The Texas Rangers said all the right things today as they prepared for Game 2 of their first-round American League playoff series against the New York Yankees on Thursday night. No, they say, they aren't spooked by the Yankees. Yes, they're still confident they can beat the defending champions. And yes, it's just a matter of time before baseball's second-highest scoring offense starts to score runs.
Forgive the Rangers if they're fibbing a bit. This is the third time in four years they've played the Yankees in a first-round series and they've never come close to winning. Since winning the opening game in 1996, the Rangers have lost seven straight postseason games to the Yankees, including Tuesday's 8-0 defeat in Game 1.
After winning a franchise-record 95 games this season, the Rangers insist Game 1 was no more than a blip on their psychological radar screens.
"We didn't get too up or too down after losses this season," Rangers General Manager Doug Melvin said, "and we have to continue to get the same approach. We can't worry about last night's game, it's behind us now. Let's see what we can do [Thursday] night."
Rangers right-hander Rick Helling, who'll start Game 2, said: "You know, I don't think really anybody expected us to win this series anyway. To me, all the pressure's on the Yankees."
In the seven consecutive victories, the Yankees have outscored the Rangers 30-10. The Rangers haven't scored a postseason run against the Yankees since the second inning of Game 2 last season--a stretch of 22 innings--and they've scored just once in their last 42 postseason innings.
"We're a very good offensive ballclub, and we'll break out of it somewhere along the line here," Melvin said. "I just hope it's sooner than later. You know, there's no doubt they think about it. But it's just too good a lineup, the players are too good offensive players to not go out there and put up a good run."
The Rangers didn't get a runner into scoring postion after the third inning in Game 1. Ivan Rodriguez had their only two hits as Orlando Hernandez sailed through the final five innings of his eight-inning effort. Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams took care of the clutch hitting with six RBI.
Left-hander Andy Pettitte, who defeated the Rangers in Game 2 last season, will start for the Yankees Thursday night. Helling, a 13-game winner during the regular season, pitched well against the Yankees this year, going 1-1 with an excellent 3.18 earned run average. He allowed 41 home runs this season--tops in the American League.
Like Texas's starter in Game 1--Aaron Sele--Helling is a control pitcher who relies on changing speeds and throwing his curveball for strikes. He absolutely must get ahead because he doesn't have overpowering stuff.
That formula was supposed to work for Sele, but the Yankees went 4 for 7 after falling behind in the count 0-2. Helling's challenge will be to get baseball's most patient offensive team to hit his pitches, instead of simply waiting for something in the heart of the plate. Helling's history is that he'll give hitters pitches too close to the middle of the plate, thus his penchant for giving up home runs.
"It all stems back to one thing, and that's consistency with my delivery," Helling said. "This year I haven't been as consistent with my delivery as I was last year, and, therefore, it causes you to fall behind in the count, causes you to miss your location more. All those things go back to that, and, you know, that's something you're constantly working on as a pitcher."
Helling's performance may be irrelevant if the Rangers don't start hitting. Right fielder Juan Gonzalez is hitting .067 in the playoffs the past two seasons, and the Rangers are just 1 for 20 with runners in scoring position. In eight postseason games against the Yankees, the Rangers have just seven hits in 53 at-bats with runners in scoring position--a .132 average. Their team batting average is .178 in the postseason.
"I have complete faith in our offense," Helling said. "You look at what we've done over the last two years, offensively, we're one of the best offensive teams in all of baseball. You get to the postseason and obviously everything's magnified, especially with the series we played against the Yankees last year and so far the game this year, we haven't scored many runs. Our offense is capable of scoring 10 runs a game if we start swinging the bats the way we can."