ARLINGTON (AP) – C.J. Wilson wanted to lead the Texas Rangers the way Cliff Lee did last postseason.
It didn’t work out, at least not in Game 1.
Wilson gave up eight runs in five innings and Texas’ powerful lineup looked meek against one of the most inexperienced pitchers in playoff history, sending the Rangers to a 9-0 loss to Tampa Bay in the opener of the AL division series Friday.
Wilson was tagged for the most runs since he was a rookie in 2005, a horrible feat for a guy looking for a big contract this offseason. The left-hander gave up his first homer to a lefty batter since May 31, then his first three-run homer since May 9. He wound up allowing three multiple-run homers, after giving up only four such drives all season.
“The ball was kind of squirting out, not going where I wanted it to,” Wilson said. “I had some decent speed on the ball, my cutter was OK, but my location was bad.”
Equally jarring for Texas was its hitters getting shut down by Matt Moore, a hard-throwing rookie left-hander who’d thrown only 9 1-3 innings in the big leagues. The Rangers had only two hits over seven innings against him, both by Josh Hamilton. Only a single runner got as far as third base.
The fourth through seventh hitters — Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz — went a combined 0 for 14. The biggest surprise was Napoli going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts considering he hit .383 after the All-Star break and .407 in seven games against the Rays this season.
“We talked about it in our meetings that (Moore’s) a little erratic. But he didn’t seem that way today,” Hamilton said. “It was out of character for us to not jump on the pitches we saw.”
The home team losing should be no surprise considering the visitors won all five postseason games when these teams met last year. Texas will try to reverse that trend in Game 2 on Saturday night, with Derek Holland facing Tampa Bay’s James Shields.
Wilson noted the Rangers lost Game 1 of the ALCS to the Yankees last year, but won the series.
“We have always bounced back, and we will bounce back,” manager Ron Washington said. “We have a five-game series here. They got the first one. I don’t think it matters if they won 1-0 or 9-0. We got beat. We can take that. We’ll bounce back tomorrow.”
In this round last year, Lee allowed only two runs over 16 innings in two starts against the Rays, carrying the Rangers to the first playoff series win in franchise history and putting them on their way to their first World Series. He left in free agency, but Texas won a franchise-best 96 games this season and Wilson led the way with 16 victories.
Still, Wilson took the mound Friday knowing he needed to be Lee-like this postseason to prove he’s among the true aces in baseball. History was on his side considering the first shutout of his career came against the Rays just a few weeks ago, and he’d given up only five runs over three starts against them this season.
But the runs came early and often. Tampa Bay scored three runs in the second inning, three more in the third and two in fifth.
Johnny Damon got it started with a two-run homer — “I think it was the first time he’s ever pulled it off me,” Wilson said — then Kelly Shoppach drove in the next five runs with a pair of homers, each going more than 410 feet.
“Johnny hitting that home run helped people relax,” said Shoppach, who became the first hitter with three career homers against Wilson. “When any pitcher, no matter who it is, is falling behind hitters and they get a chance to get a better chance at getting a fastball to hit, you get a chance to do some damage.”
After Shoppach’s second homer, Wilson shook his head, then swiped his red glove across the rubber, as if he was hitting a reset button. Team president Nolan Ryan watched from the front row with a steely look, his arms crossed.
Wilson retired the next batter, then heard a smattering of boos as he headed to the dugout, perhaps for the last time as a member of the Rangers.
He gave up seven hits, walked one and hit a batter. Two of his runs were unearned because of a throwing error by Beltre, a Gold Glove third baseman, with two out and nobody on base in his final inning.
Wilson said nothing bothered him coming in, not having pitched 3 1/2 days before, the pressure of the postseason and impending free agency or the unusual 4 p.m. game time.
“It felt just like a home start,” Wilson said. “I slept fine. Everything was normal. … It just all gets back to bad location.”
The meltdown continues a downward trend for Wilson in the postseason.
He threw 6 1-3 shutout innings in winning Game 2 against Tampa Bay last year, got a no-decision in Game 1 of the AL championship series, then lost his next two starts. So this makes him a loser in three straight postseason starts, and Texas a loser in his last four.
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NOTES: RHP Scott Feldman followed Wilson and allowed only two hits over three innings. He struck out four. … LHP Matt Harrison, widely thought to be Texas’ Game 4 starter, faced four batters in the ninth inning. He gave up a walk and a single, and was charged with the ninth run when Mike Gonzalez gave up an infield single to Damon. … Seeing Tampa Bay cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist bunt for a hit in the third inning must have inspired Hamilton. Although he was 2 for 2 at the time, he dropped a bunt in the sixth inning, with Texas down 8-0 and a man on first. The official scorer call it a sacrifice, then changed it to an out. “I just wanted to get some momentum going, not stop it,” Hamilton said. … The crowd of 50,498 was the largest at Rangers Ballpark this season and 12th-best in stadium history.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)