the Twins, 5-2, became the 15th and 16th teams, respectively, to win the first two games of a Division Series on the road.
"It's huge, man, to come in here and get two," Oliver said. "Usually, you hope for a split on the road. Now we've got two and get to go back home."Only four times has a team come back from being down 0-2 in an ALDS and won three straight. The last team to do it was the Red Sox against the Athletics in 2003. But the Rangers need just one win, either in two games in Arlington or Game 5 on Tuesday here in Tropicana Field with Lee on the mound. "These guys showed what they are made of," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "You're looking at a bunch of guys who have been resilient. They just go out and play baseball hard like they've done all year. Now we're reaping the benefits. "People talked about us having to play the East or not being able to play on the road. I've always said, it's not always the best team that wins but the team that plays the best, and that's what we've done over the past two days." Young delivered the biggest blow on the afternoon with a three-run home run in the fifth inning. The home run came one pitch after a disputed check-swing call by first-base umpire Jerry Meals that extended Young's at-bat and ultimately led to Rays manager Joe Madding getting ejected from the game. Now Maddon's team is one game away from being eliminated by the club with the worst record of the four teams in the AL playoffs. "We just have to play better," Rays outfielder Carl Crawford said. "We definitely have to hit better and just play our game. Keep grinding it out, don't give in and just give it our best." The Rangers manufactured their first run in the third inning after Rays pitcher James Shields hit Matt Treanor with a pitch. It was the first of two times that Treanor was hit by a pitch leading off an inning and both cost Shields. Treanor ended up scoring on Shields' errant pickoff throw and Kinsler's fourth-inning home run made it 2-0. Then came the pivotal fifth inning, when the Rangers broke it open. Young, who was hitless in his first six playoff at-bats, came up with two on and one out against reliever Chad Qualls and worked the count to 2-and-2. Qualls then threw a slider that broke outside the strike zone. Young started after it but held up his swing. The Rays appealed to Meals, who ruled Young did not go around. "If he had rung me up, I would not have argued," Young said. Young went around on the next pitch, crushing a full-count sinker deep over the center-field wall for a back-breaking home run. "I was looking for a strike," Young said. "I expanded the strike zone on the 2-2 pitch, so I was just looking for a strike. When I got it, I went for it." Kinsler's RBI single later in the inning made it 6-0 and the pitching had it under control from there. Now the Rangers, who had won just one of 10 playoff games in club history prior to this, are one win away from winning their first playoff series ever. "We're not thinking about anything but the next game," Young said. "We're going to empty our tanks in Game 3 just like we emptied them tonight in Game 2."
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.