. Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton's head-first slide into second base in the fifth inning might have made Texas fans nervous given his recent rib injury. But the MVP candidate had a little help. After reaching on an error, Hamilton, who cracked his ribs making a catch crashing into the outfield wall a month ago, swiped second base cleanly. He said he didn't feel a thing thanks to the rib pads he wore under his jersey. "It's that time of the year," Hamilton said. "You can't really hold anything back if you're in the lineup. You have to play the way you're capable of playing. The pads helped tremendously … because I came up all the way on the base and didn't feel anything. The only time I felt anything was taking deep breaths." The extra base made a difference. The next hitter, Vladimir Guerrero, hit a double over centerfielder B.J. Upton's head that scored Hamilton for a 5-0 lead.
Unfortunately for the Rays, Cliff Lee was, well, Cliff Lee in Game 1. The Rangers lefty merely added to his postseason legend Wednesday, squirming out of a bases-loaded jam in the first and allowing just one run and five hits over seven innings. Lee is now 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in six postseason starts. "In the regular season, he was dealing," Rangers leftfielder Nelson Cruz said. "But today he was special." The Rays loaded the bases with one out in the first, but Lee struck out Carlos Peña and Rocco Baldelli to keep the game scoreless. "When he gets bases loaded in the first inning, you still feel like he's going to strike out a couple of guys," Rangers rightfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "And that's exactly what he did." Lee said he stayed positive and felt good even as the Rays loaded the bases. "There's never going to be a point when I'm on the mound that I feel like it's not going to be my day," Lee said. "You've got to feel like you're going to get out of it, and that's the mentality I had at that point." Once he escaped the inning, Lee showed why he is considered one of the game's most devastating pitchers. He allowed a leadoff double to Ben Zobrist to start the second then retired the next 12 batters. The only hit he allowed after the second was Zobrist's one-out homer in the seventh. "I like pitching on the big stage," Lee said. "Just pitching in the big leagues alone is an honor. But when you get an opportunity to make it to the postseason, that's what it's all about." Once again, Lee, who will be a free agent this offseason, made the most of that opportunity. "When Cliff gets on a roll like that," Francoeur said, "he showed why he's going to make a lot of money this offseason."
. The last time Evan Longoria played third base was Sept. 23 at New York, when he suffered a left quad strain and missed the Rays' final 10 games. He was back in the lineup Wednesday with mixed results. Longoria stroked a single to right in the first against Cliff Lee to load the bases but went hitless in three other at-bats, including a strikeout. He also made an error in the fourth when he bounced a throw to first baseman Carlos Peña. It was a so-so performance, but Longoria said it had nothing to do with nerves or the injury. "I feel fine,'' Longoria said. "I was a little bit hesitant on all the plays that I normally make. Offensively, I felt great. I made most of the (defensive) plays anyway. I don't think (the injury) was an issue.'' Even after two weeks off — without seeing any live pitching and facing the nasty Lee — Longoria said he felt comfortable. His only goal was to win. "I expected to win the game, bottom line,'' he said. "I was just happy to be back in the lineup and trying to give the team a chance to win. As far as personal stuff, I was just trying to give the team a boost. I felt good physically, which is the biggest thing.''
Tripped up by the Trop mound
Neftali Feliz's struggles early in the ninth had nothing to do with nerves. They had everything to do with the pitching mound: a hole in front that bothered the Rangers' closer when he landed. "I couldn't get very comfortable on the mound," he said. "I wasn't happy with the mound. I was trying to throw strikes, but I couldn't because of the mound." He stepped behind the mound to collect himself after consecutive walks. He then retired the next three batters, including two strikeouts, to end the game. "I was losing my control," he said. "I realized I had to throw strikes, and that was it."
Anthony Andro of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed to this report.
. The way the Rangers figure it, Game 1 was decided in about 20 minutes — the time between the start of the bottom of the first and the end of the top of the second. To reset what happened: The Rays loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the first. But Cliff Lee struck out Carlos Peña and Rocco Baldelli. The Rangers then responded with two runs in the top of the second. "From the end of the first to the second inning, you could kind of tell the dugout went from nervous — maybe a little bit tight — to all of a sudden everybody having fun," Rangers rightfielder Jeff Francoeur said. The key was getting out of the first without giving up a run. "It's not very often you give up three hits in one inning and they don't score," Lee said. "To get out of that with a zero was huge. It was a momentum-builder for our team. It's basically the same as scoring runs."
Game 1 firsts
Pitch: The Rays' David Price, a fastball strike to Elvis Andrus.
Out: Andrus' grounder to third.
Hit: The Rangers' Josh Hamilton, a bloop single to center in the first.
Scoring threat: The Rangers' first, two men on and two outs before Nelson Cruz grounded out to Price to end the inning.
Rays hit: Jason Bartlett, a single to rightfield in the first.
Strikeout: The Rays' B.J. Upton, by Cliff Lee in the first.
Extra-base hit: The Rangers' Jeff Francoeur, a double in the second.
Run: The Rangers' Ian Kinsler, in the second on Francoeur's double after leading off with a single.
Rays extra-base hit: Ben Zobrist, a double in the second.
Homer: Cruz off Price, a two-out solo shot in the third on a 3-and-0 pitch to make it 3-0.
Error: Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, bouncing a throw that Carlos Peña could not scoop at first on a grounder by Andrus.
Stolen base: Hamilton, in the fifth.
Pitching change: The Rays' Chad Qualls, replacing Price with two outs in the seventh.
Rays run: Zobrist, a one-out home run off Lee in the seventh on a 1-and-0 pitch to cut the Rangers' lead to 5-1.
Double play: The Rays, in the ninth, Longoria to second baseman Sean Rodriguez to Peña on a grounder by Andrus.
. When Jeff Francoeur doubled to score Ian Kinsler in the second, it was Texas' first playoff run in 15 innings dating to Oct. 7, 1999.
. The Rays bullpen has thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, including the regular season. It has not allowed an earned run in 38 consecutive innings.
. Longtime Rays employees R.J. Harrison (director of scouting) and Mitch Lukevics (director of minor-league operations) threw out the ceremonial first pitches.