The Rays caught a break to score their first run Sunday. After Carlos Peña tripled with one out in the second inning, Matt Joyce lifted a fly ball to shallow rightfield that would not have been deep enough to score Peña from third. But second baseman Ian Kinsler, who committed only seven errors in 475 chances this season, flat-out missed the ball and Peña scored easily. "It just kept drifting and drifting on me," Kinsler said, "and I went a little bit too far." Rangers starting pitcher Tommy Hunter, however, didn't see the play as any sort of turning point. "That kind of stuff doesn't really set you back," Hunter said. "That's one run in the second inning. We had seven more innings. That really doesn't bother you."
For the second straight game, the Rays defense came up big. Before the Rangers loaded the bases in the fifth inning, rightfielder Matt Joyce, right, made a spectacular diving catch in right-center to rob Mitch Moreland of extra bases. Bengie Molina had led off the inning with a single, and thanks to Joyce's grab, he stayed there for the time being. It was a key out considering Rays starter Wade Davis held the Rangers scoreless after loading the bases. "We preach defense all year, and it really shows up in big games," Joyce said. "(Saturday, leftfielder Carl) Crawford made a couple diving catches. We just wanted to be behind Wade and make some plays for him. The ball was tough to see out there, lot of glare, lot of white T-shirts, and I just went for it."
Turns out, Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford did not play his last game as a member of the Rays in Tropicana Field in Game 2. With rumors swirling that Crawford will leave the Rays during free agency in the offseason, Rays fans paid tribute to him Thursday as the team was about to fall behind 2-0 in the series. The fans at the Trop chanted Crawford's name as he came up to bat in the eighth inning and as he took his position in the ninth. It appeared to be their goodbye to him.
With the Rays winning two in Texas, however, Crawford returns for at least one more game Tuesday night.
"We all extended it," Crawford said. "We were able to bring it back home, so it wasn't my last game."
Home sweet home?
The Rangers went 51-30 at home this season. The Rays went 49-32. Yet the teams are a combined 0-4 at home in this series. What gives?
"I don't know," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I still want to believe there is a homefield advantage and, hopefully, that's going to show up Tuesday."
The Rangers hope it doesn't.
"We won two games at their place and they won two games at our place, and hopefully that doesn't change," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "I really can't put my finger on what it is."
Reliever Grant Balfour emerged as the Rays' seventh-inning shutdown man this season, setting up Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano for the final two innings. With Tampa Bay up 5-2 Sunday, Balfour made quick work of the heart of the Rangers order in the seventh, retiring Michael Young (line drive to first), Josh Hamilton (groundout to first) and Vladimir Guerrero (pop to first) on seven pitches. "It's definitely a lot easier said than done," Balfour said. "Those guys are great hitters right there. I tried to keep the ball away from the good part of the bat. Today I was able to do that."
A 'cycle' for Carlos
Rays first baseman Carlos Peña picked the best time for his bat to come alive, especially in the past two victories. In a span of four consecutive at-bats — the last two Saturday to the first two Sunday — he hit for the "cycle," with a single in the eighth Saturday, followed by a homer in the ninth, a triple in the second inning Sunday and a double in the fourth. "It's a lot of fun," Peña said. "That's what I dream about as a kid, to be in the postseason and get the big hits. To be able to live that dream, I'm extremely grateful."
With two outs in the eighth inning, Rangers rightfielder David Murphy put a charge into the home crowd when it appeared he put a charge into a Joaquin Benoit pitch. The ball jumped off the bat and appeared headed for the rightfield stands when it was knocked down by the wind.
Rays rightfielder Matt Joyce began running back to the wall then had to go into a full sprint to catch it before it blooped in. A ball headed for the seats turned into a shallow fly out.
"I started jogging right out of the box," Murphy said. "I've never seen a ball do that before. Usually the wind is blowing out and it carries a little bit, and that ball got just completely knocked down."
Had Murphy homered, the Rays' lead would have been cut to 5-3 and extended the inning long enough for the Rangers to get Michael Young then, possibly, Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero up to bat in the ninth.
Even Joyce said he thought Murphy's ball had a chance of being a homer.
"I thought it was going to be close," Joyce said. "I ran to the warning track and, obviously, it came in. But it was crazy. The wind just really blew it back."
The Rangers are still waiting for their first postseason series victory.
Since the Washington Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season, the Rangers have made the postseason three times, winning the American League West in 1996, 1998 and 1999. But all three times, the Rangers were eliminated by the Yankees — once in four games and twice in sweeps.
They are the only American League team never to play in the American League Championship Series. Naturally, fans expected them to clear that hurdle over the weekend, but now they are wondering if it just isn't meant to be.
When asked by a reporter what he would say to Texas fans who are starting to panic, Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said: "Go ahead and panic. That's cool."
He was kidding. We think.
Rays fans enjoy another day
Sunday's win was another good day for Rays fans who attended the game at Rangers Ballpark.
Rays fan Jason Collette was 0-4 in the playoffs going into Game 4 of the ALDS. Every time he had attended a Rays postseason game, they lost. Until Sunday.
"This is the first time I've seen them win a playoff game, so at least now I can die a happy man," said Collette of Orlando, who works in educational technology and also discusses the team on a Tampa Bay area radio show.
"Wow. Comeback on the road."
Austin McGillen, 15, was thrilled even before the game began. He snagged an autograph from Rays starting pitcher David Price, which was "amazing. I never thought I would get that."
McGillen, who wore a Rays shirt and cap, moved from the Tampa Bay area to Texas when he was 7. He said he does like the Texas teams, "but now it's all Rays."
Rays' patience befouls Hunter
Rangers starter Tommy Hunter had history on his side Sunday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. What the right-hander didn't have was time.
Hunter lasted just four innings, allowing three runs (two unearned), and took the loss, his first at home after winning seven decisions there during the regular season.
Hunter said he felt as though he pitched well, as he recorded seven strikeouts. The first Rays run came on an error with one out in the second inning. The Rays scored twice in the fourth when they hit three doubles in an inning in which Hunter also struck out the side.
"I thought I pitched pretty well, but I didn't get the results I was hoping for," Hunter said.
Texas manager Ron Washington said Rays hitters did a good job of waiting for their pitches against Hunter, who allowed six hits in his four innings. Washington said they waited until Hunter got balls up in the zone, then capitalized.
Anthony Andro of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed to this report.