Rangers' best-laid plans foiled vs. Rays
Texas' sluggers quieted as rookie helps Tampa Bay keep surging
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers seemingly had every tangible edge heading into Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Rangers Ballpark on Friday. But in this game, this time of year, tangibles sometimes don't add up to a hill of frijoles.
Especially, it's worth noting, when the outfit in the other dugout believes it can move mountains.
The Rays are like that right now. They brought out their mojo and hammered Texas, 9-0. Matt Moore, a kid with one Major League start, schooled C.J. Wilson, a smooth operator who will command millions if he reaches free agency next month. Go figure.
The Rangers this season produced 38 more homers and 148 more runs than the Rays. That holds no sway now.
"We're a team -- that's all we think about and care about," Rays shortstop Sean Rodriguez said. "I know it's a cliché, but it's the truth. It starts with Joe [Maddon, the eclectic manager] and goes right on down through the ranks."
They dodged so many bullets and arrows in September to make October meaningful, they can be excused for feeling touched by an unseen force.
Karma, the Rays' Johnny Damon called it. Whatever it is, they're thoroughly enjoying the ride.
"We do whatever it takes," said Rodriguez, who gave up his body 18 times this season getting hit by pitches. "We believe in each other."
On Friday, under flawless skies in the aftermath of a moving first-pitch ceremony involving the son of a fireman who died in a tragic accident in the ballpark in July, the Rangers surrendered home-field advantage -- for whatever that's worth, given visitors are 6-0 in the past two editions of the ALDS involving these teams.
Wilson threw pitches in dangerous locations, and Kelly Shoppach, with his .176 average in 87 games, lifted two off the property. The catcher homered on a fastball in the third inning and a curveball in the fifth, accounting for five Tampa Bay runs.
This was the brand of thumping Rangers faithful had every reason to anticipate from their murderers' row, formed by Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Nelson Cruz.
Having used their premium starters to seize the AL Wild Card as the Red Sox imploded, the Rays sent a novice with a live arm to the mound. Moore is a brilliant prospect, but this was the postseason, and these were the musclebound Rangers coming off a September for the ages.
Moore could have been overmatched. Instead, he was matchless.
A single and double by Hamilton were the only hits allowed by Moore, who was throwing max heat with seemingly minimum effort across seven dominant innings.
The Rangers won't admit it, but they could have used their ace southpaw from last year against the phenom. But Cliff Lee is toiling in Philadelphia now, and Wilson's desire to emulate him with a sturdy, efficient Game 1 effort went unfulfilled.
"They got him today," Napoli, Wilson's batterymate, said. "The balls were up -- and they hit 'em. No one's perfect. Coming out of the pen, I thought he had good stuff. He got out there and it got away from him."
Lee, one year ago at this time, filled the Rangers with the kind of overflowing confidence the Rays are now experiencing.
There was a sense in the Texas clubhouse last year that no matter how rough it got, Cliff would make everything right. And that's what he did, claiming Games 1 and 5 in Tampa Bay to send the Rangers on to the AL Championship Series and more success against the Yankees.
The Rangers will tell you they have the same faith in Wilson.
"We've got his back," Napoli said. "He's our ace, and we've got a lot of confidence in him. I hope he gets out there again with another chance to get at them."
Hitters rarely extend heavy praise to pitchers, even after they've been shut down. They'll show some respect, but they're reluctant to go overboard and give up an edge.
Asked about Moore, Napoli, having struck out twice and grounded out, admitted the lefty had the right stuff.
"He looks like he's barely throwing and it's 97 [mph]," Napoli said. "He was on. He got a lead and attacked. That's what you want to do.
"We got to see him the first time through [the lineup]. We've done it before against guys we haven't seen. I was seeing the ball good. He just got me."
The Rangers grew accustomed down the stretch to torturing pitchers of all sizes, shapes and deliveries. Napoli hit .429 in September with eight homers. AL Player of the Month Beltre hit .374 with 12 homers. Kinsler scalded to the tune of .330 and 11 homers.
In Game 2, they'll go after James Shields, who engages another Texas lefty, Derek Holland. Shields held Texas to one run in 17 innings this season.
"We expect to score runs," Napoli said. "We're not worried about it. We'll come out tomorrow, forget about this and get going again -- like we did all year."
Down the corridor, Shields already was getting "jacked up," as he put it. Watching Moore perform in the fashion of the Dodgers' southpaw of your generational choice -- Sandy Koufax or Clayton Kershaw -- was thrilling.
"I don't know if he knew the magnitude of tonight's start," Shields said. "He was so calm, he was kind of making me nervous."
Even if they're not showing it, it's the Rangers who must be experiencing some anxiety. They let a big one get away without much resistance.
"Getting that first one is huge in a five-game series," Shields said. "It's crucial. I'm definitely going to try to feed off the way [Moore] pitched."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.