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ALCS Gm1: Feliz fans the side, secures Game 1 victory

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers still need to take three more in this American League Championship Series. As second baseman Ian Kinsler said, this one only gets them one win closer to their goal of returning to the World Series.

But it was still a big step, coming against the Tigers' 24-game winner on a night when two rain delays forced the Rangers to improvise their own pitching plans as the game pushed past midnight CT.

The Rangers scored three runs early off of Tigers starter Justin Verlander and five relievers made it stand up for a 3-2 victory in Game 1 at the Ballpark in Arlington. It was 12:03 a.m. on Sunday morning when Neftali Feliz finished the game by striking out three straight hitters to put the Rangers up 1-0 against the Tigers.

"It's a huge win," outfielder David Murphy said. "We know how good of a pitcher Verlander is. We know how good his stuff is. It says a lot about our offense. We knew who we were facing, but we grinded out the at-bats, made him work and scored some runs."

Murphy, after a leadoff single by Mike Napoli, drove home the Rangers' first run with an RBI triple in the second and scored on a two-out single by Kinsler. Nelson Cruz added a fourth-inning home run off Verlander, who did not return for the fifth inning because of all the rain.

"We were just trying to have good at-bats against him and stick to our approach," Kinsler said. "We don't try to make the opposing pitcher throw a lot of pitches. We're an aggressive team. But we were able to have some good long at-bats and put some pressure on him. We were able to foul off some tough pitches and make him work."

Verlander threw 49 pitches in the first two innings and 82 for the night.

"I thought tonight his control wasn't good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He didn't really have his curveball going for strikes. He had a tough time with it ... I think probably trying to overthrow it a little bit."

The home run by Cruz was his first of the postseason. He was hitless in his last 10 at-bats, including a flyout to left off Verlander in the second inning, before crushing a 2-0 fastball in the fourth.

"I feel like I have been close the past few games, but I haven't been lucky enough to hit it where there was nobody," Cruz said. "Today I was able to hit it where there was nobody."

The Rangers' bullpen made those runs stand up after the two rain delays derailed starter C.J. Wilson just when he was starting to take control of the game. But five relievers combined to allow one hit and one walk while striking out eight in 4 1/3 innings.

Alexi Ogando, with two scoreless innings, was given the victory although Michael Gonzalez may have delivered the biggest out, getting Alex Avila to ground out with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth when play resumed after the second delay of 69 minutes.

"The bullpen was awesome, but we expect those guy to do that," Napoli said. "We have a great back end of the bullpen and they came in and did their job."

The Rangers are now up 1-0 with Derek Holland pitching against Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer on Sunday. In 41 previous ALCS, the team that won Game 1 went on to win the series 24 times. But the Rangers lost Game 1 to the Yankees last season and went on to win the series in six games.

The Rangers might not have needed the bullpen so much if not for the rain. Wilson was able to get out of a couple early jams because of a couple double plays started by third baseman Adrian Beltre and was beginning to get on a roll. He struck out the side in the fourth to take a 3-0 lead into the fifth, looking much sharper than he did in a 9-0 loss to the Rays in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.

"C.J. was much better," manager Ron Washington said. "I was just hoping Mother Nature wouldn't have stopped him there because he was on his way to at least giving us six or seven. He was throwing the ball extremely well."

But the rain started coming down as Wilson went out to pitch the fifth and gave up a leadoff double to Ramon Santiago. Wilson then threw one pitch to Brandon Inge before it really started pouring and forced home-plate umpire Tim Welke to call time. That rain delay lasted 41 minutes.

"It's something I can't control," Wilson said. "I can't look up at the sky and say, 'Please stop raining.' You have to adjust. Obviously I didn't have my best stuff when I went back out there. But even if you have a two-hour delay, the competitor in you still wants to go back out there."

When play resumed, Wilson retired Inge on a grounder to third before Austin Jackson doubled to right-center to drive home the Tigers' first run. Wilson then walked Ryan Raburn and Miguel Cabrera.

A wild pitch on an 0-2 pitch to Victor Martinez scored a second run. Wilson got Martinez on a grounder back to the mound, holding Raburn at third, and was in the process of intentionally walking Magglio Ordonez when the heavy rain returned.

This delay lasted 69 minutes, and this time Gonzalez replaced Wilson to face Avila, the Tigers' All-Star catcher. In a lefty vs. lefty matchup, Gonzalez got the Rangers out of the jam by getting Avila on a grounder to second.

"If C.J. had got out of that fifth inning in good fashion, we probably would have sent him back out there," Washington said. "But the way it worked out, he had exhausted all of his pitches once the second rain delay came and we just brought in Gonzalez."

Ogando followed for two innings and Darren Oliver and Mike Adams combined to set down the side in order in the eighth. Santiago opened the ninth with a drag bunt past Feliz for a hit -- the only one given up by the Rangers' bullpen -- but Feliz struck out the next three hitters. He is 4-for-4 over the past four games in save opportunities.

"Some nights things fall into place for you and some nights they don't," Washington said. "Tonight they fell into place for us." Comments