Road warriors: Rangers staying resilient away from home in postseason

October 10th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- The Rangers haven’t played a game at Globe Life Field since Sept. 24, the penultimate Sunday of the regular season. The next time they do, they’ll have a chance to clinch a spot in the American League Championship Series.

The No. 5 seed in the AL after dropping their Oct. 1 regular-season finale to the Mariners at T-Mobile Park, the Rangers had the harder draw than the division rival Astros. They went straight from Seattle to St. Petersburg, Fla., to take on the 99-win AL East runner-up Rays in the AL Wild Card Series, then faced the prospect of a clash with the No. 1 seed Orioles at Camden Yards, where the return of postseason baseball had been nine years in the making.

One week later, Texas hasn’t lost a game since.

On Sunday evening, the Rangers’ offense erupted to claim an 11-8 victory over the O’s in Game 2 of the AL Division Series, giving them a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five set. Despite sellout crowds of more than 46,000 overwhelmingly pro-Baltimore fans, waving orange rally towels with reckless abandon while living and dying with at-bat after at-bat, Texas wrested control of the series -- and often looked comfortable doing it.

“I’d say [for] at least half of our lineup, this is their first real taste of postseason baseball,” said Mitch Garver, who dealt the biggest blow with a grand slam in the third inning. “… And we had a taste of it in Seattle. That environment was right up there with Baltimore as far as the intensity was.

“I’ve got to tip my cap to guys like [Evan] Carter and [Josh] Jung. And [Adolis García], it’s his first real taste of it, too. These guys showed up to play, and it kind of seems like water off their back.”

The Rangers became the first team since the 2020 Astros to win their first four road games of a postseason. That comes with a bit of a qualifier, however, as MLB used neutral sites beginning in the Division Series round with a limited fan capacity.

Before Houston, the most recent team to accomplish the feat was the 2018 World Series champion Red Sox, who won their first five road games and then rebounded from their first road loss in Game 3 of the Fall Classic to win the next two contests at Dodger Stadium and hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy.

The first step in the Rangers’ march toward that destination was their Wild Card Series sweep of the Rays, in which they allowed only one run after having only one day to rest in between the regular season and the playoffs.

“I couldn’t be prouder of these guys,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “We had a five-and-a-half-hour flight to Tampa. How they were able to put that behind them and play two of their best games against an outstanding ballclub -- pitching, hitting, really all facets of the game. This club has just shown tremendous ability to put the tough times behind us.”

That includes what turned into a 14-day road trip, which has been taxing both physically and mentally for Texas. So many of those games were must-win contests considering the three-way race for the AL West crown -- and how the odd team out would miss the playoffs altogether.

“Must-win” takes on a whole new meaning in the postseason, though.

“It’s going to be nice to get home,” said Nathan Eovaldi, who was announced as the Game 3 starter on Sunday. “The atmosphere here in Baltimore was amazing. The fans have been electric. But I think we’re all really excited to get home and have that playoff game, the first one since 2016, back home.

“After that, two weeks of being on the road, it’s going to be fun to have that crowd. We’re going to feed off of them big time.”

With one more road win, this year’s Rangers would join the 2010 club in a tie for the longest streak to begin a postseason in franchise history. That team’s season, of course, ended with a World Series loss to Bochy’s Giants.

There’s a chance that victory could come in a winner-take-all Game 5 back in Baltimore on Friday night. The Rangers will try to make sure it doesn’t come to that when they finally return to Arlington. They’d prefer for it to happen in Game 1 of the ALCS vs. either the Twins or those Astros.

But even if it did, this weekend showed them that they could do it again.