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ALDS Gm 4: Harrison, Hellickson to face off in Game 4

ST. PETERSBURG -- For the Rays, the consoling thought is that Game 4 of the American League Division Series is really old hat. No team could be better suited to deal with an elimination game than a club that, when play began one month ago Tuesday, was nine games out of a playoff spot.

"The guys on this team know how to play, know how to play tough baseball," Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon said after the Rangers took Game 3 of the ALDS, 4-3, at Tropicana Field on Monday.

"We'll definitely be ready," Damon said. "Some guys are swinging good bats right now. Hopefully, a few more of us can get some hits and contribute tomorrow."

As desirable as the Rangers' position in the series is, they're well aware that the Rays have been in this spot for quite a while. Even though a Rays victory on Tuesday would send the series back to friendly territory for the Rangers -- the Ballpark in Arlington -- Texas' ideal scenario is ending the series on the first try.

"You're here because you're resilient, and you fight hard, that's the reason eight teams are here right now," said the Rangers' Michael Young. "So any time you have a chance to win a series, you want to take advantage of it."

Of the combined 20 Division Series played in the last five years between both leagues, just one went to five games: the Rays and Rangers a year ago.

For a game of Tuesday's magnitude, it might be surprising that the combined playoff experience of both starting pitchers is virtually nil.

Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson led all Major League rookies in ERA (2.95), innings (189) and quality starts (20) while finishing tied for second in wins (13). In 26 of 29 outings, he allowed three runs or fewer.

But Hellickson has never pitched in the actual postseason -- September's comeback acknowledged -- never mind a postseason elimination game.

"You know, I think I just have to go out there and take it like any other game," Hellickson said. "I mean, it's easy to say that, but I think that's the approach you really have to take.

"Everybody's on deck," manager Joe Maddon said. "We'll see how it plays out. Of course, I like Jeremy's ability versus this team right here. So, one moment at a time, we will be ready."

Hellickson will be on six days' rest, but he's not worried that the layoff will have adverse effects.

"I've gotten a lot of extra days between starts throughout the year," Hellickson said. "So I think that's all helped, and these few extra days will help this time, too, I think."

For the Rangers, left-hander Matt Harrison got his feet wet with a relief appearance in Game 1 of the Division Series, letting up one run in two-thirds of an inning. The result, though, wasn't so much the concern, as the experience.

"It definitely helped," Harrison said. "It was better for me to do that than just throw on the side. [To] actually get into a postseason game and get the butterflies out of the way was I think big for me."

Harrison was left off last year's playoff roster, but this year, he lowered his regular-season ERA from from 4.71 to 3.39.

"He played a big part in our returning here with the opportunity to play in postseason," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "And he certainly has shown that he has the ability to go out there and keep his team in the ballgame, which is what we ask of all of our starting pitchers." Comments