Playing their first League Championship Series game in franchise history, the Rangers got out to exactly the start they wanted to. They just weren't able to finish it off.
Seven consecutive batters reached base in a five-run eighth inning against C.J. Wilson and the Rangers bullpen as the Yankees stormed back from an early 5-0 deficit to take a 6-5 win in Game 1 of the ALCS.
The Yankees had reason to be confident coming into the game, as they were set to hand the ball to ace CC Sabathia, while the Rangers were handing it to the lesser-known Wilson. It was Wilson, though, who turned in the better start, as Sabathia wasn't right from the beginning.
The Rangers jumped out to a 3-0 lead over Sabathia before he'd even recorded an out. Elvis Andrus led off the game with a walk, and advanced to third on a single by Michael Young. That brought Josh Hamilton to the plate, and Hamilton ripped an 0-2 hanging breaking ball to right field for a home run. The ball very narrowly cleared the fence, but still counted as Hamilton's first career playoff home run.
The Rangers would threaten to add more in the inning, as well, when they loaded the bases with two outs. Sabathia then uncorked a high fastball against Jorge Cantu that sailed all the way to the backstop, but a fortunate ricochet returned the ball to Jorge Posada, who threw to Sabathia at home just in time to tag the sliding Nelson Cruz. That tag killed a threat, and kept the game 3-0.
It would remain that way into the fourth, as Wilson pitched well early and worked out of a couple jams. In the bottom of the fourth, Young came to the plate with two on and two out and drilled an opposite-field double that split the right-center gap. That double expanded the Ranger lead to 5-0, and the fourth would be the last inning of Sabathia's start.
But the Yankees' middle relief held. Joba Chamberlain and Dustin Moseley combined for three innings of scoreless relief, preventing the game from getting any worse. And the Yankees were able to get on the board in the top of the seventh, when Robinson Cano tucked a fly ball inside the right field foul pole for a solo home run. It was the first run charged to Wilson, but it would not be the last.
The Yankees really came alive in the top of the eighth. Wilson was chased from the game when Brett Gardner led off with an infield single and Derek Jeter followed with an RBI double. Wilson departed to a standing ovation and was replaced by lefty Darren Oliver, but Oliver walked the two batters he faced, loading the bases with nobody out.
Concerned, Ron Washington pulled Oliver in favor of righty specialist Darren O'Day. But O'Day's first pitch to Alex Rodriguez was ripped right by Young at third base for a two-run single. It was a ball Young probably should have been able to knock down, but it was hit sharply and it took a hard bounce, and it narrowed the game to 5-4.
Washington then replaced O'Day with lefty Clay Rapada, but Rapada's first pitch was ripped into center by Robinson Cano. That single tied the game, and when Josh Hamilton bobbled the ball, Rodriguez was able to advance to third base. The Yankees had men on the corners and nobody out in a game that was suddenly 5-5.
Washington would come out to replace Rapada with young lefty Derek Holland - his fifth pitcher of the inning, tying an ALCS record. Holland got ahead of Marcus Thames, but Thames was able to muscle a soft line drive into left field despite breaking his bat. That single put the Yankees in the lead by one, and though Holland retired the next three batters he faced, the damage had been done, and the Yankees had gotten in front.
Stunned, the Rangers attempted to battle back, but their attempts were thwarted. In the bottom of the eighth, Ian Kinsler led off with a walk but was then picked off by Kerry Wood. And in the ninth, trying to rally against Mariano Rivera, Mitch Moreland led off with a groundball single into center and advanced to second on a bunt, but he was stranded in scoring position by a strikeout and a groundout. Wood and Rivera protected the lead, and sealed a dramatic, thrilling win in Game 1.
It was an excellent win for the Yankees and a devastating loss for the Rangers, who now have to get a solid start out of Game 2 starter Colby Lewis if they want to avoid dropping the first two games of the series at home. Lewis goes up against Phil Hughes and the Yankees at 4:07pm ET Saturday afternoon. It's a chance for the Rangers to put this all behind them, but it's also a chance for the Yankees to build on what they were able to do and take a commanding lead back to New York.