ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Rays manager Joe Maddon spoke matter-of-factly, assessing Tampa Bay's chances of completing an improbable comeback against the Texas Rangers in the opening round of the American League playoffs.
After losing the first two games of the series at home, the AL East champions rebounded to win the next two on the road and force a deciding Game 5 tonight at Tropicana Field.
Postseason ace-for-hire Cliff Lee will start for Texas, hoping to finish what he started with a dominating performance in Game 1.
The Rangers built on the 5-1 victory and were five outs from their first postseason series win before the sputtering Rays – in Maddon’s words – got their “mojo” back.
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“Getting ahead is really a big component in this series,” said Maddon, who will send 19-game winner David Price to the mound in a rematch of the starters from the opener.
“The first three games we just did not show up. All of a sudden we showed up for what, one and a half games now? Definitely there’s a difference in the dugout and within the clubhouse. It’s back to where it had been, and that’s where we need to be. We play off our internal emotions pretty well, and we didn’t have any.”
The Rays, who had the AL’s best record this season, are trying to become the sixth team in major league history to win a postseason series after losing the first two games at home. The 2001 New York Yankees were the last to do it (and the only ones to rally in a best-of-five playoff), bouncing back against Oakland.
Maddon likes Price’s chances of completing the task, even though the 25-year-old was outpitched by Lee in Game 1.
“He was not satisfied in what he did that first game. I know him, he took a lot of that on himself,” Maddon said. “But I do believe any kind of mistakes he thought he made, he’s not going to make them in Game 5. He’s got the ability, both mentally and physically, to make the corrections, so that’s what I see from David. I see a very, very good performance.”
The Rangers outscored the Rays in the first two games, 11-1, and led in the eighth inning of Game 3 before Tampa Bay fought back.
Since batting .123 (10 for 81) with one homer through the fifth inning of Game 3, the Rays have hit .362 (21 for 58) with four homers.
Texas manager Ron Washington is confident Lee can cool the bats again.
“They proved they can beat us on our field, we proved we can beat them on their field. This is what it’s about now,” Washington said when asked if he has a message for his team. They have the right person they feel that’s going to be throwing tomorrow, and we certainly feel the same way.”