Rangers seek to put away Rays in Game 3

Rangers seek to put away Rays in Game 3

ARLINGTON -- For nine innings, or more, in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, their entire focus will be on extending their season at least one more game. But at some point on Saturday, because they are human, three marquee Rays -- Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano -- will have to wonder if this is their final day in Tampa Bay uniforms.

"In my heart," Pena, the slugging first baseman, said, "it's extremely personal. So, yes, it does cross my mind that this could be the last game I play for the Rays. I want us to be the last team standing, as Joe [Maddon] says. At some time, it's game by game."

Crawford, the superlative left fielder, and Soriano, the shut-down closer, loom as two of the potential prizes of free agency coming off brilliant seasons.

"You have those emotions that you're talking about," Crawford said. "You deal with that later. But for the most part, you just want to try to win one game, keep the series going and try to win -- because the stuff you're talking about eventually gets taken care of at some point."

With a shot at sweeping the series after a pair of dominant efforts in Florida, the Rangers return home without those kinds of concerns. Their motivation is preventing the Rays from jump-starting their attack and regaining their swagger as Rangers Ballpark bursts with energy for the franchise's first postseason game in 11 years.

"The Rays are definitely an opponent that scares you," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "And each day you go play the game of baseball, it presents different circumstances. The only thing you can control is what you have to do in the moment."

Rays manager Joe Maddon must convince his club that it can turn it all around one quality pitch, one nice play, one timely swing at a time.

"You know," said Matt Garza, Maddon's Game 3 pitching choice against Colby Lewis, "our club is a little different than every other club. We don't take losses as hard. We kind of feed off our manager, and you guys all know who our manager is.

"He's one of the loosest, most carefree guys there is. He has a master plan behind everything. Just with his aura and his mantra, the way he goes about things is real easy-going and relaxed. If he's not stressing, then why are we? [That] is the way we look at it."

Maddon ordinarily is the coolest cat in the building, but he lost it in Game 2 and got ejected for appealing a call that kept an at-bat alive for Michael Young before his game-turning three-run homer.

With time to cool off, Maddon the optimist is stressing the opportunity to create some memories in enemy territory and take the show back to Florida.

"It's not too late," Maddon said. "We've just got to get back to the Trop next Tuesday."

The Rays are all about Saturday, but three-game winning streaks are the norm for this streaky outfit. They've done it 16 times this season, accounting for one-half of their 96 victories. They've dropped three in a row just seven times.

But ALDS history certainly is no Rays ally. Of the 19 teams to fall behind 2-0, only four have come back to prevail. The 2001 Yankees, taking the measure of the Athletics, are the only club to lose the first two at home and then claim three in a row to advance to the LCS.

For the Rangers, it's a matter of sustaining momentum gathered from dominant pitching performances by Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson and contributions from a variety of sources at Tropicana Field.

"Being up 2-0 is huge," Washington said, "especially winning two on the road. But we still haven't accomplished anything yet. Our goal is to get as far as we possibly can, and we're just going to take it back to Texas and come and try to play as hard as we can again.

"Nothing is won yet. That's a very resilient team over there. They're not going to lay down. But we aren't, either."

So completely have the Rangers stifled the Rays, Tampa Bay has been unable to unleash its running game. Lee, Wilson and the bullpen limited the Rays to a total of 13 baserunners in the two games, and only once did a Ray try to steal a base. Carl Crawford was successful, but it led nowhere.

Ben Zobrist's Game 1 homer accounted for the lone Rays run. The Rangers have banged out 19 hits, including four homers, and are batting .333 (5-for-15) with runners in scoring position compared to Tampa Bay's .077 on one hit in 13 opportunities.

"They've got some righties [Lewis and Tommy Hunter] throwing the next couple days," Maddon said. "We'll pop a different lineup out there and see how that works."

Crawford, one of the Rays' veteran driving forces, will try to elevate the spirits of the troops.

"We just have to play better," the All-Star left fielder said. "We definitely have to hit better and just play our game. Keep grinding it out, don't give in and just give our best."

The Rangers plan to continue to play the total game that has them in the driver's seat.

"We knew that all along," second baseman Ian Kinsler said when asked about the club's lack of apparent weaknesses. "To play in the playoffs, you have to be a complete team. That's how we expect to play."

The Rays are leaning on each other.

"This team's got incredible chemistry," Pena said, "and I've always said chemistry is very powerful. I don't care what anyone says -- it goes a long way."

Streaky clubs
If the Rays turn it around and win three in a row to move on to the AL Championship Series, it wouldn't be something out of the ordinary. They have had winning streaks of three or more games 16 times this season. Only seven times have they lost at least three in a row. The Rangers have won three or more in a row 14 times and had losing streaks of three or more games eight times.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.