Rays, Rangers lift the lid on 2011 postseason in Arlington

Maybe there is something to this destiny thing.

The Tampa Bay Rays certainly hope so, as they continue their improbable run in a rematch of last year's American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

After an offseason that saw them lose the likes of Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza, expectations were a bit tempered for Joe Maddon's club entering the 2011 campaign, especially after the team opened the year with six straight losses.

Maddon, though, showed why he is considered one of the best managers in the game, as the Rays rallied from a nine-game deficit to Boston as late as September 2 to overtake the Red Sox in the wild card standings on the season's final day in amazing fashion.

With the Red Sox clinging to a one-run lead in Baltimore, the Rays rallied from seven runs down to the New York Yankees before pulling out a win on Evan Longoria's home run in extra innings just minutes after Boston lost to the Orioles.

"This team never quits," left-hander David Price said. "We didn't quit when we were 0-6 at the start of the season, we didn't quit in September, we didn't quit when we were seven runs down in the last game of the season and Boston was winning. It looks like this team has what it takes."

No team had ever overcome that many games in September to get to the postseason.

"I love what the Rays do and create a first within the organization, but now we've done something as a first for Major League Baseball," Maddon said. "It's all on the guys, it's all on the coaches. If you're with us on a daily basis, the work routine, the camaraderie, the coaches preparation is outstanding. That's how we're able to overcome a nine-game deficit going into September."

With Price having started on Wednesday and the team not willing to start James Shields on short rest, Maddon shocked the world by announcing that rookie Matt Moore would get the Game 1 assignment.

"I don't think we have qualms about doing anything," Maddon said when asked if Moore was a candidate to start. "I think that is one thing that people have learned about us. You look at how we have gotten to this point. ... If we don't utilize everybody within our rosters here, or within the organization, we're missing out, because that's who we are."

The 22-year-old lefty, who has thrown just 9 1/3 big league innings, will be making just his second major league start. He started last Thursday against the Yankees and struck out 11 batters in five scoreless innings. In all, he's appeared in three games, going 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA.

Moore hadn't pitched above Class A before the season, but in Double-A and Triple-A this season, he went 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 155 innings.

Now Tampa faces a Rangers team that won an American League pennant a year ago and ended its own postseason run in a thrilling five-game series that saw the road team win every game.

This season Texas had seemingly been on cruise control before the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim made things a bit interesting in September. But in the end the Rangers easily claimed their second straight division title, finished with the second-best record in the AL and set a franchise record with 96 wins.

"Our chances are as good as anyone in it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "If we go play our type of baseball, I'll go play it against anyone."

The Rangers also ended the year hot, winning their final six and 10 of their last 11 games.

Just two years removed from the bullpen, Game 1 starter C.J. Wilson has become the de facto ace of an underrated starting rotation for the Rangers. Wilson won 15 games last year in his first real taste as a starter, but surpassed that this year by going 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA and 206 strikeouts, while earning his first All-Star appearance.

"I don't think C.J. changed his way of doing things," Washington said. "He never lacked confidence. He's always believed in himself. He's always believed in his teammates. And failure is not something he expects. And so what you saw up here is the same thing I saw in C.J. last year. Except for last year he was our second dog instead of our No. 1 dog."

Wilson, who tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings against the Rays in last year's ALDS, was 2-0 in three starts against Tampa this season and pitched to a 2.08 ERA.

Texas won five of its nine meetings with the Rays this season, taking two of three in Arlington, while splitting six games at Tropicana Field.