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Spin Forward: Home-field disadvantage?

Spin Forward: Home-field disadvantage?

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ARLINGTON -- The suddenly surging Rays are just one home win away from a monumental comeback -- not to mention a trip to the American League Championship Series. However, in an AL Division Series that has been, well, backwards, home wins have been invisible through the first four games.

Tampa Bay took the gracious hosts thing a little too far, losing the first two games of this series to the Rangers by a combined score of 11-1.

Then the Rangers got home, on the cusp of their first postseason series victory in history, only to have the Rays turn the tables on them in Games 3 and 4.

The Rays have wrestled back home-field from Texas for the winner-take-all, but now they must prove that being at home really is an advantage.

"It's strange," Rays first baseman Carlos Pena said of the home-field disadvantage. "But also interesting and exciting. I'm glad to be part of it, man, that's all."

If the Rangers can ride Cliff Lee to victory in Tuesday night's Game 5, this will mark the first time the road team has won all five games since the inception of the Division Series in 1995.

The Rays want no part of that type of history. Instead, they'd much rather join the 2001 Yankees as the only teams to lose Games 1 and 2 at home in a Division Series and then live to tell about it. Someone has to win a home game, right?

"Absolutely, absolutely," said Rays right fielder Matt Joyce. "It's our turn."

If the Rays can do that, they will be the fifth team in 40 tries to come all the way back from a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series, and first since the 2003 Red Sox.

Then again, the Rangers might have the ultimate trump card in Lee, who has been as dominant as anyone the last two postseasons.

Perhaps this will be remembered as the series where the team with room service kept winning.

"It's been an unusual series so far," said Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler. "We won there, they won here. Right now that's the way it stands. I hope that continues."

With the catwalks hovering up above and the fans clanging their cowbells, the Rays hope to regain their comfort at home and get to the ALCS for the second time in the last three years.

Tampa Bay didn't clinch the AL East title until the final day of the regular season. But by doing so, the Rays will get Game 5 at home. They hope it will be as beneficial as when they had Game 7 of the ALCS at home against Boston two years ago.

"That's what I was talking about the whole AL East stretch run, wanting the home-field advantage," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "I know one thing from our perspective is we are a much better road team, period. Our record on the road was very similar to the record at home. There was a time this year we struggled at home and I had to put the pedal down a bit to get back to a good home record.

"So I don't know, I just think that some teams are better able to play well on the road. We demonstrated that this year. I still want to believe there is a home-field advantage and hopefully that's going to show up Tuesday. That's what I talked about in September regarding winning the East, having the best record. As the playoffs get deeper, you get the extra game at home. I have been talking about it all along. Hopefully it will bare out."

Then you have the Rangers, rooting for the exact opposite and hoping to nullify the factor of home-field completely.

"That just goes to show you too much is made of the home-field advantage," said Rangers outfielder David Murphy. "It's fun to have your home crowd behind you and the familiarity of your home park. But this is postseason. Both teams are playing their best baseball."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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