The Texas Rangers are the only team in the majors never to win a
playoff series, but if Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Rays is any
indication, that may be about to change.
The AL West champions can return home with a 2-0 lead in their
division series if they capture Thursday afternoon’s game at
Tropicana Field, where the Rays hope struggling starter James
Shields will help them avoid a daunting deficit.
The Rangers’ limited postseason history had been almost entirely
negative before Wednesday, when ace Cliff Lee shut down the Rays
for seven innings in a 5-1 victory.
The win was only the franchise’s second in the playoffs, and it
snapped a nine-game postseason losing streak that came entirely
against the New York Yankees in the 1990s.
“I guess whatever happens from this point on will be history in
Texas Rangers folklore,” manager Ron Washington said. “I’m just
happy my guys were relaxed and they were able to go out there and
play the type of game that we know we can play.”
Nelson Cruz and Bengie Molina homered for Texas, with Molina
totaling three hits and two RBIs to bolster a strong postseason
resume. The catcher won a World Series with the Angels in 2002 and
hit three homers in the 2005 division series to help Los Angeles
beat the Yankees.
The Rays, meanwhile, were limited to four singles and two
extra-base hits – both by Ben Zobrist, who homered in the seventh
The AL East champions’ offense was also sluggish down the
stretch, averaging 2.0 runs and getting shut out three times in the
final eight games. All of those were without star third baseman
Evan Longoria, who made an error and went 1 for 4 in his return
from a quadriceps injury Wednesday.
“A lot of guys had pretty good at-bats, so I’m really not
discouraged,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m actually encouraged.
… I’m looking for a carryover into (Thursday).”
If they can’t get more production from their lineup, the Rays
need Shields (13-15, 5.18 ERA) to quickly rebound from a
surprisingly poor season.
Shields was the opening day starter, but he allowed an AL-high
34 homers while setting career highs in losses and ERA. The
right-hander went 0-4 with a 7.59 ERA in his final six starts.
“The best attribute for a baseball player is amnesia,” Shields
said. “I feel really good right now. I feel confident in my stuff,
I feel confident in what I’m doing out there.”
Maddon may have tabbed Shields as the Game 2 starter due to his
strong performance for the Rays in the 2008 playoffs.
Shields went 2-2 with a 2.88 ERA in four postseason starts,
winning Game 1 of the division series against Chicago and beating
Philadelphia with 5 2-3 shutout innings in Game 2 of the World
“Having the experience of going through that in 2008 is
definitely going to help me out and help my confidence out,”
Not only does Texas’ C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35) lack any playoff
experience, but this was his first full season as a starter in the
The former closer was a revelation for the Rangers, leading the
team in wins, innings and ERA among starters.
“When things go according to plan, everybody looks smart,”
Wilson said. “I guess things went according to plan with the
transition to starting. So everything is good.”
Wilson, however, has gone 1-3 with a 5.85 ERA since the start of
September, prompting questions about his increased workload.
Wilson’s 204 innings are 130 more than he threw in 2009.
The left-hander struggled in his lone start against the Rays
this year, walking four and allowing five runs – three earned – in
five innings, although he got plenty of run support in a 9-6
victory June 4 in Arlington.