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Zobrist is one of few to hit Lee

Rangers starter Cliff Lee baffled Rays hitters all afternoon, but Ben Zobrist had him figured out. Zobrist had two extra-base hits off Lee, a double in the second and a home run in the seventh that accounted for the Rays' only run. He also scorched a line drive to rightfield with two on in the ninth off Neftali Feliz, but it was hit right at Jeff Francoeur. "The home run was a (two-seam fastball), just like he threw me in the first at-bat except it was up and away,'' Zobrist said. "I feel great to hit three balls hard against those pitchers. You have to feel good about it going into (today). All you can do is hit the ball hard, and sometimes they catch it.''

Bottoms up

. Here was the killer for the Rays: It wasn't so much star sluggers Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero who beat them up (although Guerrero was 2-for-4 with an RBI) as much as it was the bottom of the Rangers' order. No. 7 hitter Jeff Francoeur put the Rangers on the board with a double in the second, and No. 9 hitter Bengie Molina went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, including a solo homer in the fourth. "When you look at our team, all 25 guys are going to get used," Francoeur said. Third baseman Michael Young added, "We have a deep lineup, and guys are always stepping up at different times." No one more than Molina, a .240 hitter with only two homers during the regular season who admitted he doesn't even like to talk about his offense. "I just got lucky," Molina said. "I just saw pitches up in the zone, and I got hits. I got lucky."

The owner is always a pitcher at heart

. Rangers owner Nolan Ryan can remember watching his team in 2008 when he was its president — and squirming in his seat. The Rangers were more like a slow-pitch softball team, winning or losing with a flurry of runs, and Ryan vowed to make pitching a priority. Which makes sense coming from a Hall of Fame pitcher who spent 27 seasons in the majors. "The first year, my intent was to just be an observer and get a feel for our organization and what I felt like they needed to address,'' said Ryan, whose group took over ownership of the Rangers in August. "I can tell you there were times when it was very frustrating to watch some of our games because we'd be up 12-6 and lose 13-12. Those games were very painful and long to sit through. But it didn't take me long to realize we needed to address our pitching. That's been No. 1 on the priority list." The Rangers won the American League West not only because they can hit, but because they can pitch. Starters Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter combined for 52 wins, and all four have an ERA below 4.00 despite playing in a hitter-friendly stadium. Closer Neftali Feliz has been near perfect with 41 saves among 44 chances. Said Rangers manager Ron Washington: "Now in Texas, I don't think people can say anything again about not being able to pitch there because we proved we can."

Texas pickups play major role in win

. Texas rightfielder Jeff Francoeur, left, joked Wednesday about how close he was to being left out of the postseason this year. "I'd be at the beach right now," he said. "But there's no better place I'd rather be." The Rangers got Francoeur from the Mets on Aug. 31, the last day players can be acquired and still be eligible for the postseason. He was one of three in-season acquisitions who played key roles in Wednesday's win. While the Rays mostly stayed pat, the Rangers worked throughout the season to acquire pieces that would be valuable in October. Francoeur, a right-handed hitter who hits lefties well, hit a second-inning double that gave Texas a 1-0 lead. Catcher Bengie Molina, a two-time Gold Glove winner who has been an asset throwing out runners and calling games and came from San Francisco on July 1, hit a solo homer in the fourth as part of a three-hit day. And the mound belonged to left-hander Cliff Lee, acquired July 9 from Seattle. All three came to the Rangers with postseason experience. "It's something we're all happy about, especially the guys who have been here all season," said veteran Rangers third baseman Michael Young, a playoff rookie. "The guys that we got are not only good players, but they fit into our clubhouse. We have that blue-collar atmosphere, and they fit right in."

In the Rangers' clubhouse after the game, admiration for Rays starter David Price flowed. But Texas knew it did just enough against the left-hander to earn its Game 1 win. Outfielder Nelson Cruz hit one of two homers off Price, a solo shot to centerfield that came off a 93 mph fastball on a 3-and-0 count in the third. Cruz said he had the green light to swing and was looking fastball all the way. "I was looking for it right down the middle, and that's where it was," Cruz said. Catcher Bengie Molina added a solo homer in the fourth. It was just the fourth time among 33 starts this season Price allowed two homers. "You look up at the scoreboard, and he's throwing 96, 97," rightfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "I thought the fourth or fifth inning — I don't know if his nerves were settling down or whatever — he started throwing a lot more off-speed stuff and really mixing it up. "Going into the next time we face him, we're going to hunt for that fastball. You have to against a guy like him. I think you're doing yourself a disservice if you do something else. We were able to hit those four or five fastballs for extra-base hits, which were huge."

Happy homecomings

. Rangers first baseman Jorge Cantu, top left, unwrapped the towel around his left ankle, revealing a bright red welt from a foul ball that went off it, a lingering mark from an 0-for-4, three-strikeout game Wednesday. But for Cantu, who was the Rays' outstanding rookie in 2004 and team MVP in 2005 as part of his nearly nine years in the organization, his smile was irreplaceable. Cantu played his first playoff game at the stadium where his major-league career began. Cantu, who was acquired by the Rangers from the Marlins on July 29, has been back to the Trop before, but this experience was different. "It is because this is where I started my career," said Cantu, who was traded by Rays to the Reds in July 2007 and signed with the Marlins the following offseason. "To come back here and for my first playoff game to be here, it's something very special. I'm never going to forget it; looking across the diamond and seeing those familiar faces — (Carl) Crawford, Rocco (Baldelli), (third-base coach) Tom Foley, all those guys." Meanwhile, Rangers outfielder and American League MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 1999 by the Rays, shrugged off facing his former team in his first postseason game. "I think that time has passed," Hamilton said. "Coming back here in '08 (with the Rangers), my first time back, it was more special then. Now it just seems like another team. Obviously, I'll always remember the Rays and the opportunities they gave me to break into professional baseball. It's just another team, another game." Hamilton said it was special to see Crawford and Baldelli, who came up through the Rays system with him. "It's neat to see Carl," he said. "It's neat to see Rocco back and even some of the coaches. I talked to them in batting practice and said hello. But when game time comes, you just turn it on."

Zobrist is one of few to hit Lee 10/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 11:15pm]
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