Rangers on the brink of first playoff series win

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Following Cliff Lee in the postseason is a tough act, yet C.J. Wilson made it look easy.

Now, the Texas Rangers are up 2-0 in their AL division series against the Tampa Bay Rays, with a chance to make franchise history when the best-of-five matchup shifts to Ranger Ballpark this weekend.

A day after watching Lee shut down the AL East champions in the their home ball park and later turning on the television to catch Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in the NL playoffs, Wilson took a one-hitter into the seventh inning of his postseason debut.

“I had some inspiration, so it was pretty fun,” Wilson said after the Rangers’ 6-0 victory on Thursday.

“Cliff is a better version of me. He throws a little harder, he’s a little bit taller, has a little bit smaller waist, so I try to follow his lead on a lot of stuff,” the left-hander added. “I just watched him kind of work in and out with his fastball, and from there I was able to see which guys maybe it was necessary to go in on and which guys it wasn’t, and that was a big factor today.”

Michael Young homered one pitch after keeping his at-bat alive with a disputed check-swing, and Ian Kinsler also went deep for the AL West champions. Reliever Darren Oliver escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh and got the final seven outs.

Texas, in the playoffs for the first time since 1999, is the only current major league franchise that’s never won a playoff series. The Rangers had lost nine straight postseason games, and were 1-10 overall, before Lee held the Rays to five hits over seven innings of Wednesday’s 5-1 win.

Game 3 is Saturday, with Matt Garza pitching for Tampa Bay against Colby Lewis.

“Being up 2-0 is huge, especially winning two on the road. But we still haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “Our goal is to get as far as we possibly can, and we’re just going to take it back to Texas and come out and try to play as hard as we can again.”

Wilson, a 15-game winner this season, allowed two hits in 6 2-3 innings. He gave up a single to leadoff man Jason Bartlett to start the game, then limited the Rays to just three baserunners on an error, a walk and a hit batter over the next five innings.

Long known for fielding powerful lineups, the Rangers finally look as though they have the arms to match.

The Rays have been outscored 11-1 and outhit 19-8 in the first two games. With runners in scoring position, they are 1 for 13 with nine strikeouts.

The Rays’ .247 batting average this year was the lowest for an AL club that made the postseason since the 1981 Oakland Athletics. Texas pitchers have fanned 23 batters in two days, which is not surprising considering Tampa Bay’s 1,292 strikeouts are the most for a team that’s reached the playoffs.

Additionally, Tampa Bay has drawn just five walks — none from Lee, two from Wilson — after leading the majors in that category.

“They’ve taken a component of our game away,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

“Now our backs are up against the wall, so we’ve got to see what we’re made of,” Tampa Bay’s Matt Joyce said. “Nothing’s impossible. Crazier things have happened.”

Young broke the game open in the fifth with a three-run homer off Chad Qualls, who thought he had struck out the six-time All-Star on the previous pitch. Plate umpire Jim Wolf — the brother of Brewers pitcher Randy Wolf — appealed to first base umpire Jerry Meals, who ruled that Young held up in time.

Rays players were incensed on the bench, and replays showed that Young probably went too far. After the home run on the next pitch for a 5-0 Rangers lead, Maddon left the dugout to talk with Qualls and was ejected by Wolf after he yelled at Meals from the mound.

“Once he said safe, I’ve got to turn the page and focus on the next pitch,” Young said. “It’s really not my job to make decisions there.”

Kinsler homered in the fourth inning off losing pitcher James Shields, who got the Game 2 assignment for Tampa Bay even though he lost 15 games during the regular season and hadn’t won since Aug. 29. Kinsler added a RBI single off Qualls in the fifth.

Before Wednesday, Young had played 1,508 career games without appearing in the postseason — the second-most among active players behind Randy Winn’s 1,717.

“Mike is our backbone,” Wilson said. “He’s our Derek Jeter or our Cal Ripken or whatever. That’s our guy. We rely on him for all sorts of stuff.”

Young said he’s only interesting in winning.

“Yesterday I went 0 for 4, but I feel no different today than I did yesterday,” Young said. “The win is what our team is searching for right now.”

One more, and it’s on to the next round.