ARLINGTON -- For seven innings in Friday night's 6-5 loss to the Yankees, C.J. Wilson appeared to be on cruise control.With a sellout Rangers crowd waving rally towels and screaming at the top of their lungs, Wilson calmly retired one hitter after another in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. "I thought I was going to finish the game," Wilson said. "But I just made those two mistakes in the eighth inning, and that was pretty much it. Curtains, as they say in show business." Through six innings, the Yankees had managed to collect three hits and only were able to get two runners into scoring position. Even a homer to start the seventh by Robinson Cano did not seem to be cause for concern, as Wilson retired the next three to take a 5-1 lead into the eighth. The homer wasn't alarming, but it was noteworthy, given that it was the first time the southpaw had allowed a dinger to a left-handed hitter since June 3, 2008, when Cleveland's Shin-Soo Choo took him deep.
Brett Gardner led off the eighth with a grounder to the right of Jorge Cantu at first. Cantu made the play and flipped to Wilson, but the speedy Gardner was able to beat Wilson to the bag by half a step."It was a slider in the dirt and he took a Kung Fu swing at it and hit it off the very end of the bat," Wilson said. "If he hits it hard, it's an easy play, but he didn't hit it that hard, so it's like obviously he gets a chance to be a deer down the first-base line." Wilson still had a chance to work out of the jam, but when he allowed a double to the next batter, Derek Jeter, Texas manager Ron Washington decided the left-hander's night was finished at 104 pitches. "He had worked awfully hard," Washington said. "He had done a good job to that point. I felt like I needed to let him leave right there and bring in the bullpen." That led to a bullpen meltdown during which the Yankees scored five runs and grabbed a 6-5 lead. A stunned Wilson watched from different vantage points in the Rangers' dugout, hoping that he might be able to provide some luck for the relievers. "They used to have this show called The Twilight Zone," Wilson said when asked to describe the eighth inning. "That's what it was. I was like, 'If I stand here, we're going to, no. OK, if I stand here. Nope. OK, I'm going to stand over here.' We were all kind of like pacing in the dugout because it was kind of surreal anyway." While Cliff Lee gets attention for his dominant performances in the postseason, Wilson is showing in his first taste of October baseball that he, too, is able to rise to the occasion. In his one outing against the Rays in the AL Division Series, he allowed just two hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings. Before Cano's homer, Wilson, who is expected to start Game 5 (if necessary) in New York, had a 12 1/3-inning postseason scoreless streak. "He threw the ball excellent tonight," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He probably would have been there a little longer if he had got the leadoff guy in the eighth, but [Gardner] was able to beat that out and we turned the ball over to our bullpen that's been excellent all season." Wilson may not have gotten a win, but he did show his teammates that the Yankees are human, a fact that shouldn't be lost, given that the Rangers have now dropped 10 straight playoff games to them. "C.J. proved you could do it until he turned the ball over to us," reliever Darren O'Day said. That all seemed to be of little consolation to him. "I'm out there trying to complete the game, and I failed tonight," Wilson said. "That's the way I look at it, to be honest with you. Regardless of anything else, I expect a lot better out of myself."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.