Upstart Rangers a win away from first World Series

NEW YORK - The American League Championship Series is now officially a landslide, though the Texas Rangers haven't heard the New York Yankees deliver a concession speech just yet.

But after four games of the ALCS, the Rangers are on the verge of unseating the mighty Yankees as AL champions and punching a ticket to the World Series for the first time.

Bengie Molina delivered a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth, Josh Hamilton hit two solo homers late, and Nelson Cruz launched a two-run shot in the ninth as the Rangers battered the Yankees, 10-3, and moved within a victory of playing for the world title.

The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and need to win one of the next three games to clinch the AL pennant. Game 5 is this afternoon, with C.J. Wilson opposing CC Sabathia in a pitching rematch of the series opener.

The final two games, if necessary, would be this weekend at Texas.

Thirteen of the 17 previous teams that have led the ALCS 3-1 have advanced to the World Series, and eight have won Game 5.

“We’re not thinking about how we’re going to close anyone out,” manager Ron Washington said. “We’re going to go out there and play baseball. We’re not going to come to the ballpark tomorrow with the idea of closing anyone out. If it happens, it happens.”

Derek Holland provided 32/3 innings of scoreless relief after starting pitcher Tommy Hunter left in the fourth inning. But Holland’s walk of Curtis Granderson to start the eighth inning led to the biggest scare the Yankees could muster after they took a 3-2 lead in the fourth.

They needed a big inning at that point after the Rangers’ offense erupted. Eight of Texas’ 10 runs came after the fifth inning, including five combined in the sixth and seventh.

The Rangers trailed by one with two outs in the sixth, when David Murphy was walked intentionally after Cruz tagged up from first base and went to second on a flyball by Ian Kinsler.

Molina came up with runners at first and second, and he crushed the first pitch from A.J. Burnett into the left-field seats. Suddenly, the Rangers were up 5-3 and headed toward their fifth road victory of the postseason.

“I was looking for a good pitch to hit. That’s all,” Molina said. “Murphy is a great hitter. He kills right-handers. Why not walk him and face me? I’ve been having a bad year. I don’t think it was a bad move. It went wrong.”

Hamilton homered with two outs in the seventh to trigger a two-run spurt that included a bloop single by Kinsler for a 7-3 edge.

After Holland’s walk to Granderson to open the eighth, Darren O’Day got Marcus Thames swinging but walked Alex Rodriguez. Clay Rapada entered and promptly walked Robinson Cano to jam the bases.

Darren Oliver, though, came to the rescue. He got Nick Swisher on a shallow fly ball to center field and Lance Berkman on a fielder’s choice to third base to douse the threat.

The Rangers responded. Hamilton led off with a line drive into the Yankees’ bullpen, and Vladimir Guerrero followed with an infield single for his fourth hit of the game.

Cruz then crushed a Sergio Mitre pitch into the second deck in left field.

The game wasn’t without some controversy, all in the second inning. Cano homered with one out, though Cruz felt he had been interfered with by Yankees fans as he reached above the right-field wall in an attempt to make the catch.

The homer stood without a replay, but Berkman’s apparent homer two batters later was reviewed after right-field umpire Jim Reynolds ruled it was a fair ball.

Video replay, though, showed the ball was clearly foul, and Berkman struck out to end the inning with New York holding a 1-0 lead.

The Yankees suffered a big blow in the fifth inning, when a seemingly innocent grounder resulted in Mark Teixeira pulling his right hamstring and leaving the game. Manager Joe Girardi said that, “barring a miracle,” Teixeira won’t be available today.