ST. PETERSBURG — The 2001 Oakland A's are the only MLB team to win the first two games of a five-game postseason series on the road then lose the series. And who was the third-base coach on that team? None other than Rangers manager Ron Washington.
And he was with the A's in 2003 when Oakland won the first two games of the ALDS against the Red Sox at home then dropped two in Boston and the deciding fifth game in Oakland. In talking about both occasions, he appeared to say that the 2010 Rays were not the 2001 Yankees or 2003 Red Sox.
"When I was with Oakland and that happened, we were playing the New York Yankees, who had just won four or five World Series," Washington said. "I don't think they felt any pressure. We were the Oakland A's. A young team, first time, of course we felt pressure to put the game away. The next time that happened to us, we were playing the Boston Red Sox, so you see the similarity there."
NIGHT TIME THE RIGHT TIME: For the first time in this series, the teams will play a night game instead of the odd-starting-time day games this series has seen for television. Rays manager Joe Maddon called the schedule the "loser's bracket."
"We used to play a day game every once in a while, but to keep playing day game after day game … " Rangers OF Jeff Francouer said. "I thought 4 o'clock on Saturday was fine. I thought we got hosed (Sunday) with a 12 (noon) starting time in the playoffs. You shouldn't have that, I don't think. That's something that needs to change. It's still the playoffs, and you're going to get up, but it's still 12 o'clock. And for baseball guys, I guarantee there will be at least five or six people on this team that won't be up before 12 (today). … That 12 o'clock Game 4 was tough, but they had to do the same. But it would be nice to have games a little later maybe."
NO JOSHING AROUND: A night game might be the remedy for slugger Josh Hamilton, who has struggled in this series by going 2-for-14 with no RBIs. While it should not make a difference in a dome, Hamilton is a much better hitter at night (.384 average, .688 slugging percentage) than during the day (.286, .474).
But the bigger issue seems to be his health. Is he still feeling effects from fractured ribs that forced him to miss most of September, or is he struggling to regain his timing?
"I don't really care who you are, if you haven't stepped in that box, it's not that easy to face live pitching," Washington said. "But he's given us everything he has."
EVERYONE AVAILABLE: The Rangers hope starting pitcher Cliff Lee can carry them deep into the game, but Washington said everyone, including Game 2 winner C.J. Wilson, is available to pitch tonight.
"If for some reason Cliff stumbles along the way, of course I will go to C.J.," Washington said. "Without a doubt, early or late."