Rangers flawless in first two games
ST. PETERSBURG -- The best thing about the Rangers is that it's so hard to identify the best thing about the Rangers.
It could be the starting pitching, which dominated the Rays through the first two games of the American League Division Series, bringing Texas to within one victory -- Game 3 arrives Saturday in Arlington -- of the first postseason series triumph in franchise history.
It could be the bullpen, which brings such an uncommon variety of looks, right to the finish when young Neftali Feliz vaporizes threats with his 97-100-mph heat.
It could be the offense, which blends power with speed top to bottom, runs the bases aggressively, and has a three-through-five as dangerous as any in the game. It features the most gifted baseball player on the planet in Josh Hamilton, with bash brothers Vladimir Guerrero and fast-emerging Nelson Cruz behind him.
It could be the defense, which rarely makes a wrong move or has a bad moment, a unit that makes the routine plays and the spectacular and is deep on all fronts.
It could be the chemistry, featuring steely eyed veterans and bright-eyed kids, that brings all these elements together, keeping the mood light and then turning dead serious when necessary.
Most likely it is all of those things, the assorted parts assembled by esteemed president Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels adding up to this: Texas is for real.
The Rangers have put it all on display the past two days. They sent disgruntled Tropicana Field patrons home an inning early, en masse, on Thursday after Darren Oliver took care of B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria in order to end the eighth and, very likely, the dream.
There was no traffic to beat, only traffic to encounter. But these people had seen enough and they wanted out of the building.
"That's always a good feeling," said Oliver, who ran out of the dugout to start the ninth and finish a 6-0 decision that was the primary work of southpaw C.J. Wilson. "That's huge, man, to come in here and get two. Usually you hope to split on the road. Now we've got to go home and do it."
Wilson charted Cliff Lee's pitches in the 5-1 series opener claimed by Lee and then emulated the master, holding the Rays to two hits and two walks while striking out seven in 6 1/3 innings.
Darren O'Day struck out pinch-hitter Matt Joyce for the second out of the seventh with runners at second and third and handed the ball to good buddy Oliver, who got the final out and six more in a quiet row.
"We got those early leads in these games," said O'Day, "and it takes them out of their game plan. Our starting pitching has been amazing. They can swing the bat. You don't win the American League East without being able to swing the bat."
With eight hits and five walks in two games creating a .200 on-base percentage, the Rays were unable to crank up the running game, keeping the volume way down inside the Trop.
It figures to get a lot louder in Arlington, where folks have waited a long time to party like it was 1999 -- the last time the Rangers visited the postseason.
"Nothing's over yet," said Ian Kinsler, who homered and singled, driving in a pair of runs. "We've played good baseball. Now I can't wait for those people [at Rangers Ballpark] to see us on the field. I would imagine there's nothing like playing at home in the playoffs."
The Rays certainly didn't have much fun at home, the Rangers crashing their party with a rowdy offense and all that precision pitching.
Michael Young, the heartbeat of the franchise for so many years, delivered the telling Game 2 blow. His three-run homer in the fifth came after reliever Chad Qualls and his manager, Joe Maddon, thought Young had struck out with a half-swing on a 2-2 pitch. First-base umpire Jerry Meals, on appeal, did not agree.
Maddon was ejected by home-plate umpire Tim Welke, but the skipper's eruption did not evoke an emotional response from the Rays' offense. It remained silent and now must reignite on Texas soil that has been unfriendly the past two seasons. The Rays have dropped five of their past seven at Rangers Ballpark.
The Rangers were about as dominant as a club can be in Tampa Bay, doing everything but throwing a Halladay blanket over the Rays. Texas hit early and in the clutch, ran the bases hard, caught almost everything and threw to the right bases.
Lee and Wilson set a tone Colby Lewis will try to follow in Game 3, bringing some Texas heat to the mound when he engages Matt Garza.
"This team knows how to play the game," said Rangers catcher Bengie Molina, who turned it over to Matt Treanor for Game 2 after producing a homer and two other hits while guiding Lee through the opener. "It's a great team, man, an unbelievable team. That's what it is.
"Some people might not understand what the word team means in sports. It means everything. These guys understand. We're not here for ourselves; we're here for the team.
"Maybe a lot of people don't know about us, but we like that. Flying under the radar is good. Let them talk about everybody else."
Molina won a World Series with the surprisingly good 2002 Angels, repeatedly coming up with big hits and the right calls behind the plate. He knows the secret.
"It takes a full team to win a championship," Molina said. "We had that in '02. Nobody's predicting anything here ... but we have a true team."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.