ARLINGTON — They came back strong. They had no doubts they would.
Now the best-of-seven American League Championship Series is tied at 1 and the Rangers have Cliff Lee ready to pitch Game 3 on Monday in New York.
The Rangers, ignited by a daring double steal and brought to the finish line by their lately maligned bullpen, put themselves back into the ALCS with a 7-2 victory over the Yankees in Game 2 at the Ballpark in Arlington on Saturday afternoon.
The victory came less than 24 hours after a 6-5 loss to the Yankees that had people wondering how they would respond. The answer? With a vengeance.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be an issue,” third baseman Michael Young said. “By the time we got here, had breakfast and gotten into our routine, Game 1 was forgotten about.”
Instead, the Rangers went to work on Yankees starter Phil Hughes, scoring seven runs off him in four-plus innings. A double steal executed in the first inning that allowed Elvis Andrus to swipe home pumped up the volume for 50,362 fans at the Ballpark. And the Rangers — unlike Game 1 — stayed in complete control for nine innings.
In doing so they earned their first playoff victory in seven tries on their home field and they snapped that pesky 10-game postseason losing streak to the Yankees.
“It was a good one for us to win,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “We felt we outplayed them yesterday and we outplayed them today. Now it’s 1-1, but we’re playing good baseball, and that’s a good feeling.”
Especially since Lee will be on the mound, and he is undefeated in seven career postseason starts, including two wins over the Rays in the AL Division Series and two against the Yankees for Philadelphia in the World Series last year. The only thing that might nag the Rangers is the feeling that they could have gone into Game 3 with a 2-0 lead and a real chance for Lee to really put the Yankees on the floor. Of the previous 19 times an ALCS went into Game 3 with the series tied, the winner of Game 3 has claimed the pennant and advanced to the World Series.
“Obviously we would rather be 2-0 but we’re 1-1,” Lee said. “Now it’s basically a five-game series. Hopefully we can capture the first one in New York. Hopefully we can get all three and get this over with. But it’s not the easiest place to play. They are the defending world champions. But if we can play fundamentally sound baseball, with everybody carrying their weight, we’ll be fine.”
Rangers starter Colby Lewis carried his weight on Saturday, holding the Yankees to two runs over 5 2/3 innings. He allowed six hits, walked three and struck out six, including Derek Jeter twice.
“He gave us exactly what we needed,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “I always said, if he can command his ball and keep them out of too many offensive counts, he would do well. And he certainly did.”
But Lewis, as Washington put it, ran out of gas in the sixth inning. That required 10 outs from a bullpen that had kissed away Game 1 in the eighth inning on Friday.
But Rangers relievers still had the second-lowest ERA of any bullpen in the AL during the season, and that group stepped up Saturday afternoon. Washington used five of them — Clay Rapada, Alexi Ogando, Darren Oliver, Darren O’Day and Neftali Feliz — and they closed it out with 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
“It was a great day for the bullpen,” Oliver said.
Offensively, the Rangers set a franchise record for most runs in a playoff game. David Murphy drove in two runs with a home run and a double, Nelson Cruz had two doubles and Andrus and first baseman Mitch Moreland had two hits each.
“Today was a lot more important game for the Rangers, after having lost that game yesterday,” Yankees designated hitter Lance Berkman said. “If we had won this one it would have been a huge momentum boost for our side. But they came back and played a great game and won. You knew we weren’t going to roll right over these guys. They have a great team.”
The double steal in the first inning started it all.
“A great call by [Washington],” Young said. “We wanted to make sure we pushed the envelope offensively today and aggressive baserunning set the tone.
Andrus reached on an infield hit, moved to second on a wild pitch and stole third with one out. But Hughes, with Josh Hamilton also at first, struck out Vladimir Guerrero for the second out and had a chance to escape the inning without the Rangers scoring. So, with Cruz at the plate, Washington put on the double steal and the Rangers executed.
Hamilton, on a 1-1 pitch, broke for second. Catcher Jorge Posada threw down, Andrus broke for the plate as Hamilton stopped well before the base and second baseman Robinson Cano fired home. But Andrus beat the throw for the first run of the game.
“It was an aggressive play,” Andrus said. “That’s what we have to do against these guys: try and take it to them.”
The Rangers had four stolen bases on Saturday and have 11 for the postseason, the most by any club. They also had six extra-base hits, giving them 25 for the postseason. That’s also the most by any club.
“We swung the bats better today,” Young said. “We’ve had some guys swinging the bats well the whole postseason and we have some guys who have made some adjustments this series. We’re starting to play our kind of baseball. I’m happy where we are right now.”
They are even with the Yankees after two games of the ALCS. They have Lee on the mound for Game 3. They fly to New York feeling pretty good even though they know they could easily be up 2-0 in this affair.
“It’s over and done with,” Oliver said. “It is what it is. We won one and we lost one. Now we go to New York and see what we can do.”