Ben Zobrist's bunt with one man on and no outs in the first inning was by no means textbook, but it should have put the Rays' first two batters of the game on base. After Jason Bartlett hit a leadoff single, Zobrist bunted a ball that lofted near first base. Bartlett's view of the ball was obscured by the charging Mitch Moreland. And he stayed at first, believing Moreland caught the ball. But it dropped just in front of Moreland's glove, and the Rangers first baseman tossed the ball to first to get the lead runner. Instead of having runners at first and second with no outs and the 3-4-5 coming up, the Rays had a runner at first with one out. Following a fielder's choice and a foul popup to first, the threat was over.
The Rays brought out one of the most popular players in franchise history to throw out the ceremonial first pitch: Rocco Baldelli. Just six days earlier, Baldelli was in the starting lineup for Game 1. But his continued health problems, which cause fatigue and muscle cramps, forced him off the roster before Game 2. When the Rays called him Monday and asked him to throw out the first pitch, his instinct was to say no because he is so humble. But then he said, "It would be my honor to do so.'' Baldelli is glad he did. "That's probably one of the nicest moments I've had on a field,'' Baldelli said. "It was something that was very special for me and that I'll remember forever.'' Baldelli threw the pitch to Karl Allaire, a longtime friend from his hometown in Rhode Island. And oddly enough, he said he was nervous. "I was actually more nervous than any other time I've been playing,'' said Baldelli, who was sweating because he warmed up in the batting cage under the stands. "I'm happy I just got it to the plate,'' Baldelli said. Not only did he get it to the plate, he threw a strike as the crowd roared and gave him a standing ovation. Baldelli said he is disappointed not to be playing but was excited to still be around the team. And for his future? "I think about it every day,'' Baldelli said. "But before I make any final decisions, I'll wait until the season is over."
Best and worst of Game 5
Loudest crowd?: It very well could have been, and here's why. The last time the Rays took the tarp off upper level seats was Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS against Boston and Games 1 and 2 of the World Series against Philadelphia. Both of those teams have a strong fan base in Tampa Bay. Texas does not, which means a large majority of the 40,000 fans at Tropicana Field were for the Rays.
Best baserunning: With one out in the first inning, Texas' Elvis Andrus broke for third on a pitch that Josh Hamilton grounded to first. Carlos Peña flipped to David Price to retire Hamilton, and Andrus rounded third and chugged home for the first run of the game.
Worst break: The Rays' Ben Zobrist tried to bunt Jason Bartlett to second with no outs in the first. But the ball short-hopped first baseman Mitch Moreland. Bartlett was forced to retreat to first, and the Rays did not get a runner to second in the inning.
Biggest wasted opportunity: In the third, the Rays strung together three straight hits with one out to tie the score at 1. But with men on second and third, Carl Crawford, above, grounded to pitcher Cliff Lee. Bartlett, going on contact from third, was caught in a rundown. And with two outs, Evan Longoria grounded to short.
Worst error: In the fourth, Texas' Nelson Cruz hit a double to center (which would have been a triple if he didn't pause to watch the ball). He stole third on the next pitch, and catcher Kelly Shoppach's throw went into leftfield, allowing Cruz to score and make it 2-1.
Rarest stolen base: Texas catcher Bengie Molina stole his first base since 2006, taking second in the third. It was only his fourth stolen base since 1998.
Best pitched inning: Lee struck out the side in the fourth, catching Peña and B.J. Upton looking and Dan Johnson swinging. Lee threw 13 pitches in the inning.
In their shoes
Former major-league pitcher Frank Viola knew what it was like to be in the shoes of Rays lefty David Price and Rangers lefty Cliff Lee on Tuesday night, pitching in an elimination game. Viola started for the Twins in their 4-2 win in Game 7 of the 1987 World Series against the Cardinals, saying what makes the experience different is "Every pitch, every situation is that much more important." But as far as pressure goes? "Once the game starts, it's just like any other game," Viola said. "There might be adrenaline flowing or might be butterflies. But once you start, that's what we get paid to do. I tell people that I pitched in the seventh game in front of 55,000 people and then I go play golf in a charity event in front of 100 people and my legs are shaking. Everything is shaking because it's not what I'm used to doing."
Rays starter David Price spent much of the first inning preoccupied with Elvis Andrus leading off first base. But Andrus still managed to sneak by Price to score the game's first run. Andrus led off the game with a single. He drew several throws during Michael Young's strikeout, then stole second while Josh Hamilton was up. When Hamilton hit a grounder to first, Andrus was running on the pitch. And with Price covering the first-base bag, the speedy shortstop rounded third. And by the time Price reached first to retire Hamilton, Andrus was halfway home from third.
Washington doesn't see similarities in past collapses
Rangers manager Ron Washington has seen his team twice lose the American League division series after going up two games to none — both times when he was Oakland's third-base coach — but before Tuesday's decisive Game 5, he said this time felt much different.
In 2001, the A's won the first two games against New York then lost three straight. And in 2003, Oakland went up 2-0 against Boston and ended up losing in five games. Washington said those Oakland teams revolved around a stellar pitching rotation that included Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, but this Rangers team's offense is much more lethal.
"We had an inferior offense," Washington said of the A's teams. "And when I mean inferior, we didn't have the type of offense we have now. We'd get one base hit in the eighth, one base hit in the seventh and we'd win the ball game. This team can win a ball game from the opening pitch.
And Washington said it is difficult to compare this Tampa Bay team to those Yankees and Red Sox clubs, which he said could "power you to death."
"(The Rays) are totally different in the way they go about their business," he said. "They can beat you with a single. They can beat you with a home run. They have an excellent starting rotation. They have very good depth in the bullpen. But we believe. We have attitude."
Former Ray sits
Rangers manager Ron Washington sat former Ray Jorge Cantu in favor of left-handed hitting first baseman Mitch Moreland even though Cantu started Game 1 against Rays lefty David Price. "He's had the most repetition," Washington said of Moreland. "I haven't been able to get Cantu any at-bats since he was here last time, and I didn't think it would be fair to put him out there with Price and his power. The right-handed hitting Cantu, who was in the Rays organization for nine years and was the 2005 team MVP, didn't play after Game 1, when he was 0-for-4. Moreland entered with just 20 at-bats against left-handers this year and was hitting .200 against them.
Like a Rock
Ex-Ray Fred McGriff said he will always have fond memories of Bobby Cox, who managed his last game Monday night when Atlanta was eliminated from the NLDS by the Giants. McGriff played for the Braves from 1993-97. "He treated everybody with respect," McGriff said. "You never had to worry about (opening) up the paper and seeing Bobby Cox said, 'Fred McGriff made this error and cost us the game.' It was always, 'We didn't play good. I didn't do a good job of managing.' He always protected you in a game. If an umpire made bad calls, he was always running out there to protect and take care of you." Cox holds the major-league record for ejections with 158. Did Cox ever get ejected arguing for McGriff? "Yeah," McGriff said, smiling, 'a few times." The Bob Seger song Like a Rock was played at Turner Field after Monday's 3-2 loss. "That was perfect," McGriff said. "Because (Cox) has been a rock for years."