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A little deja vu has the Rangers confident after Game 1 win

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The ace who never loses just lost.

The Rangers know what can happen next.

They saw it. They lived it.

They lost a World Series because of it.

Now, maybe they win an American League Championship Series because of it.

The Rangers would never put it that way, of course. They would never say that it was Cliff Lee's Game 1 loss in San Francisco that turned the World Series inevitably against them.

And they would never say that Justin Verlander's Game 1 loss Saturday night in Texas has turned this ALCS inevitably against the Tigers.

"I mean, I hope it does," Ian Kinsler said, after the Rangers' 3-2 win. "I don't know."

I don't know, either, but I sure do wonder.

The comparisons to last year's World Series aren't exact. The Giants beat up Lee in Game 1 last October, scoring seven runs and knocking him out in the fifth inning. The Rangers scored just three runs against Verlander in Game 1 Saturday night, and he left the game only because of two rain delays totaling nearly two hours.

By night's end, people were talking at least as much about the Rangers' bullpen as about Verlander. Texas manager Ron Washington used five pitchers after the second delay, and they combined to work 4 1/3 innings and allow just a bunt single, while walking one and striking out eight.

In fact, if one pitcher stood out in Game 1, it was neither Verlander nor Rangers starter C.J. Wilson, but rather Rangers starter-turned-reliever Alexi Ogando, who held the Tigers hitless in the sixth and seventh.

"That turns the game right there," Kinsler said.

ALCS: Tigers at Rangers
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And if there was another pitcher who stood out, it was Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, who was Verlander-like with his 101 mph fastball.

"That's not really a fastball," setup man Mike Adams said. "That's a super-fastball."

That's fine, but if Verlander did what Verlander normally does -- even for four innings before the rain -- Ogando, Feliz and the others have no lead to protect.

You want to know how unusual this game was? Verlander's last loss was on July 15, in his first start after the All-Star break.

Verlander and the Tigers would quickly remind you that they also lost Game 1 of the Division Series against the Yankees, when Verlander exited after one inning because of rain. But that was different.

Verlander threw just 25 pitches that night. He left with the game tied 1-1, and he came back to start Game 3.

He threw 82 pitches Saturday, and he may not pitch again until Game 5. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he still hadn't decided what to do with his rotation, but there's no way Verlander is coming back before Game 4, and it could end up being Game 5.

Maybe the Tigers survive that. Maybe Max Scherzer comes out Sunday night and repeats his strong Game 2 performance against the Yankees, and the Tigers go home with a split. Maybe Doug Fister does what he did in Game 5 of the Yankee series.

"The guys behind me," Verlander calls them.

"Everybody said Verlander didn't get the win, and this team's beat," he said, referring to the Division Series. "That's not the case whatsoever. The guys behind me can come in and show everybody what they've got.. .. We all have faith in those guys. I'm excited to see those guys work."

Normally, we're talking about how excited we are to see him work. That wasn't as much the case Saturday, when Verlander's command was off. He wasn't helped by home-plate umpire Tim Welke's strong strike zone, but Verlander blamed himself rather than Welke.

He said that during the first rain delay, a 41-minute break early in the top of the fifth, he went to throw in the cage, identified the flaw and fixed it. Verlander was going to stay in the game, and he was excited about it.

But when the rain began again, the top of the fifth was still going. And by the time play resumed, the break (nearly two hours in all) was too long to even consider sending Verlander out again.

As it turned out, it wouldn't have mattered. The score was 3-2 Rangers when Verlander departed, and it was still 3-2 Rangers at the end. The Tiger relievers who followed Verlander didn't give up any runs.

As it turned out, the parts of Game 1 that mattered most were the ones with Verlander in the game, the two runs the Rangers scored off him in the second inning and the Nelson Cruz fourth-inning home run that provided what turned out to be the decisive run.

The Cruz homer may as well have symbolized Verlander's evening. He fell behind 2-0 on two borderline fastballs that could have been called strikes but weren't. Then he badly missed his spot on a third fastball over the heart of the plate.

"That's not what I normally do -- ball one, ball two, cookie," Verlander said.

Funny, but I seem to remember Cliff Lee saying basically the same thing that night in San Francisco.

"For whatever reason, I couldn't get consistent with locating my pitches," Lee said that night. And when someone asked what advice he'd give Wilson, who started Game 2 against the Giants, Lee looked stunned and finally offered, "Don't throw balls down the middle?"

The Rangers said that night that they weren't shaken by Lee's loss. But four games later, their season was over.

The Tigers said Saturday they weren't shaken by Verlander's loss.

"Hopefully it hurts them," Adams said. "Hopefully their morale goes down. But they're a good club. I don't think it'll affect them as much as we hope."

By next week, we'll know.

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