ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Two dominating pitching performances and a long home run by playoff neophyte Michael Young have the Texas Rangers on the verge of winning a postseason series for the first time.
Young hit a three-run homer one pitch after keeping his at-bat alive with a disputed check-swing, helping C.J. Wilson and the AL West champions beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-0 Thursday for a 2-0 lead in their AL division series.
Texas is the only current major league franchise that's never won a playoff series. After winning consecutive games on the road, that can change with one victory when the best-of-five matchup shifts to Rangers Ballpark this weekend.
Game 3 is Saturday, with Matt Garza pitching for Tampa Bay against Colby Lewis.
Ian Kinsler also homered for the Rangers, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and hadn't won a postseason game in 14 years before Cliff Lee shut down the sputtering Rays in their home park on Wednesday.
Wilson was equally impressive, allowing two hits in 6 2-3 innings. He gave up a single to leadoff man Jason Bartlett to start the game, then limited the Rays to just three baserunners on an error, a walk and a hit batter over the next five innings.
Willy Aybar doubled in the seventh for the second hit off the Texas starter, who departed with runners at second and third. Darren O'Day struck out pinch-hitter Matt Joyce, and Darren Oliver got four outs to finish the two-hitter before a sellout crowd of 35,535.
Long known for fielding powerful lineups, the Rangers finally look as though they have the arms to match.
"The story today was our pitching," Young said.
The Rays, whose .247 batting average was the lowest for an AL club that made the postseason since the 1981 Oakland Athletics, were held to eight hits in two games at Tropicana Field, where they had one of the best home records in the league this season.
Texas pitchers fanned 23 batters in two days, which is not surprising. Tampa Bay's 1,292 strikeouts this season were the most by a major league team that reached the playoffs.
Young, in the playoffs for the first time after 10-plus seasons with Texas, broke the game open with a 431-foot shot to center field off Chad Qualls, who thought he had struck out the six-time All-Star on a 2-2 pitch. Plate umpire Jim Wolf — the brother of Brewers pitcher Randy Wolf — appealed to first base ump Jerry Meals, who ruled that Young held up in time.
Rays players were incensed on the bench, and replays showed that Young probably went too far.
After the home run on the next pitch for a 5-0 Rangers lead, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon left the dugout to talk with Qualls. Maddon yelled at Meals from the mound and was ejected by Wolf when the plate umpire arrived at the huddle.
"Once he said safe, I've got to turn the page and focus on the next pitch," Young said. "It's really not my job to make decisions there."
Maddon also disputed a crucial call early in Wednesday's 5-1 loss to Lee. Plate umpire Tim Welke said a pitch hit Carlos Pena's bat with the bases loaded in the first inning, ruling it a foul tip. Maddon unsuccessfully argued that Pena was hit by the pitch.
Tampa Bay failed to score when Pena and Rocco Baldelli struck out.
Kinsler homered in the fourth off losing pitcher James Shields, who got the Game 2 assignment for Tampa Bay even though he lost 15 games during the regular season and hadn't won since Aug. 29. The right-hander allowed four runs and four hits over 4 1-3 innings.
Kinsler also had an RBI single off Qualls in the fifth.
With the Rays facing a lefty starter for the second straight day, Maddon held the struggling Pena out of the lineup. Wilson has been extremely tough on left-handed batter this season, and Pena — whose .196 batting average was the lowest among all major league qualifiers — went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts against Lee on Wednesday.
The Rangers manufactured a run in the third. Matt Treanor was hit by a pitch, moved from second to third on an infield single and scored when Shields made an errant pickoff throw. The right-hander tried to pick off Elvis Andrus at first base, but the throw hit Andrus and skipped into foul territory.
NOTES: It was the 16th time a manager was ejected from a postseason game and the first since Tony La Russa was thrown out of St. Louis' 2-1 loss at Houston in Game 4 of the NL championship series on Oct. 16, 2005, according to research by STATS LLC. Bobby Cox, who holds the major league record for ejections as a manager, had been kicked out of two playoff games before Atlanta's postseason opener at San Francisco on Thursday night. ... The Rays removed Baldelli from the roster and added Aybar, who was the designated hitter Thursday. The team said Baldelli, who was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts in Game 1, had left leg fatigue, a symptom of mitochondrial disorder, a condition he has that was diagnosed in 2008.