ARLINGTON -- The Rangers were five outs away from clinching an American League Division Series sweep before a bullpen implosion lost Game 3 against Tampa Bay, a defeat that eventually forced Tuesday's winner-take-all Game 5.
Friday's eighth-inning meltdown in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series could prove to be far more costly. It took approximately 35 minutes for Rangers relievers to erase any goodwill generated from the preceding three hours, as the four arms that followed starter C.J. Wilson couldn't hold a four-run lead, resulting in a devastating 6-5 loss to the Yankees.
"For us to all not get the job done was an aberration," said reliever Darren O'Day, who combined with Darren Oliver, Clay Rapada and Derek Holland to allow five runs -- two of which were charged to Wilson -- in the eighth without recording an out. "We know we're better than that."
They will have to be to give the Rangers a chance to win the best-of-seven set. Without the services of setup man Frank Francisco, who pitched to a 3.41 eighth-inning ERA before being shut down in late August with a bruised right rib cage, the bridge to closer Neftali Feliz is a mix-and-match scenario.
And while manager Ron Washington said prior to Friday's game that seven solid frames from his starter gave him confidence in late-game matchups "no matter what they are," there was no solace from the Rangers' relief corps in Game 1.
Instead it was an eerie feeling of deja vu when Oliver, who took the loss in the ALDS Game 3, replaced Wilson and couldn't find the zone. The ball was "taking off on him" and Oliver -- who registered a 4.15 ERA in three ALDS appearances -- walked both batters he faced to load the bases and bring on O'Day to face slugger Alex Rodriguez. Hoping for a double-play ball, O'Day watched instead as Rodriguez sent his first offering into left field for a two-run single to pull the Yankees to 5-4.
Robinson Cano and Marcus Thames followed with RBI singles off Rapada and Holland, respectively, sending a crowd of 50,930 at Rangers Ballpark into a stunned silence.
"It was like, you know, 'Wow,'" O'Day said as he struggled to put the fateful inning into words. "Everybody was [shocked], the whole stadium. How many times are you going to through three relievers and nobody gets an out? It doesn't happen too often."
The Rangers can only hope it won't happen again, although history is not on their side. The Yankees scored four or more runs 52 times this season, most in the Majors, and have outscored Texas, 15-0, all-time in the postseason from the seventh inning on.
"You have to take the uniform out of the equation," O'Day said. "You go out there and you pitch. Yeah they have a lot of good players, but just because they put the [Yankees] uniform on doesn't make them any different."
"We chalk it up to they have good at-bats in the eighth. Simple as that," said Rangers third baseman Michael Young, who watched his two-run double in the fourth inning go for naught, along with Josh Hamilton's three-run homer.
"We have all the confidence in the world in our bullpen. They've done a great job all season long. If we get in that situation again, we like our chances."
They are going to have to, as Washington made it clear that going to Feliz for six outs was not an option and probably won't be for the duration of the series.
"He's never done anything like that," Washington said of the 22-year-old Feliz. "I wouldn't do that. I had the people I wanted in the game. They didn't get it done."
As for whether the Rangers gave away the game, taking the series momentum with it, Washington wasn't willing to go that far.
"It certainly was our ballgame, especially when you just need six outs," he said. "I guess in a sense it got away from us. But gave it away? No. We just didn't execute."
And it cost the Rangers a coveted series-opening win, the kind of deflating defeat that Texas is determined to not let derail its World Series hopes.
"Everybody in here kind of is taken aback at the fact that we lost," Rapada said. "But at the same time, we are all thinking, 'If we execute our plan a little better, we walk away with that one easy.'"
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.