Rangers home in on Rays

Texas a win away from team history

By Stephen Hawkins
Associated Press / October 9, 2010

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers are quickly altering how they’ve been viewed their entire existence.

They’re not just bashing, they’re getting timely hits. They’re not just cobbling together a pitching staff, they’ve got a rotation filled with solid starters. And defense is emphasized by their manager.

After using all of that in two impressive road victories in the division series against Tampa Bay, the AL’s top regular-season team, the Rangers are on the cusp of winning a postseason series for the first time in their 50-season history.

“All year we’ve tried to play baseball according to the way it’s been presented to us, which means you have to win all different ways,’’ fourth-year manager Ron Washington said yesterday. “But I think as we move forward and things continue to fall into place, I think people will start changing their minds and their perceptions of the Texas Rangers.’’

The AL West champions play their first home playoff game in 11 years today needing only one more victory to clinch the best-of-five series. They are the only current major league team that has never won a postseason series.

Texas had won only one playoff game ever — in 39 seasons in Texas and 11 as the Washington Senators — before their two wins in Tampa this week.

Lefthanders Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson won the first two games, when the Rays were limited to one run and eight hits while striking out 23 times. Colby Lewis, drafted the same season (1999) that Texas had last been to the playoffs, starts Game 3 against Matt Garza.

“He is not going to be intimidated by the moment,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Garza, who won Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS over Boston.

If the Rays can win two games at Rangers Ballpark this weekend — Game 4, if needed, is tomorrow afternoon — a series-deciding game would be Tuesday at Tropicana Field.

With influence from Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, the team president who added the title of part-owner, Texas had a 3.93 ERA that was the lowest since 1990 while setting a record with 1,181 strikeouts.

While they still hit homers (four in this series) and have batting champion Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero in the middle of the lineup, the Rangers do more than slug away now. They led the majors with a .276 average, while their 162 homers were their lowest total since 1992, and they had fewer than 1,000 strikeouts for the first time since 2000.

“History shows there have been plenty of Texas Rangers teams who have had incredible offensive lineups and weren’t able to get to the postseason,’’ said outfielder David Murphy, expected to start Game 3 after missing the first two games. “There were plenty of four-hour games, plenty of 11-9 games that just took forever.’’

Not too many anymore, thanks to a still-productive offense without having to try to outscore everybody because of bad pitching.

“When your pitching staff is your backbone, you’ve got to like your chances,’’ Murphy said.

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