Spin Forward: Rays vow to remain relaxed

Spin Forward: Rays vow to remain relaxed

ST. PETERSBURG -- In what proved to be their most crucial series of the regular season, the Rays lost the first two games of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium in September, but then rallied back to win the last two. Without that split, they would not have been American East champions.

And it's that kind of resolve the Rays will need again if they're going to bounce back from Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Rangers in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.

On the surface, a 1-0 deficit doesn't seem like much in a postseason series -- even one that is in a best-of-five format. But when you lose Game 1 at home, history shows that it can be detrimental.

Since the start of Division Series play in 1995 (both American and National League), 27 teams have lost Game 1 at home. Of those 27 teams, only seven have come back to win the series.

The last six teams to lose Game 1 at home have lost the series. The 2005 Angels were the last to recover, beating the Yankees in five games.

The Rays think they are the type of team to do it because of their resolve.

"This is just one game," said Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett. "We played pretty well all year and we can't let one game get us down. We don't quit. You look at our lineup -- we don't have many superstars. We don't throw up 10 runs a game. It's all about heart and we never quit."

Maybe there was nothing more to Game 1 than one ace (Cliff Lee) beating another (David Price).

The Rays feel that they hit the ball well in the series opener, even against Lee, but didn't have anything to show for it. The way they look at it, Game 2 here on Thursday afternoon could turn out to be different entirely.

"Our clubhouse is so relaxed," said James Shields, who will pitch Game 2 for the Rays. "We have a good group of guys that can overcome a loss like tonight. We're going to try to play our game tomorrow and execute runs when we need to and I can do my job from a pitching aspect."

In a broader sense, Game 1 hasn't been a big swing game in the history of the ALCS. Fourteen of the 30 Game 1 losers have come back to win.

And Rays manager Joe Maddon has been part of much more daunting circumstances than this.

"I look into history a bit there in 2002 when I was a member of the Angels that lost the first game of each series and won a World Series," said Maddon. "We lost the first game to the Yankees, first game to the Twins and first game to the Giants and celebrated at the end of that year, so I've had that in my brief history. It is a short series. You've got to come back and play well tomorrow. I have a lot of confidence in our guys. We've lost two in a row to the Yankees in New York recently in the new Yankee Stadium and people thought that was it. We came back and won two difficult games after that."

The way Rays third baseman Evan Longoria looks at it, his team just wasn't themselves in Game 1.

"This team, we're so good when we're loose playing the game," Longoria said. "I think we were just a little bit tight today."

Perhaps nothing will loosen Tampa Bay up quicker than taking an early lead in Game 2.

"I think coming into this series we've had a difficult time scoring runs a little bit, but also we're not swinging the bats relatively well, but I thought we did today," Maddon said. "So I'm looking for a carryover into tomorrow."

The Rangers, meanwhile, will try to put the hammer down and take a 2-0 lead before the series heads back to Texas.

"We're going to bear down tomorrow -- that's it," said Rangers third baseman Michael Young. "We feel like we have a good team, we know we're playing a good team, so it's important for us to just stay focused on the task at hand."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.