Rangers rookie Hanser Alberto: From goat to team MVP

TORONTO -- Imagine being Hanser Alberto. You are a 22-year-old rookie starting your first postseason game. You have played so sparingly that your last base hit was in August. You are playing third base, which you have played in only about one-tenth of your games as a professional player. And you are filling in for Adrian Beltre, a possible Hall of Famer and your team's emotional leader.

And not only that, you botch the first ball hit to you, a routine grounder that you turn into an error that leads to two runs and costs your team the lead.

Do you just sink into the ground then and there? No, not if you're playing on artificial turf. And not if you're Alberto.

"After I made the error, I knew I had to keep my head up," Alberto said following the Texas Rangers' 6-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in 14 innings. "After that, there were more ground balls coming. In the moment, it was a little hard because a couple runs scored. But we fight until the last out. It doesn't matter."

It didn't matter because of what the Texas bullpen did in seven innings -- all scoreless -- and what Alberto did in the 14th inning. With two out, runners on first and second and the score tied 4-4, he stepped to the plate against Toronto reliever LaTroy Hawkins. And he singled home what proved to be the game-winning run.

"That was very, very special," Alberto said. "Because I came from making an error that cost us a couple runs. And then I went 0-for-4 with a couple strikeouts. It was like, 'Wow, this is a good time to do something good.' And I concentrated as much as I could, looking for a fastball, and I got one and put a good swing on it."

Despite being overwhelming underdogs, the Rangers head home with a 2-0 lead. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-five series on the road have gone on to win the series 93 percent of the time (27-2). Of course, nothing is guaranteed, as Texas knows. The Rangers won the first two games of the 2010 division series in Tampa Bay only to lose the next two at home before winning the clincher on the road.

"You wanted to take one game in an atmosphere like this against the Blue Jays. To win two is pretty awesome," said Josh Hamilton, who was on that 2010 Texas team. "I prefer not to go back, but if we have to, we will. But I guarantee the guys will be focused and do what we need to do."

One thing Hamilton needs to do is start hitting. He is 0-for-10 this series and hitless in his past 30 postseason at-bats. Not that the middle of the Texas lineup has been all that much better. Since Beltre left in the third inning of Game 1, the 2-through-6 batters in the order are 5-for-39 with just one run and one RBI.

The bottom of the lineup has made up for that, with two home runs, seven runs scored and five RBIs. Rougned Odor has been particularly productive, scoring five runs, including Friday's game winner when he slid in safely on his second close play. He also scored by adroitly sweeping home plate with his hand on Alberto's short sacrifice fly in the second inning.

The bullpen also has done a fantastic job. The Texas relievers threw seven scoreless innings Friday while allowing just two hits and striking out nine. They have not allowed a run since the Blue Jays homered in their first at-bat against Keone Kela in the sixth inning of Game 1.

Kela got the win with a scoreless inning Friday, but he didn't show quite the composure of fellow rookie Alberto. After allowing an upper-deck foul ball to Josh Donaldson in the 13th, he got in a jawing match with the possible AL MVP that emptied both benches and bullpens. Still, he got out of the inning, thanks to Edwin Encarnacion flying out to the warning track in dead center with one on and two out. Then the Rangers scored two in the 14th to win it.

Beltre said he is uncertain when he can play again -- "Today was almost like yesterday. I got a little better as the game went on but I can't tell you if I can play Sunday" -- but Alberto showed he is capable of stepping up to the challenge. Plus, he has Beltre's help. He gave Alberto tips on how to play various batters and also instructed him after the error to forget about what happened and just go on to play the rest of the game as best he could.

"It's the game. Things happen," Beltre said. "After that he was fine. He knew he had a miscue, but after that he made great plays and had a great last at-bat and won the game for us."

After the win, the Rangers presented Alberto with the large, gleaming, jewel-encrusted world heavyweight champion belt that they give to their team MVP after every game. Which is just one more challenge for Alberto -- how to get it through security and customs on the flight home from Canada.

"Today it was me who was MVP. Hopefully, Sunday it will be somebody else," Alberto said. "Hopefully, Adrian will be back."