Commentary

Rangers stumble but remain upright

Taking two out of three in New York eases pain of sloppy play in potential clincher

Updated: October 21, 2010, 2:51 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees delayed any transfer of American League hardware on their hallowed home field with a 7-2 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday.

The Bronx Bombers touched up C.J. Wilson early, benefitting from his initial wildness and a one-play fit of sloppy fielding before clocking back-to-back homers in the third. It enabled the defending champs to build a 5-0 lead and finally to end a game at Yankee Stadium in front of a cheering, chanting packed house as opposed to the empty one of the previous two nights.

[+] EnlargeJorge Posada and Matt Treanor
John Munson/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireCatcher Matt Treanor couldn't grab a wild throw from C.J. Wilson, allowing Jorge Posada to score during the Yankees' three-run second inning.

For the Texas Rangers, Game 5 veered from the smart and steady game they'd shown in the first two here. Disappointed that the early slip and no clutch hits among 13 -- 11 off starter CC Sabathia -- prevented a second postseason champagne-and-ginger ale celebration, the bigger picture wasn't lost on the club.

The Rangers went to New York and conquered their goal, taking two of three to head home in control of the series.

"We like where we're at right now," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "Never satisfied, obviously, we would have loved to have closed it out tonight and that's the way we approached this game. Effort-wise and energy-level-wise, we wanted to close it out tonight. But, it didn't work out and we'll take it back to our place on Friday night and get after it there."

The Rangers, who suffered their first road loss after winning their first five away from Arlington this postseason, have two more chances to capture the franchise's first AL pennant. For ultimate comfort, they know that if they can't finish the job Friday night behind Game 2 winner Colby Lewis, awaiting for Saturday's Game 7 is the ultimate postseason hammer in lefty Cliff Lee.

If there are reasons for concern, two come to mind: The Rangers allowed their razor focus to waver, and the health of outfielder Nelson Cruz, who is hitting .353 in the series. Cruz left the game in the fifth inning after feeling tightness in his left hamstring, a recurring nemesis that twice landed him on the disabled list.

"We all came in and that was the first order of business, asking Nellie how he was doing," Young said.

Cruz eased any fears by pronouncing himself fine and ready to go for Game 6. He said manager Ron Washington pulled him down 5-0 and with the mercury dropping on a blustery evening to assure he would be a player Friday night.

[+] EnlargeJosh Hamilton
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireJosh Hamilton didn't reach base again after singling in his first at-bat, but he remained optimistic. "We came in here and got two out of three," he said. "We're excited about that."

Cruz couldn't pinpoint when he tweaked the hamstring. He guessed it must have been in the second inning when he launched a throw home to make a play on Alex Rodriguez, who scored the Yankees' first run standing up.

The wheels came off early for Wilson, who walked Rodriguez and Lance Berkman in the second and then gave up consecutive one-out, run-scoring singles to Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson. It was Granderson's single to right that rattled the Rangers.

Right fielder Jeff Francoeur scooped the hard-hit ball as Lance Berkman chugged around third and headed home. Francoeur tried to get Posada heading to third. The throw was a little off-line and skipped past Young at third and off the facing of the Rangers' dugout.

Posada headed home, but Wilson had backed up the play and could have gotten the out at the plate if his throw hadn't sailed over catcher Matt Treanor's head. That's all the Yankees needed to grab their largest lead of the series and one that Sabathia, Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera wouldn't relinquish.

"That was the only run they got because we made a mistake," manager Ron Washington said. "The rest of the runs they got, they earned. They are capable of doing that. They won. It's a seven-game series and you play baseball until you can't play anymore."

Although down early, the Rangers had chances against Sabathia to get back in it. But they left runners in scoring position in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings.

Most painful was the sixth, when they loaded the bases with one out. Treanor, who had homered to make it 5-1 in the fifth, made it 6-2 on a fielder's choice before Sabathia got rookie Mitch Moreland looking to end the inning.

Then with one out in the seventh and Josh Hamilton at the plate, Wood picked Andrus off second to ruin any shot of a rally. Andrus was caught leaning because was going to try to steal third, a plan he admitted made little sense in that situation.

"Who would have thought we'd come in here and sweep the Yankees? Nobody," said Hamilton, who singled in the first but didn't reach base the rest of the game. "We came in here and got two out of three. We're excited about that. We still did well as an offense. We had more hits than they did; we just didn't do it when we had guys in scoring position."

So the Rangers come home, where they're 1-3 this postseason, feeling optimistic. They believe the clutch hits will come and any lapses will be put to rest.

And they said they have one more bit of motivation. After celebrating the AL West title in Oakland and the ALDS clincher in Tampa, they know the AL pennant can now be won only in front of the home fans.

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

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