ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Two years after losing 102 games, the resilient Texas Rangers are savoring a journey that’s transformed them into a playoff team.
“It’s all about bouncing back, dealing with the tough times. You know you’re going to have them,” manager Bruce Bochy said Wednesday after the Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 7-1 to finish a two-game AL Wild Card Series sweep.
“What’s important is how you handle it, and thse guys have handled it so well,” Bochy added. “I think we were counted out earlier in the season or late August … but what a job they did to bounce back and to be in this position.”
The Rangers rode a rollercoaster of emotions while losing three of four games at Seattle and letting the AL West division title slip away on the final day of the regular season. Instead of returning home with a first-round playoff bye, Texas was rewarded with a cross-country flight to Florida.
“We had to fly to fly right over Dallas, so that could have been really a downer for the club,” said Bochy, a first-year manager with Texas after winning three titles with San Francisco. “They reset, refocused, and just put together two of the best games back to back that we probably have had all year when you look at the pitching, the offense, the defense — everything we knew we had to do to beat a club like Tampa.”
The next stop is Baltimore, where the Rangers begin a Division Series against the AL East champion Orioles on Saturday.
Adolis Garcia and Evan Carter, a 20-year-old rookie who became the second-youngest postseason player in franchise history, homered off Zach Eflin, a 16-game winner unable to save Tampa Bay’s season.
Nathan Eovaldi gave Texas an outstanding pitching performance. The Rays’ scoreless streak reached 33 innings, one shy of the postseason record held by the 1966-74 Los Angeles Dodgers, before Curtis Mead’s RBI single in the seventh.
Texas won a postseason series for the first time since 2011, when the Rangers reached the World Series before losing to St. Louis.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay followed a stellar start with a fizzling finish.
The Rays opened 13-0 to match the 1982 Atlanta Braves and 1987 Milwaukee Brewers, trailing only the 20-0 start by the 1884 St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association. They led the AL East from opening day and then were overtaken by the Orioles in mid-July.
After gaining the AL’s top wild card, Tampa Bay extended its postseason losing streak to seven straight. In getting swept in consecutive Wild Card Series, the Rays scored two runs over four games while hitting .161.
Injuries were a factor in the fade to second in the AL East. The Rays also had to play down the stretch without All-Star shortstop Wander Franco, on administrative leave while Major League Baseball and authorities in the Dominican Republic investigate an alleged relationship between Franco and a minor.
Cash didn’t offer any excuses for being swept again.
“Look, that’s the easy narrative,” Cash said. “We are who we are, and we finished the regular season with the guys that we had. I still feel that we could have had a better showing with the roster that we had.”
Eovaldi, beating the Rays for the third time this year, allowed six hits while striking out eight and walking none over 6 2/3 innings.
Garcia’s leadoff homer began a four-run fourth inning against Eflin. Josh Jung had a RBI triple and Carter hit a two-run homer to right for the Rangers, 7-0 in postseason games at Tropicana Field.
Carter batted .306 with five homers and 12 RBIs over 23 games after making his major league debut on Sept. 8. He reached base in his first six postseason at-bats, doubling twice and drawing three walks.
Tampa Bay finally got an out from the No. 9 hole when Colin Poche fanned Carter in the sixth inning. Marcus Semien and Corey Seager followed with run-scoring doubles.
“Carter, gosh, this young kid has come up — I don’t even know if he knows that he’s in the big leagues,” Bochy said. “This guy has such a calmness about him.”
Attendance for Game 2 was 20,198, another below-sellout crowd at Tropicana Field but up slightly from Tuesday’s 19,704. That was the lowest figure for a major league postseason game since the 1919 World Series, other than 2020 games played during the coronavirus pandemic.
SWITCHING IT UP
The Rays removed CF Jose Siri and inserting Josh Lowe into the cleanup spot. Manuel Margot shifted from right field to center, while Lowe played right .
Siri returned for Game 1 after being sidelined since Sept. 12 with a fractured right hand. He and went 0 for 3 and committed a throwing error that allowed a run.
The Rangers also beat the Rays in the 2010 ALDS and 2011 ALDS, clinching both series at Tropicana Field. Texas went on to appear in the World Series each of those years.
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