NEW YORK (AP) — C.J. Wilson went down on one knee and took a stick to his spikes, digging out the thick clumps of dirt stuck to his soles.
No matter what he tried Wednesday, Wilson couldn’t get comfortable — and the former closer failed to close out the New York Yankees.
Wilson wasted his chance to pitch the Rangers into their first World Series, allowing back-to-back homers in a 7-2 loss that trimmed Texas’ lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven AL championship series.
“It was weird. Just kind of a twilight zone,” Wilson said. “Shake it off and let it go.”
The left-hander’s erratic outing wasn’t the only thing that went wrong for the Rangers. Streaking slugger Nelson Cruz was pulled with tightness in his troublesome left hamstring, though he said it was merely a precaution and he expects to play in Game 6.
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Still, so much for smooth sailing past the star-studded Yankees.
“The postseason’s not supposed to be easy,” Ian Kinsler said.
The surprising Rangers have two opportunities remaining to clinch the pennant at home, beginning Friday night. Even if New York wins that one, Cliff Lee looms in Game 7.
But it’s always dangerous to let the Bronx Bombers off the deck, and that’s exactly what Wilson did.
Fiddling with his spikes on a sticky mound, the converted closer never got in a groove on an overcast afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
After compiling a 2.03 ERA in his first two playoff starts, Wilson walked Alex Rodriguez and Lance Berkman in the second inning before giving up RBI singles to Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson.
Posada turned for home after a throwing error by right fielder Jeff Francoeur, but Wilson backed up the play and had an easy out lined up at the plate. Problem was, he launched a wild toss high over the head of catcher Matt Treanor, giving New York a 3-0 lead.
The next inning, Wilson served up consecutive homers to Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano, making it a five-run spread. The second one was out of character — Wilson held lefty batters to a major league-low .176 slugging percentage this season.
“Just mechanically got a little out of whack,” he said. “Every pitch had three little wrinkles on it. Each pitch had one or two layers of mistakes.”
With Yankees ace CC Sabathia holding the Rangers in check, Wilson dug his teammates a hole too large to climb out of. Texas piled up 13 hits but went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
“In a vacuum, two solo homers wouldn’t have been a big deal. But it was more the three runs the inning before,” Wilson said. “Giving them that big of a cushion to work with made it way too easy.”
It was the fifth time Wilson started against the Yankees this year, perhaps making it tough to fool them. He pitched well in the series opener, allowing three runs in seven-plus innings, but New York rallied in the eighth for a 6-5 victory that cost him his second win of these playoffs.
“I think the difference with C.J., the second inning, he couldn’t throw the ball over the plate,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “You start putting these guys on the bag they do what they do and they make you pay for it.”
Wilson yielded six runs — five earned — and six hits in five innings. He walked four, one intentional, and threw only 48 of 93 pitches for strikes against the patient Yankees, leading to Texas’ first loss in six road playoff games this year.
“It had to happen sometime,” Josh Hamilton said.
Wilson said he found himself “pawing” at a mound that was “kind of muddy.” But it wasn’t anything he wasn’t used to. He said the mound at new Yankee Stadium has an unusual consistency, and he’s dealt with it before.
“It was just the combination of me not making the adjustments,” Wilson said. “I just didn’t do it.”
Primarily a starter in the minors, Wilson saved 52 games for Texas from 2005-09 but asked the team for a chance to switch back and secured a spot in the rotation this spring. He went 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA in his first full season as a starter.
Cruz, who also had a productive season when healthy, has been one of Texas’ best hitters this month. But he was replaced in left field by David Murphy in the bottom of the fifth because of his latest hamstring problem.
The slugger missed 51 games this year due to hamstring injuries that landed him on the disabled list three times. The last two were left hamstring strains, including his latest DL stint in August.
Cruz is batting .378 with four homers, five doubles and six RBIs in the playoffs. He said he thought he tweaked his hamstring when he charged hard on Posada’s RBI single and made a strong throw to the plate that was a little wide.
“The other time was kind of worse,” Cruz said. “I don’t feel it right now. I should be good to go on Friday.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.