ST. PETERSBURG — The winning formula for Tuesday night's ALDS Game 5 was one that looked familiar to what Rays fans have seen all season at Tropicana Field.
There was dominant starting pitching. There was solid defense. There was aggressive baserunning, timely hitting and making the most of every scoring opportunity.
But here's the slap in the face to the Rays and their fans. It wasn't the home team that played like that — it was the visiting Rangers.
The Rangers beat the Rays playing Rays baseball, and it started with the first hitter.
After Elvis Andrus singled, he stole second. He then scored from second on a groundout. Andrus never stopped running on Josh Hamilton's grounder as first baseman Carlos Peña flipped the ball to pitcher David Price covering the bag. By the time Price turned around, Andrus had scored.
"That play set the tone for the rest of the game," Hamilton said. "And it kind of put them on their heels a little bit."
In the fourth inning, after the Rays tied it 1-1, Nelson Cruz doubled to deep left-centerfield then stole third on the next pitch. Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach's errant throw went past third baseman Evan Longoria and into leftfield, allowing Cruz to score and give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
"I just didn't make a good throw," Shoppach said. "I got locked in on Longo running and not the base. Cruz was right out in front of me, and I saw him a long time. I was trying to make a play and didn't."
The backbreaker came in the sixth inning, when Ian Kinsler's sharp grounder to first with runners on first and second and one out appeared to be a double-play ball. But Price, covering first, missed the bag after taking the throw from second. Vladimir Guerrero, the runner on second, circled third and sneaked home in front of Shoppach's late tag.
"I could have gotten there a little bit quicker," Price said. "I thought that ball was to the second baseman. I thought it was a lot further to the line than that. Then I saw (Peña) had it. Then I got over."
Price said he couldn't hear anyone yell that Guerrero was heading home.
"It was a great atmosphere," Price said. "I couldn't hear anybody yelling at me. That second one I probably should have controlled."
Even 225-pound catcher Bengie Molina, 36, who had three steals in his 12 seasons, got into the act with a stolen base in the third.
"You really have to tip your hat to the guys who are running," Longoria said. "They played heads-up and took advantage of that little lapse of concentration."
Said Rangers rightfielder Jeff Francoeur: "They are usually the ones taking the extra bases. We had a meeting before the game and said how rarely you win games by just hitting the long ball. Our plan was to steal bases, be aggressive, make them make mistakes, and when you have one of the best guys in the world on the mound, it makes things easier."
Ace Cliff Lee continued his postseason mastery with strong performances in his two starts (Games 1 and 5) at Tropicana Field. On Tuesday, he pitched a complete game, allowing one run on six hits with 11 strikeouts. In the two games, Lee was 2-0 with 21 strikeouts (an ALDS record) and no walks, while allowing only two runs on 11 hits in 16 innings. He is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA in seven postseason starts.
"He was as big as you get," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We needed Cliff Lee to do what he did."
Because Lee did what he did, the Rangers won the first postseason series in franchise history. They are headed to their first championship series, the last AL team to do so.
"Doesn't matter where you win them," Washington said. "We just happened to win them here."
And he said his team's ability to take advantage wasn't a surprise.
"You got a chance to see what the Texas Rangers can do," he said. "We didn't steal a page from anyone. That's the way we play. You just haven't seen it until (Tuesday night). We run the bases; we steal bags. We have a very aggressive team, and (Tuesday night) we took advantage of some things."
In the end, the Rangers played Rays baseball, and because of it, they took Game 5 and all three games in the series at Tropicana Field. You could even say they looked right at home.
Cliff Lee struck out 10-plus and walked none for the fourth time in his postseason career, which is amazing considering it has happened only four other times in postseason history: