Rangers' offense must carry first load

ARLINGTON, Texas -- If the Rangers want to repeat as AL West champions, they've got to mash their way, at least early on this season.

For a team with plenty of pitching questions, the offense has to become the answer while everything gets sorted out on the mound.

That's not to say the Rangers must hit a bunch of homers, although three long balls in a 9-5 Opening Day win over the Boston Red Sox certainly helped. But they better score runs.

On the last day of spring training, the Rangers were forced to trade their backup catcher. It wasn't a headline-grabbing deal, but it was a clear sign they weren't confident with the bullpen situation. After they lost a starter late in camp, the rotation is in a state of flux, too. That leaves the offense to shoulder most of the load. It was up to the challenge Friday.

Texas pounded out five runs on six hits off Boston ace Jon Lester. The lefty didn't even record a strikeout. That's stunning, considering Lester was third in the American League in strikeouts last year. It was just the second time in his career that he didn't record a strikeout (out of 125 appearances).

Ian Kinsler, like a good leadoff hitter should, set the tone. He whacked Lester's 1-0 pitch into the seats in left field just moments after a Julio Borbon mistake helped Boston to a 2-0 lead. An inning later, Nelson Cruz's famous "Boomstick" got in on the act with a game-tying homer.

Back and forth the Rangers and Red Sox went. Mike Napoli gave the Rangers the lead with a momentum-changing three-run blast on a rope down the left-field line. It was a great start for one of the newer Rangers, acquired to deliver those kinds of hits against left-handed pitching.

But the Red Sox came back with a David Ortiz homer to tie it.

"It's about responding," Kinsler said. "Every time they scored, we were able to respond, somehow put a run on the board and put us back in the game to give us some momentum. Ortiz hit that homer, and we were able to respond to that. I think that's big. Whether it's 1-0 or 6-6, if you can respond when the other team scores, you're going to win a lot of games."

The Rangers did that in the eighth. David Murphy was the hero, sending a 3-1 fastball down the third-base line and spewing chalk in the air to drive in two runs.

"It was good placement," Murphy said. "Sometimes you're more lucky than good."

Either way, it was a clutch hit at a critical time.

"We want to have good at-bats, no matter what the situation is," DH Michael Young said. "If the situation calls for us to bear down in run-scoring situations, that's what we're going to try to do. If it calls for us to try to get on base with nobody on, we're going to try to do that. It's doing what the game asks you to do."

It's the club's formula early in this 2011 season. To make it work, everyone must get involved. Most of the lineup managed to do that on Day 1. The newcomers delivered as Napoli hit the homer, Yorvit Torrealba had a single and Adrian Beltre singled with two strikes to get the eighth inning going. AL MVP Josh Hamilton got in on the act with an RBI liner in the eighth. Murphy was his usual clutch self. Cruz and Kinsler came with the power.

And when the club needed the big hits in a tie game late, the lineup responded.

"This is the type of team that stays calm in a pressure situation," Murphy said. "I feel like those are the types of situations we thrive in."

By the time Neftali Feliz entered the game, the Rangers had turned a tie game into a four-run lead. Feliz didn't even get a save for his trouble.

The offensive approach impressed several of the club's pitchers, including Mark Lowe, who got the final out of the sixth inning when C.J. Wilson departed.

"That offense was unbelievable, awesome," Lowe said. "I think our approach on Lester was flawless. We got him early and continued to stay on him. We got to the bullpen, went through some pitchers. That could help us the next few days. This is what I was dealing with on the opposing side. It's nice to be on this side of it and not have to worry about these guys."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.