ARLINGTON, Texas -- It wasn't supposed to be this way. The Rangers had No. 1 starter C.J. Wilson on the mound against a Tampa Bay team that didn't even know it was in the postseason until a late-inning, late-night Evan Longoria home run Wednesday.
The Rays ran a rookie starter with one -- yes, one -- big league start on his resume on the road against the defending AL champions who hit .320 in September.
Things didn't go as expected. The 22-year-old Matt Moore, who struck out 11 Yankees in five innings in his only other start, pitched seven shutout innings against Texas. Josh Hamilton had the only two Rangers hits off him. Couple that with command issues for Wilson and the result was a 9-0 loss. It means the Rangers must face Tampa Bay ace James Shields in Game 2 and find a way to beat him to avoid an 0-2 deficit in the ALDS.
"It's been a while since we lost like that," veteran reliever Darren Oliver said. "They beat us down. But we lost the game, no matter how we lost it. Whether it's 3-2 or 9-0. We need to bounce back and then head to Tampa."
The last time the Rangers lost by as many as nine runs was Aug. 21 in Chicago, when the White Sox beat the Rangers, 10-0, the second day after a cross-country plane flight from Anaheim. That's when the fatigue seemed to catch up to Texas. Could the same thing happen to the Rays, who had to push so hard for the finish line? We'll see.
But there's no doubt this win in Game 1 means the series sets up a lot better for Tampa Bay going forward. Shields, who was 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA, will get the ball Saturday with a chance to send the Rays home with a 2-0 lead. He would be ready to pitch Game 5 on full rest if needed. The Rays have Jeremy Hellickson, a 13-game winner with a 2.95 ERA, and David Price, a workhorse who wasn't able to match his 2010 performance this season but has pitched in big games in the past, waiting in the wings. BTW, Hellickson gave up two runs in six innings in his lone start against Texas this season. Price allowed five runs in 14 innings (two starts) in 2010.
The Rangers aren't worried about any that now. The focus in the clubhouse was on Saturday's game and moving on from Friday's loss.
"You forget about it," Hamilton said. "You don't dwell on it. Momentum is with them, but you come out tomorrow and try to take it away from them."
To do that, the Rangers have to hit Shields. They haven't done that in 2011. He has given up one run on eight hits in 17 innings (two starts) vs. Texas in the regular season. But it's worth pointing out that the Rays didn't hit Wilson well in three starts in 2011 either before tagging him for eight runs (six earned) Friday.
"We have to make sure we're aggressive in the strike zone," We can't chase anything out of the zone. If he gives us a pitch we think we can handle, make an aggressive pass on it. If not, let it go and let the next guy do it."
If there's one thing the Rangers can draw on it's that they have been very good at putting tough losses behind them. They've done that for a few years now. They have two postseason examples as well. They lost Games 3 and 4 to Tampa Bay at home in the 2010 ALDS and had no momentum heading back to Tropicana Field. But they had Cliff Lee, who outpitched Price in Game 5. The Rangers' bullpen blew a late lead in Game 1 of the ALCS to the Yankees, but the club came back the next day and won Game 2 on their way to a series win in six games and the franchise's first appearance in the World Series.
"I expect us to bounce back," catcher Mike Napoli said. "It's one game. We'll get out there tomorrow. There's nothing you can do about it. We'll do what our offense does -- battle and do it as a team. We're not counting on any one person in the lineup. We're going to try to do what we did all year and we'll go from there."
It also takes a good performance from Derek Holland, who steps into the pressure of the playoffs in Game 2 on Saturday.
"I can't worry about too much pressure or anything," Holland said. "I have to go out and pitch. That's all I got to worry about. The defense is going to make plays behind me and the offense is going to swing the bats. It's all up to me to just stay out there, stay composed and relaxed."