Hamilton owns center
Rangers centerfielder Josh Hamilton knows how important his presence is in the lineup, especially because he's still nursing a nagging rib injury that has forced him to wear pads under his jersey.
But Thursday, Hamilton didn't hesitate to risk his body to make a big defensive play — lunging, diving and wall-crashing in Tropicana Field's vast centerfield.
Hamilton made consecutive catches to take away hits from the first two Rays batters of the second inning: He extended himself after a full sprint to catch Ben Zobrist's liner to right-center, then slid face-first in the left-center gap to rob Willy Aybar of extra bases.
"You want to do what you can," Hamilton said. "You don't want them to get a rally going. You don't want them to get any momentum. I think (the Rangers are) a little more comfortable with me being out there after (Wednesday's game). Seeing fly balls and line drives, I'm feeling pretty good with it."
Hamilton crashed into the centerfield wall but lost Aybar's seventh-inning double — one of just two Tampa Bay hits — in the white roof. The former top prospect of the Rays admitted he was sore after the game and credited the Trop's softer-than-most outfield wall but said he never thought of not going full speed to make the plays.
"It never crossed my mind not to go after them or to let up when I get close to it, especially at this time of the year," Hamilton, 29, said. "Every pitch is intense, and you're so much more ready for anything at this point."
Maddon sent to the showers
Rays manager Joe Maddon became the 44th manager in playoff history ejected, when plate umpire Jim Wolf did so in the fifth.
The ejection came just after Michael Young hit a three-run homer off Chad Qualls. That came one pitch after first-base umpire Jerry Meals ruled Young checked his swing on what would have been strike three.
Maddon came out to the mound after the homer and quickly got into a shouting match with Wolf.
"For those of you who have been around for a couple months, we've had several of these moments occur,'' Maddon said. "This was a pretty big moment. I really thought he had been struck out.''
Even Young said he believed he might get called out.
"It was a bit out of the (strike) zone. So at the last minute, I checked,'' Young said. "If he had rung me up, I would've walked back to the dugout and focused on defense like I usually do.''
Qualls said it was nice to have Maddon defend him.
"I commend him for that,'' Qualls said. "He kind of stood up for me. He went up there and got thrown out of the game and tried to rally the troops a little bit."
This is the second time Qualls has been part of controversy since being acquired from Arizona on July 31. He was on the mound Sept. 15 when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter claimed to get hit by a pitch that clearly hit the knob of the bat.
"I told everybody if you want controversy on the mound, just put me on the mound,'' Qualls said. "It's been unbelievable this year for things like that to happen.''
Upton, teammates are scuffling
The Rays could manage only two hits off the Rangers on Thursday, and the frustration is shared by the team. One player particularly stymied is B.J. Upton, who is 0-for-8 in the series with four strikeouts as the No. 2 hitter. The centerfielder said it's best to have amnesia. "Their pitchers have done exactly what we expected them to do, but we haven't done what we expected,'' Upton said. "It's behind us. All we can do is worry about Saturday.'' While Upton struggled at the plate, he had, perhaps, the Rays' best defensive play of the game Thursday. After Michael Young singled to open the seventh inning, he tagged up on Josh Hamilton's fly ball to deep centerfield and headed for second base. But Upton launched a perfect strike to second baseman Sean Rodriguez, who put the tag on Young to complete the double play.
The ratings game
Wednesday's Game 1 on TBS drew a 9.6 rating in Tampa Bay, reflecting the percentage of local households with a television that were tuned in. That was nearly twice what the Dallas/Fort Worth area drew (5.9). Those numbers were dwarfed by the ratings in other playoff markets on Wednesday, although that's not surprising considering the Rays-Rangers game started at 1:30 p.m., when most people were at work or school. The Phillies-Reds game, featuring Roy Halladay's no-hitter, drew a 21.9 in Philadelphia and 18.0 in Cincinnati. The Yankees-Twins game, played in prime time Wednesday night, drew a 13.2 in New York and a remarkable 29.6 in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Treanor takes a beaning
Rangers catcher Matt Treanor didn't get a hit Thursday, but two of his at-bats were among Texas' most important. Treanor reached base after he was hit by James Shields fastballs to lead off the third and fifth innings.
"They were throwing me a lot of breaking balls early and tried to come in late," Treanor said. "He smoked me with the first one. The first one hurt. You do what you have to do to get on base."
Treanor scored the Rangers' first run after being plunked in the third. He went to second on a groundout, took third on Elvis Andrus' single and scored on Shields' errant pickoff throw to first. Because the next batter, Michael Young, grounded out to short with one out, it was determined Treanor would have scored on that play, thus making it an earned run.
In the fifth, Treanor got hit again. Despite being forced out at second on the next at-bat, it helped keep the pressure on Shields, who didn't last the inning as Texas scored four runs to take a 5-0 lead.
"(The second time) was big more so because it led off the inning," Treanor said. "I think the whole feeling is if I hit the ball off the wall and rounded first and the throw is going to beat me to second so I stop, it's the same feeling for the team. We've got a guy on base, and we have the chance to build an inning."
By the numbers
2 Straight days shortstop Jason Bartlett led off the Rays' first with a single. Both times, the Rays failed to score.
9 Games this season in which the Rays have had two hits or fewer.
10 Run differential between the Rays and Rangers in the series (11-1).
35 Home runs James Shields has given up this season, including Ian Kinsler's in the fourth inning that made it 2-0.
431 Estimated distance of Michael Young's home run to centerfield off Chad Qualls in the fifth inning, 7 feet shorter than Nelson Cruz's homer in Game 1.
51-30 Rangers' record at home this season.
The last chance to see Crawford at the Trop?
It never dawned on Carl Crawford that Thursday's game might be his last at home as a Tampa Bay Ray. The leftfielder has been a rock for the Rays since breaking in as a rookie in 2002. He is a four-time All-Star with a slew of team records, including triples (105), stolen bases (409) and games played (1,235).
But Crawford can become a free agent after the season and will command a huge contract. And with the Rays down 2-0 in the best-of-five AL division series, it would take wins in Texas on Saturday and Sunday for him to play another game as a Ray at Tropicana Field.
The crowd that remained when Crawford batted for the final time in the eighth inning chanted "Carl Crawford'' before he grounded out to second base.
"I heard it all,'' Crawford said. "I wish I could've done something more if it's my last game. But another reason I didn't embrace it was because I hope it's not my last game here. Hopefully, we can win those games (in Texas) and come back.''
Thursday was not the first time the crowd chanted his name. They also did so during the Rays' final regular-season home game against Baltimore. After nine seasons playing in front of less-than-capacity crowds, he said he has a bond with Tampa Bay.
"The fans that do come are good fans,'' Crawford, 29, said. "Today was special. It was nice of them to do that. If I would've known they were going to be saying thank you, I would've tried to have a better at-bat. My last at bat wouldn't be a ground out to second base.''
Wilson is a winner
As good as Cliff Lee was in Game 1 for the Rangers, lefty C.J. Wilson, making his first postseason start, was as good in Game 2.
Wilson pitched 61/3 innings, allowing no runs and only two hits — the fewest ever allowed by a Rangers starting pitcher in the postseason.
He allowed a leadoff single to Jason Bartlett in the first inning then didn't allow another hit until Willie Aybar's one-out double in the seventh.
"I'm out there trying to make a pitch every single time, trying to be perfect," Wilson said.
He was practically perfect. At one point, Wilson set down 10 Rays in a row. And it would have been more had it not been for second baseman Ian Kinsler's error. It's the first time a Rangers starting pitcher hasn't allowed a run in the postseason.
"(Wilson) really showed maturity," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We needed him to go out there and give us a good outing, and he did."
To his credit, Wilson didn't add insult to insult. The first question he was asked during the postgame news conference: "How many hitters in that lineup would you say that you're actually concerned about when you're pitching?"
"All of them," Wilson said. "Every guy in that lineup, even guys that get switched in at the last minute on the roster I'm concerned about."
Homers propel Rangers
For the second straight game, Texas hit two homers.
Ian Kinsler's solo shot in the fourth off James Shields made it 2-0 and continued a power surge. He hit eight homers over his last 53 regular-season games after hitting one in his first 50.
Michael Young's three-run homer in the fifth, which came one pitch after a controversial noncall on a check swing, was the dagger. It was the first postseason hit for Young, who waited 1,508 regular-season games for his first playoff game.
"It kind of opened up the floodgates … and gave us a big inning," Kinsler said of Young's homer. "It was great to see him do that."
Said Young: "(Wednesday) I went 0-for-4, but I feel no different today than I did yesterday. The win is what our team is searching for."
Kinsler: Replay wouldn't have made a difference
Asked if replay would have had any effect on the controversial check-swing call during Texas' four-run fifth inning, Rangers' second baseman Ian Kinsler said it wouldn't have made a difference.
"I think the human element of umpires being on the field is a great part of baseball," Kinsler said. "It adds to the emotion of the game. A call like that is completely a judgment call. Regardless of how far his bat went, replay is not going to overturn that, I would think. If you replay a check swing, we'd be here for six, seven hours.
"Things happen sometimes. Bounces go your way. Sometimes, they go the other team's way. You have to be able to overcome those things. Luckily, they went in our favor tonight."
Chalk it up to inexperience
Ben Zobrist has played every position except pitcher and catcher during his tenure with the Rays. But if there is one position at which he feels uncomfortable, it's first base. Zobrist played there Thursday in place of Carlos Peña. In the third inning, his unfamiliarity showed. With runners on first and third, James Shields threw to first in an attempt to pick off Elvis Andrus. The throw was slightly wide of the bag, but it appeared Zobrist could make the catch. Instead, it ticked off his glove and trickled far enough away for Matt Treanor to score from third, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Shields was given an error on the play. "I really think what it is more than anything is inexperience over there,'' said Zobrist, who played only 14 games (nine starts) at first base during the regular season and 17 during his five-year career. "(Shields) probably has one of the quickest moves in the game. That was the first time I'd ever seen a pickoff move from him. I didn't do it in spring training with him. I didn't have much time to do pickoff moves. It was tough. The throw wasn't perfect, but it came on me so quick. It was hard to pick it up. I'm not used to having something coming at me that quick from like 45-50 feet away. I did get a glove on it. That's what slowed it down a little.''