By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 16, 2010; 1:42 AM
ARLINGTON, TEX. - The gates to the Texas Rangers' bullpen swung open late Friday night, in the middle of the biggest party Rangers Ballpark in Arlington had ever hosted. The Rangers had the New York Yankees on the ropes, Game 1 of the American League Championship Series halfway into their back pocket. The relievers emerged in rapid succession, spent brief moments of infamy on the mound, retreated into the dugout and, down the tunnel, disappeared.
What must the inside of the Rangers' clubhouse have looked like Friday at 10:20 p.m. local time? At that precise moment, the momentous eighth inning of the Yankees' incredible 6-5 victory ended. The Yankees, by suddenly scoring five runs to erase a four-run deficit, had sent four pitchers to the showers.
Three relievers - Darren Oliver, Darren O'Day and Clay Rapada - appeared in the disastrous eighth inning and did not record an out. They watched the end of the inning from the dugout then sought refuge in the clubhouse, united by disbelief and failure.
"I was kind of incredulous," O'Day said. "We were all saying the same thing to each other. 'How did we all do that on the same night?' "
They had learned what everyone should have known - the Rangers, their delirious fans, the masses watching at home and cheering the demise of the defending World Series champions. You can knock out their ace after four innings. You can shut them out for six. You cannot rattle them, and you can never assume the Yankees have lost an October game until the final out is made.
The Rangers led by five runs with nine outs remaining, and by four runs with six outs remaining. By Saturday morning, they will only wonder how it all went wrong, how the Yankees, and not themselves, are the ones holding a 1-0 series lead. In 10 of their past 15 playoff wins, the Yankees fell behind. This series now hinges on how the Rangers respond to a devastating loss, in a Game 2 that will begin some 14 hours after Game 1 ended.
"I mean, come on, this is just one game," starter C.J. Wilson said. "It's a seven-game series. It's not a one-game series. We're playing tomorrow. I don't think anybody is worried. Everyone is going to think we're more worried than we really are."
Said O'Day: "I'd rather have that than a 15-run boat race. It's a tough loss. It certainly is. I think it's great that we have a game tomorrow. We can get back at it."
The Yankees stole the first game, and their accomplices were a group of men, prior to Friday night, happily resigned to relative anonymity: Wilson, Oliver, O'Day, Rapada and Derek Holland. Together, those five Rangers pitchers allowed seven consecutive Yankees to reach base to start the eighth inning.
When Marcus Thames ended the streak by scoring Alex Rodriguez with a single off Holland, the Yankees had turned a 5-1 deficit into a 6-5 lead, had turned a raucous crowd into the most silent 50,930 people - former president George W. Bush among them - in all of Texas.
"It's tough to watch something like that," Oliver said. "It was like, 'Wow.' How many times are you going to go through three relievers, and nobody gets an out?"
Wilson stood in for Cliff Lee, who was not available to start after he pitched the Rangers into the ALCS in Game 5 of their first-round series. It was thought the Yankees had the decided advantage with CC Sabathia on the mound. But Josh Hamilton sent a jolt through the Yankees with a three-run home run in the first, and the Rangers took a 5-0 lead on Michael Young's two-run double in the fourth. Sabathia lasted only four innings.
Wilson cruised into the eighth, his only mistake a pitch that Robinson Cano tucked inside the right field foul pole in the seventh. The home run made it 5-1 Rangers, seemingly a minor blip on their way to their first-ever home playoff victory.
The rally that doomed them began so innocently. Wilson threw a slider in the dirt to Brett Gardner, and Gardner took "a kung-fu swing," Wilson said. It produced a bounding grounder to first. Wilson scampered to first to cover. Jorge Cantu flipped him the ball, but Wilson arrived a moment too late, just after Gardner slid headfirst into the bag.
"I stepped on his foot," Wilson said. "He was safe."
It is not the uniforms that make the Yankees so deadly this time of year, but the players wearing them. Just when you have Game 1 won, a lineup stuffed with all-stars and potential Hall of Famers comes at you.
Derek Jeter knocked in Wilson with a double to left field, which scored Gardner. Rangers Manager Ron Washington trudged from the dugout, which would become a familiar scene. He called on Oliver, a left-hander, to turn around switch-hitters Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira, and he promptly walked both of them. The bases were loaded, there were no outs and the Rangers still led by three runs. And Rodriguez, who signed such a massive contract with the Rangers in 2000 that they are still paying off part of it, stepped to the plate.
In jogged O'Day, a side-winding right-hander. He had faced Rodriguez twice before and struck him out both times. In this encounter, Rodriguez hammered the first pitch he saw almost through Young, the third baseman. Two runs scored. The Yankees winning had turned from impossible to inevitable.
Rapada jogged in, and Cano singled to center. Holland came next, and Thames laced a single to left. The Yankees had taken the lead. In the middle of the next inning, Mariano Rivera began warming. You have seen the way that movie ends.
Yankees Manager Joe Girardi worried about the extended layoff his team endured after sweeping the Minnesota Twins in their division series. For Sabathia, starting on eight days' rest, the rust showed. Seven of Sabathia's first eight pitches were balls, and he threw 93 pitches in four innings.
After Elvis Andrus's leadoff walk, Young poked a single to right-center field. Sabathia finally started throwing strikes, getting an 0-2 count on Hamilton. Instead of righting himself, Sabathia hung a curveball, and Hamilton smoked a line drive into the front rows in right field. In an instant, the Rangers took a 3-0 lead.
The damage could have been worse. Sabathia's first out came when Vladimir Guerrero drilled a fly ball to the warning track. The final out came when he rifled a pitch past catcher Jorge Posada. Nelson Cruz scampered home, but after a miracle bounce off the backstop, Posada gathered the ball and fired to Sabathia, whose swipe tag caught Cruz on the arm just before he touched the plate.
The Rangers' lost run would loom larger later than the Rangers could have imagined. They had been stunned. They probably didn't see it coming. But since the Yankees were involved, they probably should have.
"They have to get 27 outs," Rodriguez said. "And until that last out is recorded, we have the utmost belief that we are going to win every game."