ARLINGTON, Texas – After batting a blistering .301 in spring training, the Texas Rangers had every expectation of beginning the regular season at a full gallop. Instead, all they needed to sweep an opponent billed as the better team was a trot – a tater trot.
The Rangers hit four home runs Sunday to give them 11 in three games against the Boston Red Sox played in unseasonably hot Texas weather. Most impressive – and shocking to anyone watching on TV from the frozen reaches of New England – was that most of the blasts came against the top of the Red Sox's rotation.
Solo shots by Ian Kinsler(notes), David Murphy(notes), Mike Napoli(notes) and Nelson Cruz(notes) all were hit off Clay Buchholz(notes) on Sunday. John Lackey(notes) gave up a grand slam to Adrian Beltre(notes) and a solo homer to Kinsler on Saturday. Jon Lester(notes) surrendered blasts to Kinsler, Cruz and Napoli on Friday.
Homers were hit by the Rangers' veterans: Kinsler and Cruz each hit three and had a hand in two major league records. They became the first teammates to each homer in their team's first three games of the season, and Kinsler became the first to lead off the first inning with homers in the first two games. And Cruz's majestic opposite-field blast in the seventh inning Sunday was only the second ball ever hit by a right-hander into the upper deck in right field at Rangers Ballpark.
"Our lineup is deep," Kinsler said. "Today Cruz hit fifth. Yesterday he hit sixth. We won't always hit home runs like this, but we'll score a lot of runs."
The potent Red Sox eventually will score a ton of runs as well. Their lineup has such an embarrassment of riches that coveted $142 million outfielder Carl Crawford(notes) was dropped from third in the lineup to seventh Sunday.
Or was that just an embarrassment? "It's early, it's early, it's early … " was the refrain from the Red Sox clubhouse, and of course it is as early in the season as it can be after a three-game series. But demoting Crawford to the seven hole reeked of panic.
"Looking at him, it's kind of obvious he's trying too hard," manager Terry Francona said. "Especially against a lefty, just kind of let him sit down there. As soon as he gets on base and can cause some havoc, he'll loosen up and the real Carl will come out. In the meantime, take a load off him."
Crawford had two hits against left-hander Matt Harrison(notes), who allowed one run in seven innings. But he couldn't wreak havoc on the base paths because the Red Sox already trailed by several runs.
Maybe Francona should have seen some of this coming: Boston is 6-16 against Texas since the start of the 2009 season, 2-10 at Rangers Ballpark.
"They kicked our [butts], that's it," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia(notes) said. "They have a talented team. They won the American League last year and made the World Series. They put it on us right out of the starting gate."
First out of the gate is the leadoff hitter, and Kinsler greeted the Red Sox with homers Friday and Saturday. He didn't get a chance to do it a third consecutive day because in his first at-bat Buchholz walked him on five pitches, the last four sliders. Buchholz threw him four consecutive sliders in the third inning, and Kinsler deposited the last one over the left-field fence.
Eight sliders in a row? A year ago, Kinsler might have popped up the first one he saw.
"I've learned the last couple years that the deeper I get in the count, the more comfortable I am," he said. "He's got a great slider, but after a while … "
Kinsler shrugged. He didn't have to finish the sentence. He was shown a painful sign of respect in his last at-bat: Jonathan Papelbon(notes) plunked him on the back, unwilling to throw a pitch near the strike zone. Kinsler didn't grimace and didn't glance toward the mound. This battle had already been won by a team that held a ceremony to accept AL title rings yet was considered the underdog in the opening series on their own field.
"Critics and people outside don't really know anything, honestly," Kinsler said.
And for now anyone critical of Texas is silent. The Rangers scored 26 runs and had 21 extra-base hits in the series. Nobody will talk for now about not re-signing designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero(notes) or not trading infielder Michael Young(notes) or not insisting that Neftali Feliz(notes) move to the starting rotation.
And if Harrison continues to pitch this well, maybe concerns about the middle and back end of the rotation will soften. The Red Sox have similar pitching issues, but Lester, Lackey and Buchholz are supposed to be the least of the problems.
Crawford pressing shouldn't be an issue, either, but Francona made it one. It's nothing a series sweep won't cure. There are 159 games to go. Both teams know it, and that's why the Red Sox's disappointment and the Rangers' glee was tempered.
"It's been three games," Kinsler said. "We're 3-0. They are 0-3. We're a good team, and they are a good team."
He was stating the obvious, maybe to convince himself. It was a heady three days for Kinsler and the Rangers. The last game that counted in this ballpark ended with the San Francisco Giants celebrating a World Series title at the Rangers' expense. This weekend they stomped all over those memories.
Or, more precisely, dismissed them with a trot.