Back home, where they are 1-3 this postseason, needing one win to make it to their first World Series.
If the Rangers are going to keep going where they’ve never been before, they have to win the AL championship series against the New York Yankees at home. The first of their two chances is Game 6 on Friday night.
“Obviously, we wanted to finish what we started in Game 5. If there’s a plus, we get a chance to finish the series in front of our fans. They deserve it,” said outfielder David Murphy, who has scored a series-high six runs. “It’s definitely more fun this way.”
Texas clinched its first AL West title in 11 years on the road, in Oakland with a week to play in the regular season. Then, with a 2-0 series lead before losing both first-round games at home, the Rangers won the deciding Game 5 of the AL division series and celebrated at Tampa Bay.
They missed their first chance to end the ALCS, when the defending champion Yankees got an early lead and went on to a 7-2 victory Wednesday in Game 5 to force the best-of-seven series back to Texas. The Rangers have a 3-2 lead.
Even with the enormity of what they are trying to accomplish, and with a $200 million-plus team built to win another championship on the other side, Michael Young insists nothing has changed for the Rangers. The team’s longest-tenured player said they are as loose and confident as they have been since opening the season.
“This team does as good a job as I’ve seen at staying loose and being competitive and getting after it as any team I’ve ever seen,” Young said Thursday. “We’ll come in (Friday), the music will be on, we’ll be loose, we’ll be ready to go.”
So will the Yankees, who have won 27 World Series titles and 40 pennants, though they haven’t overcome a 3-1 postseason deficit since 1958.
“You try to win one game, that’s all you can do. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves, just like I’m sure they have confidence in their team,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. “You have to take every game like it’s a Game 5 or a Game 7. Then if you’re in these kind of situations, nothing ever changes.”
The Yankees won the ALCS opener at Rangers Ballpark, overcoming a late 5-0 deficit for a 6-5 victory last Friday. Texas responded by taking the next three — winning a postseason game at home for the first time before consecutive victories at Yankee Stadium.
Now it’s back to Rangers Ballpark, where about three dozen Lone Star flags whip in the wind high above center field and more than 50,000 fans will gather under Friday night lights that in the Texas fall are usually reserved for high school football.
“These fans are going to be fired up. It will be like a football atmosphere out here, especially with the Cowboys not doing much,” Rangers outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. “We’re replacing them for a little bit, so it will be a great atmosphere and the fans will be behind us.”
It is a Game 2 pitching rematch of Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis and Phil Hughes, who gave up 10 hits (seven for extra bases) and seven runs in four innings. Hughes had allowed only three hits in 15 1-3 scoreless innings during his previous three games at Texas.
“We have utmost confidence in Phil. He’s done such a tremendous job and I know he’s chomping at the bit to get back out there,” Nick Swisher said. “He definitely has a chance to redeem himself and we’re right there behind him.”
Lewis has a chance to deliver the biggest victory in Rangers history after re-signing with his original team last winter.
Drafted by the Rangers in 1999, the last season they made the playoffs until now, Lewis won 10 games as a rookie in 2003 but tore his rotator cuff early the next season. The right-hander missed all of 2005 recovering from surgery, then spent time in the Detroit and Oakland organizations before pitching the last two seasons in Japan.
“It’s a great feeling,” Lewis said. “To tell me that I’d be in this situation two years ago when I was thinking that, you know, finishing up my career in Japan, I would have told you you’d be nuts. But it’s a situation where I’m totally grateful for it.”
Lewis limited New York to two runs over 5 2-3 innings in Game 2 after throwing five scoreless innings in his postseason debut against Tampa Bay.
And if Lewis can’t get it done, the Rangers have Cliff Lee waiting to pitch Game 7 on Saturday night.
“After Game 1 everybody wanted to count us out. It was like, ‘They can’t come back from that.’ Anybody that’s been around us and this group of guys realizes that we’re loose, easygoing,” Francoeur said. “If you would have told us that we could have Cliff going in Game 5 down in Tampa, we would have taken it. And if you told me we’d have to win one out of two at home with Colby and Cliff going, I’d take it even more.”
The Yankees certainly want to get another shot against the Rangers’ ace left-hander Saturday night, even though Lee struck out 13 in eight innings in Game 3 and is 3-0 in three postseason starts against them. That would mean they won Game 6 to force a final game.
“I thought (Wednesday) we showed what this team is capable of doing and hopefully (Friday) we’ll show a little more,” Alex Rodriguez said. “We need to play to the caliber that we’ve played all year and to our capabilities. ... Hopefully we can have more of a breakthrough again.”
Yet, these aren’t the same Rangers that the Bronx Bombers easily dismissed in 1996, 1998 and 1999 on the way to winning a World Series title each time.
“We know they have a great team over there,” Swisher said. “And they’ve proven that to us.”