The team that seemingly always prefers to do things the hardest way imaginable is up to its old tricks again.
This time, though, the Texas Rangers might have made things too hard on themselves. If they want to clinch the American League Division Series, they will have to do so back in Canada at one of the toughest home venues in the game.
The Rangers’ 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series vanished in less than 24 hours, with the Toronto Blue Jays getting closer Sunday and then pulling even Monday with an 8-4 victory that has sent the series back to Rogers Centre for a winner-take-all Game 5.
That game is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday, and the Rangers will turn to left-hander Cole Hamels to win another big start after Derek Holland lasted only two innings with a clinch on the line in Game 4.
“Look, we’re still playing,” manager Jeff Banister said. “We’ve got another game to play. I like that fact that we’ve got a special starter going for us also. He also energizes this ballclub.
“I believe that this is still an energized, confident group of players and that we’ve been here before. There’s no quit in this ballclub.”
Adrian Beltre returned from essentially a three-game absence because of a strain in his lower back and collected singles in his first two at-bats. Shin-Soo Choo collected three hits and scored twice.
But the offense was in a hole from the start as Holland’s outing was as ineffective as it was short. He allowed six runs in two-plus innings, and the Blue Jays got him for three homers. Two of those came in the first as Toronto built a 3-0 lead.
Holland said that he couldn’t command his pitches down, and not only were they up, but they were also over the middle of the plate. Josh Donaldson, Chris Colabello and Kevin Pillar each took Holland deep.
“It was just a crappy performance,” Holland said. “I felt like I was throwing beach balls to them.”
Colby Lewis was forced to pitch in long relief, and he allowed the two runners he inherited plus a run of his own in a three-run third that put Toronto up 7-0. The Blue Jays scored once more in the seventh, and though the Rangers collected 11 hits against R.A. Dickey and David Price, they never threatened before a sellout crowd of 47,679.
Six of the Rangers’ hits and three of their runs came off Price, who was awarded his first career postseason win after Dickey was pulled with two outs in the fifth with a 7-1 lead. The Rangers’ bats might have been awakened.
“The offense is going to be OK,” Beltre said.
If it is, against Game 2 starter Marcus Stroman, the Rangers figure to have a better chance to advance to the AL Championship Series against either Kansas City or Houston.
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Rangers, who won the first two games of the 2010 ALDS only to lose twice at home before returning to St. Petersburg, Fla., and winning Game 5.
They also took winning the home-field advantage for the 2011 ALDS to the final day of the regular season, and earlier this month they surrendered a 10-6 ninth-inning lead in Game 161 with the AL West title in their grasp and had to win Game 162 for the crown.
But their experiences in those games and their ability to overcome a 7-14 April to reach the postseason serve as a boost entering a win-or-go-home game Wednesday.
Then there’s this: Only two teams in 29 best-of-five postseason series all time that have lost the first two games at home have come back to win, and teams that have won the first two games of a division series are 42-5 all time.
But the Rangers are up to their old tricks after losing Game 4 and having to head back to Canada.
“We’ve been here before,” first baseman Mitch Moreland said. “This is playoff baseball. It’s going to Game 5, so we’ve got to be ready to come in and try to take care of business.
“This is what we fought for all year. We battled to this point, and I don’t see it stopping now. We’re going to continue to do that, and we’re still going strong.”
ALDS: Rangers vs. Blue Jays
Thursday: Rangers 5, Toronto 3 (Rangers lead series 1-0)
Friday: Rangers 6, Toronto 4 (14), (Rangers lead series 2-0)
Sunday: Toronto 5, Rangers 1 (Rangers lead series 2-1)
Monday: Toronto 8, Rangers 4 (Series tied 2-2)
Gm. 5: at Toronto, 3 p.m. Wednesday, FS1