Young, Texas in new territory
Rangers poised for first series win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Two dominating pitching performances and a long home run by playoff neophyte Michael Young have the Texas Rangers on the verge of winning their first postseason series.
Young hit a three-run homer one pitch after keeping his at-bat alive with a disputed check swing, helping C.J. Wilson and the AL West champions beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 6-0, yesterday for a 2-0 lead in their American League Division Series.
“I just think that we’ve had a great mentality these first two games,’’ Young said. “We’re not really thinking about some huge, grand picture here. We empty the bank for the game we’re playing that day.’’
Texas is the only current major league franchise that’s never won a playoff series. After winning consecutive games on the road, that can change when the best-of-five matchup shifts to Rangers Ballpark this weekend. Game 3 is tomorrow, with Matt Garza pitching for Tampa Bay against Colby Lewis.
“Being up 2-0 is huge, especially winning two on the road. But we still haven’t accomplished anything yet,’’ Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
Ian Kinsler also homered for the Rangers, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and hadn’t won a postseason game in 14 years before Cliff Lee shut down the sputtering Rays in their home park Wednesday.
Wilson was equally impressive, allowing two hits in 6 2/3 innings. He gave up a single to Jason Bartlett to start the game, then limited the Rays to three base runners on an error, a walk, and a hit batter over the next five innings.
Willy Aybar doubled in the seventh for the second hit off the Texas starter, who departed with runners at second and third. Darren O’Day struck out pinch hitter Matt Joyce, and Darren Oliver got four outs to finish the two-hitter before a sellout crowd of 35,535.
Long known for fielding powerful lineups, the Rangers finally look as though they have the arms to match.
The Rays were held to eight hits in two games at Tropicana Field, where they had one of the league’s best home records this season.
Texas pitchers fanned 23 batters in two days, which is not surprising. Tampa Bay’s 1,292 strikeouts this season were the most by a major league team that reached the playoffs.
Young, in the playoffs for the first time after 10-plus seasons with Texas, broke the game open with a 431-foot shot to center field off Chad Qualls. Before Wednesday, the six-time All-Star had played 1,508 career games without appearing in the postseason — the second-most among active players behind Randy Winn’s 1,717.
“Mike is our backbone,’’ Wilson said. “He’s our Derek Jeter or our Cal Ripken or whatever. That’s our guy. We rely on him for all sorts of stuff.’’
But Qualls thought he had struck out Young on a 2-and-2 pitch. Plate umpire Jim Wolf appealed to first base umpire Jerry Meals, who ruled that Young held up.
Rays players were incensed on the bench and replays showed that Young probably went too far.
After the home run on the next pitch for a 5-0 Rangers lead, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon left the dugout to talk with Qualls.
Maddon yelled at Meals from the mound and was ejected by Wolf when the plate umpire arrived at the huddle.
“Once he said safe, I’ve got to turn the page and focus on the next pitch,’’ Young said. “It’s really not my job to make decisions there.’’
Before the game, the Rays removed Rocco Baldelli from the roster and added Aybar, who was the designated hitter yesterday. The team said Baldelli, who was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts in Game 1, had left leg fatigue, a symptom of mitochondrial disorder, a condition he has that was diagnosed in 2008.