Sweep dreams

October 8, 2010

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Rays can whine as long and as loud as they want about Michael Young's checked swing that wasn't, since he homered on the next pitch Thursday in Game 2 of the ALDS.

And they can moan and groan until spring training begins about Carlos Pena's at-bat and the hit batter that wasn't in Game 1.

Those two controversial at-bats aren't the reason they're on the verge of getting swept by the Rangers after losing consecutive games at Tropicana Field.

It's their inability to generate any offense - one run in two games - that has Texas in control of the series.


Inspired by Cliff Lee's Game 1 gem Wednesday afternoon, and Roy Halladay's no-hitter later that night for Philadelphia, Wilson allowed just two hits in 6 1/3 shutout innings.

It was the best performance by pitcher in franchise history, and allowed manager Ron Washington to become the club's all-time leader with two playoff wins.

Texas 6, Tampa Bay 0.

Wilson, converted into a starter during the off-season, was even more dominant than Lee.

After allowing a leadoff single, Wilson didn't allow another hit until Willy Aybar's seventh-inning double.

Is there any question starting pitching is the story of this series?

Lee and Wilson have combined to allow seven hits and one run in 131/3 innings with 17 strikeouts and two walks in two games.

That's an 0.68 ERA.

This is no fluke.

The Rangers had a 3.93 team ERA, third in the American League. Wilson, Lee and Colby Lewis each tossed more than 200 innings this season, an indication they were consistently good enough to go deep into games.

Wilson used the same tactics Lee did to shut down the Rays' lineup, which features only two regulars - Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria - hitting above .255.

Their team batting average is .243

Wilson, like Lee, moved his fastball up and down as well as in and out. He supplemented it with a cut fastball that runs away from right-handers, a slider that runs in on right-handers and a change up.

And he did a terrific job of changing speeds. Look at his pitch sequence at B.J. Upton in the sixth inning

He threw four different pitches, ranging from 82 mph to 90 mph, in the five-pitch at-bat that ended with a strikeout.


Wilson's only difficult moment occurred in the seventh, when a walk to Ben Zobrist and Aybar's double put runners on second and third with none out. He had thrown 98 pitches, and Darren Oliver and Darren O'Day were warming up in the bullpen.

The count reached 3-and-2 on catcher Kelly Shoppach. Catcher Matt Treanor met Wilson in front of the mound for a brief chat.

"I hadn't thrown him a four-seamer the whole at-bat," Wilson said of his fastball. "I'm like, 'We're going with that.'

"I'll throw him the one thing - the most simple, elegant solution to this whole thing - and if he hits it, he hits it, but I'm definitely not going to walk him."

The fastball landed on the outside corner for a called third strike.


Shoppach, sprinting up the line because he didn't hear the delayed call from home plate umpire Jim Wolf, was a step from first base when he realized he had been called out.

Then O'Day replaced Wilson and fanned pinch-hitter Matt Joyce. Oliver then entered and finished the game.

It doesn't get any easier for Tampa Bay, which now must face Lewis, who would've won a few more games with any kind of run support. He's 12-13 with a 3.72 ERA.

Once and for all, we can end this fallacy that pitchers can't succeed in Texas because of the heat. Or the jet stream. Or the ballpark's configuration.

Every one of those reasons is an excuse for a pitcher who didn't have the talent to get the job done.

Lee and Wilson have proved it. Ask the Rays' hitters.