ST. PETERSBURG (AP) — Gratified to finally be in the playoffs, Michael Young and the Texas Rangers are making the most of their opportunity.
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 Thursday for a 2-0 lead in their 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.”
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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 with one victory when the best-of-five matchup shifts to Rangers Ballpark this weekend.
Game 3 is Saturday, 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. “Our goal is to get as far as we possibly can, and we’re just going to take it back to Texas and come out and try to play as hard as we can again.”
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 on Wednesday.
Wilson was equally impressive, allowing two hits in 6 2-3 innings. He gave up a single to leadoff man Jason Bartlett to start the game, then limited the Rays to just three baserunners 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 story today was our pitching,” said Young, who lauded the “total team effort” that has Texas on the verge of making franchise history.
Young’s first playoff hit was a massive homer. 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.”
Young said he’s only interesting in winning.
“For me personally, this personal stuff goes out the window. It’s always nice to contribute and nice to play well,” the third baseman said. “We’re competitors, we want to do our jobs well. But at the end of the day, the `W’ is what every team is searching for.”
The Rays, whose .247 batting average was the lowest for an AL club that made the postseason since the 1981 Oakland Athletics, were held to eight hits in two games at Tropicana Field, where they had one of the best home records in the league 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.
“They pitched two really good games, so there’s not too much you can do about that,” Carl Crawford said. “We’ve just got to hope we can get the next guy that’s coming.”
Young broke the game open in the fifth with a 431-foot shot to center field off Chad Qualls, who thought he had a strikeout on a 2-2 pitch. Plate umpire Jim Wolf — the brother of Brewers pitcher Randy Wolf — appealed to first base umpire Jerry Meals, who ruled that Young held up in time.
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 and was ejected by Wolf after he yelled at Meals from the mound.
“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.”
Maddon also disputed a crucial call early in Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to Lee. Plate umpire Tim Welke said a pitch hit Carlos Pena’s bat with the bases loaded in the first inning, ruling it a foul tip. Maddon unsuccessfully argued that Pena was hit by the pitch.
Tampa Bay failed to score when Pena and Rocco Baldelli struck out.
“The Rangers have outplayed us for two consecutive nights, so I’ve got to give them all the credit,” Maddon said. “You can’t win games by just getting two hits, but I had to make my point. … That’s all that was about.”
Maddon became the 15th manager to be ejected from a postseason game and first since Tony La Russa was thrown out of St. Louis’ 2-1 loss at Houston in Game 4 of the NL championship series on Oct. 16, 2005, according to research by STATS LLC.
Welke, the umpire crew chief, thought Wolf and Meals “showed a lot of restraint” before Maddon was tossed.
“Obviously, it’s a judgment call,” Welke told a pool reporter. “He felt it was close, but he felt he didn’t go, and that’s what he said.”
Kinsler homered in the fourth off losing pitcher James Shields, who got the Game 2 assignment for Tampa Bay even though he lost 15 games during the regular season and hadn’t won since Aug. 29. The right-hander allowed four runs and four hits over 4 1-3 innings.
Kinsler also had an RBI single off Qualls in the fifth.
With the Rays facing a lefty starter for the second straight day, Maddon held the struggling Pena out of the lineup. Wilson has been extremely tough on left-handed batter this season, and Pena — whose .196 batting average was the lowest among all major league qualifiers — went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts against Lee on Wednesday.
The Rangers manufactured a run in the third. Matt Treanor was hit by a pitch, moved from second to third on an infield single and scored when Shields made an errant pickoff throw. The right-hander tried to pick off Elvis Andrus at first base, but the throw hit Andrus and skipped into foul territory.
Rays All-Star Evan Longoria, who missed the final 10 games of the regular season with a strained left quadriceps, went 0 for 4 and is 1 for 8 in the series.
He said he expects Tampa Bay to find a way to even the series in Texas and force Game 5 back in Florida next Tuesday.
“We’re definitely not going there to say we’re going to lose one game, come home and start our offseason,” Longoria said. “I don’t want to go home yet. I want to bring this series back here and continue on playing in November.”
NOTES: The Rays removed Baldelli from the roster and added Aybar, who was the designated hitter Thursday. 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.