By Sean McAdam
ARLINGTON, Texas -- With the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sitting out this postseason, the Texas Rangers, who replaced them as American League West champions, are taking their place in another way.
Like the Angels, the Rangers are hyper-aggressive. And like the Angels, the Rangers are finding that carries with it some risk.
Sometimes it pays big dividends, as it did in Game Five of the ALDS against Tampa Bay. The Rangers managed to score the first two runs of that series-deciding game by sending baserunners from second base on infield groundouts.
So it was in the first inning Saturday when the Rangers evened the ALCS with a 7-2 stomping of the New York Yankees.
Shortstop Elvis Andrus reached on an infield single, took second on a wild pitch, swiped third and then, in tandem with Josh Hamilton (walk), executed a double-steal, giving the Rangers a quick 1-0 lead.
That sort of aggressiveness was critical for the home team, which had a crushing loss the night before. It made a statement that they wouldn't retreat from their trademark style, even after Ian Kinsler has been picked off first in the ninth inning Friday night, representing the potential tying run against Mariano Rivera.
There's a double-edge that comes with playing that gambling, occasionally reckless style. On occasion, it can backfire. The Angels discovered that in the 2008 ALDS against the Red Sox when a botched squeeze at Fenway ran them right out of the postseason.
But the Rangers made a conscious effort to continue playing the way they had all year, when they finished fifth in the league in steals and finished first in the American League in going from first-to-third.
"It's a big part of our game,'' said veteran infielder Michael Young. "We're going to find a way to push the envelope.''
They had won their division, beaten the A.L. team with the best record in the first round and led the defending world champs for seven innings Friday night.
They weren't going to change. In fact, they found it odd that anyone believed they might scale back their aggressiveness.
"That's the way we've played all year,'' said Andrus. "We know what we need to do on the bases. If you put extra pressure on the pitcher, extra pressure on the catcher and the defense, it can be hard (on them). That's what we're doing and it did a lot of good for us.''
Andrus was tipped by third-base coach Dave Anderson that Hamilton was looking to run. When the shortstop saw Jorge Posada throw down to second to nab Hamilton, he broke for the plate.
It was the only run of the inning, but it set the tone for the game. The Rangers would not back down, even after Kinsler was caught Friday night, even after a demoralizing, late-inning setback.
If a single play leading to a single run could make a statement, this was it.
"It's just a play that adds energy and gets us off on the right foot,'' said David Murphy, the former Red Sox outfielder who later contributed a solo homer and a run-scoring double.
"That's the kind of game we play,'' shrugged manager Ron Washington, who seemed surprised that anyone might be surprised the Rangers maintained their aggressiveness.
More than establishing their game, the double steal helped put the disappointment of Friday behind them. Even with the short turnaround time, the Rangers indicated they were not suffering from any short of day-after hangover.
"That's just the way we play,'' said Kinsler. "Honestly, no one said a word about being aggressive. We're all just aggressive. If we're going to make an error, or we're going to make a mistake, it's going to be on the aggressive side. We're not going to be timid. We're not going to be afraid.''
It helped that Texas later showed some thump, with six extra-base hits from the second through the fifth, leading to six more runs.
But the biggest run of all came in the first, when the Rangers ran like they were trying to leave Friday night behind, like they had someplace else to go.