C.J. Wilson was cruising, doing a nice imitation of his new buddy Cliff Lee.
The "other" lefty in the Texas Rangers' rotation, Wilson opened the AL championship series by retiring seven straight New York Yankees. He didn't give up a hit until the fourth inning and had a shutout through six.
Then it all fell apart.
Wilson let the first two batters reach in the eighth and left to a hearty ovation with Texas ahead by three runs. By the time the Rangers finally got an out, they were on their fourth reliever -- and the Yankees were on their way to a 6-5 victory in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night.
"I felt good, energetic and all that stuff," Wilson said. "I just made a couple of mistakes locating pitches and paid for it. ... The reality is we've been through so much. There's no sort of extra penalty for losing Game 1. Both teams have to win four games. We're looking at it as we have a six-game series and we have to win four games."
Wilson watched the implosion from the dugout. Instead of being the winning pitcher in Texas' first-ever playoff victory at home, he was left to wonder about a couple of minor mistakes.
"They used to have this show called the 'Twilight Zone.' That's how I felt," he said. "We were all kind of pacing in the dugout. It was surreal."
In only his second career playoff outing, Wilson allowed six hits and walked two. He was charged with three runs, but one scored after he was gone. He struck out four, including Alex Rodriguez twice.
"He was so good the first six innings," said Robinson Cano, who singled for New York's first hit and ended Wilson's shutout bid with a homer.
Wilson was given the ace-like duty of starting the opener because Lee pitched the finale of the previous round. The laid-back Californian handled this huge stage as if it was no big deal. As if former President George W. Bush always sits in the front row, as if 50,930 fans always skip a Friday night under the lights of a high school football stadium to watch the Rangers take on the reigning World Series champion Yankees for a spot in the World Series.
He got a pair of groundouts and a strikeout in the first inning, then came out for the second with a 3-0 lead because his teammates jumped on Yankees ace CC Sabathia.
Rodriguez led off and Wilson got him to swing through strike three. A-Rod whiffed again before Wilson yielded Cano's first single. Wilson gave up another hit, putting him in his first jam, then got out of it by retiring Jorge Posada.
With the lead up to 5-0 after four innings, Wilson closed an uneventful fifth by coaxing Derek Jeter into a double-play grounder to second base.
Cano led off the seventh with a homer down the right-field line, making him the first left-hander to homer off Wilson since June 3, 2008. Again, Wilson remained composed, retiring the next three hitters.
But that was it. Brett Gardner opened the eighth by reaching on an infield single, sliding in head-first to barely beat Wilson to the bag. Then Jeter doubled, driving in Gardner and bringing manager Ron Washington out for the first of what proved to be many times that inning. The Rangers tied a dubious ALCS record by using five pitchers in the frame.
"(Wilson) had done a good job to that point," Washington said. "I felt like I needed to let him leave right there and bring in the bullpen. ... Just a bad eighth inning."
Wilson is slotted to start Game 5 in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night -- if necessary. Wilson expects that it will be.
"We showed that we can take down their ace and we stood up to them for eight of the nine innings," he said. "We just had that one bad inning. We didn't capitalize on some opportunities to add on later in the game and they did."