Credit Rangers manager Ron Washington with providing his club with a means to getting back into this series immediately. The Rangers needed not only a run, but a spark, after a debilitating loss in Game 1 to the New York Yankees on Friday.
A 5-0 lead had been transformed into a 6-5 defeat, and all the momentum from the hard-fought AL Division Series victory over Tampa Bay seemed to have dissipated. The glow of that first postseason series victory in franchise history was being replaced by unpleasant reminders: The Rangers had never won a home game in the postseason, and they were on a 10-game losing streak against New York.
The Rangers needed a lift, a fast start, a pick-me-up. The sooner the lingering effects of the Game 1 loss were erased, the better. Texas starter Colby Lewis did his bit in the top of the first, retiring the Yankees in order. And in the bottom of the first, Washington saw an opening to create a run, and he seized it.
This Rangers team has speed, and it knows how to utilize that speed. Here was a classic example. Elvis Andrus reached on an infield hit and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Michael Young was called out on strikes, but with Josh Hamilton batting, Andrus stole third. Hamilton subsequently walked, giving the Rangers runners on first and third with one out. But Vladimir Guerrero struck out, and it appeared that a prime run-scoring opportunity might be wasted. But Washington wouldn't let that happen.
With Nelson Cruz up, the delayed double steal was on, as Hamilton broke for second. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada did what the Rangers hoped he would do, throw to second. Andrus sprinted for the plate. From second, Robinson Cano did what he could do, stepping in front of the bag to make a return throw to the plate. But his return throw was wide to the first-base side and Andrus scored.
The Rangers had a 1-0 lead, and this play looked even better when Cruz struck out to end the inning. Without the double steal, the Rangers wouldn't have had the lead, the lift or the renewed jolt of excitement that this aggressive play gave them.
Washington explained his thinking by saying: "Well, we had speed. I had Hamilton at first base and Elvis at third base. Opportunities seemed right, so I took a chance. That's the way we play. It worked. Got us going.
"I'm looking at opportunities, and it presented itself; that's the type of game we play. I took a chance that the throw would be made to second base. If [Posada] faked it, wouldn't have happened. But he didn't fake it. So we executed."
The direct beneficiary of the early lead was Lewis, and he appreciated the support.
"Well, I mean, Elvis got on and basically took three bags," Lewis said. "That was huge for us, I think, to come out and for me to get some quick outs and get back on the board again and get right back to what we were doing."
Subsequently, the Rangers' offense got in gear in a more conventional manner, scoring runs in three of the next four innings, building a lead that this time would not be erased. Lewis and the Rangers' bullpen kept the imposing New York lineup in check and Texas had a 7-2 victory and a 1-1 series.
"They did a great job," Lewis said of his teammates. "I mean, they put up seven runs for me and made it real comfortable and easy to go out there and continue to pound the strike zone."
This is the way the Rangers want to play, making the speed component an essential part of the game, putting pressure on the opposition.
"We have been talking about that the last five games," Andrus said. "We all know what we need to do on the bases. You put that extra pressure on the pitcher, that extra pressure on the catcher and defense. Sometimes it's going to be hard for everybody.
"So that's what we did. That's what we're doing right now, and it's doing a lot of good things for us. For sure, that was a big key right now -- get on the board first and get in the rhythm of the game."
Just as aggressive, alert baserunning was a key to the Rangers' Game 5 victory over the Rays, that approach gave Texas a kick-start in this ALCS victory.
"That's our game," said Young. "Our game is to be as versatile as possible. We know we can have big innings, we know we have guys who are capable of hitting balls in gaps, driving in runs, hitting balls out of the ballpark. But also, a dimension of our game offensively is, we can push the envelope on the bases. And it's what we are going to continue to do. It's a huge part of our game.
"To be totally honest with you, we are conscious of [running aggressively] every day. I think the nature of being versatile is you have to find a way. And we did that today. It's a dimension of our game we love to play. ... We are going to find a way to push the envelope, and it's part of our game. It's served us well so far this season, and so far, so good in the postseason."
The running Rangers seized the opportunity to sprint into an early lead against the Yankees. In doing so, they put the bitter memory of the Game 1 defeat behind them, way behind them. Credit Washington for an aggressive, intelligent and necessary call that got his team back on track and back into this series.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.