TAMPA -- Somehow, it's always surprising how quickly momentum can swing in a short series in October. How everything can change with one pitch and one swing. The Rays -- AL East champs, winners of a league-high 96 regular season games -- strutted into Game 1 as the consensus favorite to win their opening-round series against the Rangers. Then a few strange things happened at the Trop on Wednesday afternoon: Tampa Bay's defense, a bedrock of the team, abandoned them.
Suddenly, Jeff Francoeur -- once baseball's Next Big Thing, now just another bearded baseball nomad -- is an October hero. And suddenly, with a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay in front of a sleepy Tropicana Field crowd, the Rangers find themselves in the driver's seat in this division series. With the struggling
"It's frustrating because we didn't expect to lose the first game," Rays left fielder
What did we learn in Game 1? We learned that
We also learned that
We learned that
Game 1 was more of a must-win for the Rays than the Rangers when you consider the Game 2 matchup: it's Texas with the edge as Shields and
Texas' starter, meanwhile, has been one of the best under-the-radar stories of the year. A closer-turned-starter who is making the first postseason start of his career, Wilson is ready to take the postseason stage. "Being a closer previously, I understand the elements involved and the sort of fluctuations in momentum and all that stuff," he says. "I'm able to say, Hey I've done this before, I've shut down a team before with a one run lead or with a tie game in the late innings."
The only thing that's now clear is that the Rays aren't going to waltz into the ALCS. They know they're in for a long series. "Everyone talks about Cliff Lee," says Crawford. "But Wilson's just as tough. He throws harder. He has an awkward delivery that's hard to pick up. It's going to be a battle. But we always knew it was going to be a battle."