Rangers hit playoff snag, awaken Rays

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nobody said this was going to be easy.

The way the Texas Rangers pounded out 11 runs and held the Tampa Bay Rays to one run through the first two games of this best-of-five ALDS sure may have made it seem like a complete mismatch.

But this Rays team won 96 games. It won the toughest division in baseball. And it managed to score more runs this season than the Rangers. It was unlikely that the Rays would simply shrug their shoulders and head to the offseason without at least making this series interesting.

Tampa Bay extended the series Saturday with a 6-3 win in Game 3, coming back from a 2-1 deficit in the eighth inning to make it happen.

"You don't back into the AL East title or win that by accident," Rangers reliever Darren O'Day said. "They are scoring runs somehow, so you had to expect they'd do it at some point."

That point came late in Game 3. The fact that it came against one of the best bullpens in baseball was a bit surprising.

Ian Kinsler's home run into the left-field seats to lead off the seventh gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead. The Rangers, five outs from their first playoff series win, couldn't hold it. The Rays got the timely hits, made the critical defensive plays and got to the normally reliable Texas relief corps.

The loss means the ghosts of playoff games past are still haunting Arlington. The Rangers are now 0-5 in home postseason games in their history.

"They had good at-bats and made plays," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "We don't feel like we gave anything away. They earned it and played a good game. We need to get some sleep and get back after it."

Better sleep quickly. Game 4 is a high noon affair. It's the undercard, if you can believe a playoff baseball game qualifies as such, to the Dallas Cowboys-Tennessee Titans game across the street later in the afternoon.

Texas played Game 3 in front of 51,746, the largest crowd in the history of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Most wore red, waved towels and yelled passionately, creating a true postseason feel for a college football Saturday.

They were hoping to see a similar script to Games 1 and 2 in Tampa: shutdown pitching, timely hitting and a comfortable lead by game's end. That didn't happen.

The same foul tips and check swings that went the Rangers' way in Florida weren't tilted as much in their favor Saturday. The strike zone, which Texas found with relative ease a few days ago, was a little bit harder to spot in Arlington. And the big hits with runners in scoring position weren't there.

Starter Colby Lewis, trying to follow the sterling efforts of Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson, had five walks. Four of those walks came with two outs.

"I don't remember the last time I had that many walks," Lewis said.

It looks like it happened April 12, 2004, well before Lewis figured out his control and command the last two seasons in Japan. The five walks were three more than Lee and Wilson combined. And they helped end Lewis' day early. He gave up his final base on balls to Evan Longoria to start the sixth and he was lifted.

That started a rash of pitching changes that eventually allowed the Rays to tie the score and then retake the lead a few innings later.

"I nibbled a little bit too much, got behind some guys and got myself in a situation where my pitch count went up, which shouldn't have been the case," Lewis said. "They were swinging early and I got some early, quick outs. The bottom line was falling behind guys when I got two outs. Things didn't quite go our way."

Things didn't go the Rangers' way at the plate, either. Texas had seven extra-base hits, including four home runs, to help plate 11 runs in the first two games. The hits came early enough to generate big leads for productive starters.

But on Saturday, Tampa Bay's Matt Garza stayed aggressive and didn't allow the Rangers to get any offensive momentum.

The heart of the Texas order -- Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz -- was 7-for-24 in the first two games of the series. In Game 3, it was 2-for-11 with one RBI, which came on a ninth-inning Cruz homer after it was 6-2. The Rangers had just six hits and were 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position.

"We lost the game," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "It happens. We're still in command of this series. We're at home tomorrow where we want to be and we'll go out and try to win a game. It's not easy to get to the postseason. Every team that gets to the postseason is a very, very good team. They beat us today. Tomorrow, we'll come out and play hard and try to beat them."

One characteristic of this Rangers team in 2010 is the ability to bounce back from tough losses. That resiliency will be tested for the first time in this postseason. Maybe it's a good thing for this team that they have to play less than 24 hours after Game 3 began.

Manager Ron Washington will hand the ball to Tommy Hunter, who was 7-0 with a 3.06 ERA in Arlington this season.

"You can't get too excited, can't get too rambunctious," Hunter said. "I was told you had to stay about a six [on a 10-point scale] -- that way you're just above the middle, but not too high. I don't buy the added pressure thing. That's not good with me. It's another baseball game and I'll go out there and pitch."

It was a quiet clubhouse, but not one that seemed concerned.

"We're going to be fine," O'Day said. "We won two games. You forget about those and now it's a three-game series. We would have liked to have won today, but tomorrow will do just fine. We'll celebrate just as much if we win."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.