Nolan Ryan hollered from the front row, manager Ron Washington pumped his fist in the dugout and C.J. Wilson kept in control on the mound.
Finally, a home playoff victory for the Texas Rangers was within reach. Even better, they were beating their old nemesis, the New York Yankees.
And then, Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees did what they do best. They rallied to win, using a five-run eighth inning to down Texas 6-5 Friday night in the AL championship series opener.
“That was a classic example of us having a tough start for the first six innings,” said Rodriguez, who scooted home with the tiebreaking run soon after his two-run single that was nearly a double-play grounder. “Then a great at-bat and a great slide gets us going.”
The Rangers still have never won a postseason game at home (0-7). This one hurt the most, since they led 3-0 in the first inning and knocked out CC Sabathia with a 5-0 lead after four.
Robinson Cano hit a solo homer in the seventh to begin the Yankees' comeback. Brett Gardner's headfirst dive for an infield hit the next inning started a string of seven straight hitters reaching base against Wilson and four relievers.
“The first seven innings didn't go too well for us,” Gardner said. “Just trying to get something going. Sometimes, I feel like I can get there faster, depending on how my body's leaning.”
After a majors-best 48 come-from-behind wins in the regular season, the defending World Series champion Yankees have done it three more times in the postseason.
The latest left Washington and everyone else in the Texas dugout looking on in disgust. Ryan sat with his arms crossed, shoulders slumped for the Rangers part-owner.
Texas had a runner picked off in the eighth, then threatened in the ninth against Mariano Rivera by putting a runner on second with one out. But Rivera struck out Michael Young and retired Josh Hamilton on a grounder.
New York has won 10 consecutive postseason games against the Rangers, who were knocked out of the playoffs by the Yankees in their only three previous playoffs appearances (1996, 1998 and 1999).
“I don't know if we gave it away. We just didn't execute,” Washington said. “It certainly was our ballgame. We needed six outs. We just didn't get it.”
The Yankees became the first team to win a postseason game after trailing by at least four runs in the eighth since the 2005 Astros, according to STATS LLC. Houston was behind Atlanta 6-1 in the eighth of NL division series Game 4 and went on to win 7-6 in 18 innings.
“I'm never surprised at what our guys do. Maybe thrilled, but never surprised,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “They stay on each other about grinding out at-bats. Chip away. There's a talented group in there that plays with a lot of passion.”
Right-hander Phil Hughes starts Game 2 for the Yankees on Saturday against right-hander Colby Lewis.
Hamilton's three-run homer in the first put Texas ahead, and only a fortunate bounce on what could've been a bases-loaded wild pitch later in the inning stopped the Rangers from getting more.
Wilson, the crafty lefty reliever-turned starter, blanked the Yankees through six innings. The home run by Cano started things going awfully wrong for the Rangers.
Gardner, the speedy ninth-place hitter, led off the eighth with an infield hit and Derek Jeter followed with an RBI double to chase Wilson.
Darren Oliver, the only player who had been in a playoff game with Texas before this season, came in with a 5-2 lead and walked the only two batters he faced.
Rodriguez, who had already struck out twice and made a fielding error to the delight of his former Texas fans, hit a hard grounder that hopped over Young's glove at third base. The single came against submarining right-hander Darren O'Day, who faced only one batter and took the loss.
Cano then had an RBI single off lefty Clay Rapada, who didn't face another batter. Marcus Thames followed with the single off Derek Holland that drove home A-Rod.
Dustin Moseley, the second of four Yankees' relievers, struck out four in his two perfect innings.
Rivera worked the ninth for his 42nd career postseason save, extending his major league record. He has allowed only one earned run over his last 21 postseason appearances (28 innings).
Things had started so well for the Rangers in their first-ever ALCS game, and the first time playing a postseason series opener at Rangers Ballpark.
Ryan, the Hall of Famer and team president, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The all-time king of strikeouts and no-hitters fired a heater to Jim Sundberg that drew maybe the loudest pregame cheer under the Friday night lights that in the Texas fall are usually dominated by high school football.
Ryan was ready for an ALCS game. So were the Rangers.
Sabathia, not so much.
With Hamilton's three-run homer in the first, Texas already had more runs than it scored in all the 1998 and 1999 division series against New York. The Rangers scored only one run in each of those while being swept in three games both times. They lost the last three games in the 1996 after winning their playoff debut in old Yankee Stadium.
Plus, Sabathia had allowed only two earned runs in his two ALCS starts for the Yankees last season.
In the division series against the Rays, when Texas won a postseason series for the first time ever, Hamilton hit .111 with only two singles and one RBI. He hit .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs in the regular season but missed 24 games in September because of two fractured ribs after crashing into an outfield wall making a catch.
Hamilton pulled a pitch down the right-field line for his first postseason homer came after Elvis Andrus drew a leadoff walk and Young hit a liner to left-center for a single, sending the already worked-up crowd of 50,935 into another frenzy.
But the Rangers missed out on a much bigger start against Sabathia.
After another extended gap between starts, eight days of rest since Game 1 of the AL division series against Minnesota, the Yankees' big left-hander labored through the first. Sabathia walked three, gave up three hits and was pitching to the ninth batter when he finally got out of a bases-loaded jam on his 36th pitch — the 20th ball.
That high pitch clipped catcher Jorge Posada's mitt and ricocheted hard off the brick-facade backstop. Posada turned, retrieved the ball and flipped it to Sabathia to get Nelson Cruz out trying to score.
Cruz immediately pointed at home plate while pleading with umpire Gerry Davis, and Washington ran out to join the conversation. But replays showed clearly that Sabathia tagged Cruz on his left arm before his feet slid across the plate.
Young put the Rangers up 5-0 with a two-run double in the fourth before Hamilton took an inning-ending called third strike. That was it for Sabathia in the shortest of his seven postseason games for the Yankees over two Octobers — and his shortest in 36 starts this year, his two postseason starts included.
Sabathia gave up five runs on six hits and four walks, throwing 93 pitches over four innings.
Sabathia had seven days of rest before his first-round start against Minnesota, when he threw 111 pitches in six innings while giving up four runs in the Yankees' 6-4 victory.
Notes: Cano's homer leading off the seventh was the first by a left-hander against Wilson since June 3, 2008. … Yankees pitchers had thrown 24 2-3 consecutive scoreless innings in playoffs games at Rangers Ballpark, since the third inning of Game 4 of the 1996 division series. They pitched shutouts at Texas in 1998 and 1999. … Hamilton was 1 for 10 with four strikeouts in his career against Sabathia before the first-inning homer.