ARLINGTON, Texas — Intentional or not, the Texas Rangers sent a loud message this opening weekend.
They can still hit with the best of them. And, even without Cliff Lee, their pitching is good enough to make the reigning AL champs among the teams to beat this season.
Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz became the first set of teammates to homer in each of the first three games in a season, and Matt Harrison pitched the Rangers to a 5-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday and a sweep of their season-opening series.
Coming off their first trip to the World Series, the Rangers really thumped this year’s AL favorites, hitting 11 home runs on the way to outscoring them 26-11 in the series. Texas comes away 3-0 for the second time in three years.
“It just makes a statement that we’re here to try to duplicate last year, that we can do it against anybody,” said David Murphy, who had the winning hit on opening day and got the Rangers going Sunday with a solo homer in the second inning. “We did it against a great team.”
Boston fell to 0-3 for the first time since 1996, a season that began 0-5. The Red Sox are off Monday, then will try to snap out of their funk starting Tuesday in Cleveland. They won’t get another crack at the Rangers until Aug. 22 at Fenway Park.
“We got outplayed all the way around,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “They hit better than us, they pitched better than us. Now we’ve got to regroup and get us a win so we can feel better about ourselves.”
Kinsler and Cruz came into the game as only the sixth set of teammates to homer in the first two games of a season. Kinsler also had become the first player to hit a leadoff homer in each of the first two games. Clay Buchholz (0-1) walked him on five pitches in the first inning to avoid any chance of making it three straight, then Kinsler delighted in going deep in his second plate appea rance.
“It’s fun, man,” said Kinsler, in the lineup at designated hitter instead of second base. “We’re swinging the bats excellent right now.”
Cruz’s homer was notable, too, as it was just the second by a right-handed batter to reach the upper deck in right field at Rangers Ballpark.
“I didn’t think it was going to hit the upper deck, but I knew it was gone,” Cruz said.
For all the long balls — four solo homers on Texas’ first five hits — the star of the game was Harrison (1-0). The left-hander allowed one run and five hits in seven innings, tying his career high with eight strikeouts and walking two.
“I knew if I hit my spots and mixed the speeds up, I was going to be able to keep them under control,” he said. “I’m definitely going to take this one and look back on it next time out. … It was just a good mix of everything. They really couldn’t sit on anything. I was able to throw three or four pitches for strikes today.”
He was dominant from the start, striking out two batters in the first inning and five his first time through the lineup. Adrian Gonzalez came into the game 5 for 9 without a strikeout, and fanned in his first two at-bats — swinging, then looking.
When the Red Sox made contact during the first six innings, it often was slow rollers. A leadoff walk in the seventh showed Harrison was fading. He gave up a one-out RBI single to Carl Crawford — his first RBI since joining the Red Sox — then barely missed on a full-count pitch to No. 9 hitter Darnell McDonald, loading the bases with two outs and holding a 4-1 lead. He got out of it by s triking out Jacoby Ellsbury, prompting smiles and fist bumps between manager Ron Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux.
After Murphy homered in the second, Kinsler’s came in the third. Mike Napoli hit his second of the season in the fifth inning, then Cruz in the seventh. Texas’ only run not driven in by a homer was an RBI double by Michael Young in the eighth. Young, Murphy and Napoli all had two hits for Texas.
The Rangers had a chance to pile on more runs in the eighth, loading the bases with no outs. But Jonathan Papelbon struck out the next three hitters.
Buchholz allowed only five hits over 6 1-3 innings, but four of them went over the fence. He struck out three and walked two.
Crawford, Boston’s $142 million offseason addition, was dropped from third in the lineup to seventh after starting the season 0 for 7 with four strikeouts. He went 2 for 4, getting his first hit of the season in the second inning with a line drive that landed just inside the third-base line.
NOTES: Kinsler joined Dean Palmer (1992) as the only Rangers to homer in the first three games of a season. … All three starting pitchers Boston used in this series allowed at least two homers. … Chad Curtis was the first right-handed hitter to reach the upper deck in right field. He did it while playing for Texas in 2000. … The series drew 144,828, the most ever at Rangers Ballpar k for a season-opening, three-game series, topping the stadium’s opening weekend in 1994. … Young played second base for the first time since 2003.