Results tagged ‘ Bengie Molina ’

Spare Parts

When you talk about the first World Series run by the Rangers, the names that come to mind are Josh Hamilton, American League MVP; Cliff Lee, mid-season acquisition and Yankee Killer in the ALCS; Michael Young, the long-time “Face” of the franchise; and Nelson Cruz, who can carry a team on his back for two-week stretches, including the playoffs.

Those players deservedly got a lot of the press, but another key to the Rangers first run to the pennant were the spare parts. Jarrod Saltalamacchia went on the DL after just two games. Enter last-minute Spring Training acquisition Matt Treanor. Treanor held down the fort so well until the July acquisition of Bengie Molina, Saltalamacchia never again wore a Rangers uniform. Salty was optioned to AAA after coming off the DL, then went to the Red Sox in a September deal.

The Rangers had a winning record during Nelson Cruz’ three trips to the DL in 2010, thanks to the emergence of David Murphy as a viable 4th outfielder. Murphy remains an integral piece of the Rangers today, though speculation grows he’ll become part of a deal sometime this summer.

Ian Kinsler also had two DL stints in 2010. Again, Texas survived just fine, especially in mid-August when Andres Blanco filled in for 19 games and hit .333 with 8 doubles and .818 OPS, playing sterling defense as well.

The pitching staff also had its moments. Rich Harden and Scott Feldman, expected to be the top two rotation pieces, never panned out. It was new acquisition Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation, who helped keep the Rangers above-board until the trade for Cliff Lee. Likewise, the bullpen got a boost when Alexi Ogando was recalled from Oklahoma City. All Ogando did was earn wins in his first three relief appearances and ended up being the Rangers 7th inning go-to guy.

The pattern repeated itself in 2011. When center fielder Julio Borbon went down in May with an injury, Endy Chavez was called up from Round Rock, hit .301 in 83 games and banished Borbon to the minors, where he remains today. Ogando again served as a vital piece, this time moving into the starting rotation when off-season signee Brandon Webb proved not ready to go out of Spring Training. Ogando thrived as a starter, making the All-Star team. Yorvit Torrealba was expected to be the primary catcher, until Mike Napoli had an offensive year that nobody saw coming.

The stars propel teams, but the spare parts are often the ones that give winning teams the extra edge. The previous 400 words were all written with Robbie Ross in mind.

Robbie Ross, Texas Ranger

Just a year ago today, Ross was pitching for High-A Myrtle Beach. The Rangers 2nd round draft pick in 2008, Ross compiled a 9-4 record with a 2.26 ERA as a starter  to earn a late season promotion to AA Frisco. In 6 games with Frisco, Ross was 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA. Those stats earned Ross an invite to big league camp for Spring Training in 2012.

Ross was expected to do what most rookies his age (21) do. Stick around big league camp for a couple of weeks, mop up a few games, then return to minor league camp, where he would most likely start the season at Frisco, maybe Round Rock if he was lucky.

Ross, however, didn’t recognize his long odds. He just did what he’d been doing since being drafted. He threw strikes. Because he threw strikes, he got outs. There were veteran southpaws in the Rangers camp this year, looking to fill the role vacated by Darren Oliver when he departed for the Blue Jays, chief among them Joe Beimel. He didn’t pitch badly, but a late camp injury ended his chances. Michael Kirkman, who contributed key late-season innings in 2010 but slipped in 2011, was another prime candidate. Kirkman struggled from the outset and has continued to struggle at Round Rock in 2012.

By the time Spring Training was over, Ross had leap-frogged everyone and earned a spot on the Rangers roster. He was expected to be brought around slowly, used in mop-up roles to get his feet wet. Most thought Ross would just hold down the fort until the Rangers either re-signed Mike Gonzalez or traded for another lefty in the pen.

All Ross has done is succeed, in whatever role the Rangers have asked him. Sunday, he was asked to replace another famous spare part, Alexi Ogando. Ogando, who was made a starter again when Derek Holland went on the DL, threw three hitless innings, then strained his groin legging out a bunt single that was supposed to be just a sacrifice bunt. Ross came in and this time threw four innings of 1-hit ball at the Giants and earning the victory. Ross is now 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA. If Ogando goes on the disabled list, Ross could be the Rangers starter this Saturday against the Astros.

Not bad for someone who wasn’t even projected to be in the big leagues until next year at the earliest. Let’s hear it for spare parts!

Welcome Back!

Yesterday the rumor mills were ablaze with possibilities of Lance Berkman joining the Rangers.

Didn’t happen.

24 hours later, two deals DID happen, all to provide the Texas Rangers with insurance as we head closer and closer to the post-season.

 

Matt Treanor at Rangers Fan Fest January 2011

Texas re-acquired Matt Treanor from the Kansas City Royals, apparently in a straight cash transaction. Treanor was a key member of the 2010 AL Champions who filled in valiantly when Jarrod Saltalamacchia fell out of favor with the organization and Taylor Teagarden struck out more than he put wood on the ball. Treanor was the Rangers’ regular catcher until the acquisition of Bengie Molina. Treanor’s a grinder who gets the utmost from his talent, which is major league minimal, but he’s a great influence in the clubhouse, he’ll work a pitcher for long at-bats and is familiar with the pitching staff. Treanor probably will sniff a Rangers post-season roster only if Mike Napoli or Yorvit Torrealba suffer a late-season injury. Meanwhile, he’ll be able to provide them with the occasional rest day down the stretch.

Acquisition #2 is Orioles southpaw relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez. Again, this is just an insurance policy for the most part. Gonzalez will serve as a left-handed specialist for the next month. He will only make the post-season roster if A) Darren Oliver gets hurt; or B) if the team they’re facing in the playoffs is particularly vulnerable against lefthanders. Otherwise, maybe he’ll make Koji Uehara feel more comfortable being a Ranger, since they were teammates just a month ago. Gonzalez was acquired for the very popular Player To Be Named Later.

Two deals giving the Rangers for post-season options. Now all they have to do is make it to the post-season.

The Perfect Set-Up: Rangers Sweep A’s

If the last seven days of baseball had been scripted for Texas Rangers fans, it pretty much followed said script to the letter.

After nine, count ‘em, nine consecutive days of having the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim staying a mere game behind the Rangers in the AL West, the week of August 8-14 stood as the best chance for Texas to put some more space between them and their closest competitors. While the Rangers were set to close their home stand with three games against last place Seattle, followed by three on the road with third place Oakland, the Angels were facing a six game road swing through Yankee Stadium and the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Sure enough, the Rangers took two of three from the Mariners while the Yankees took two of three from LA, putting the Texas lead back up to 2. Then the Atleticos (they put the Spanish name for the team on their unis in Sunday’s game) cooperated fully, letting Texas sweep them for the second consecutive series. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays came from behind to win the rubber match with the Angels in extra innings Sunday to take their series 2-1. Thus the crucial week played just as it was hoped, with the Rangers gaining three games on the week to end the week 5-1 and with a 4-game margin over the Angels.

How important is this? It’s huge, considering the first and second place teams square off against each other for a four game set in LA beginning tomorrow night. Bottom line is, even if the Angels manage to sweep this upcoming series, Texas will still leave California Thursday night no worse than tied for first place. HUGE!

Game 1 of the Oakland series was a no doubter. New A’s Public Enemy #1, CJ Wilson, who made a few comments about Oakland that were a lot milder than the way they were taken, pitched six strong innings in pacing Texas to a 9-1 pasting of the A’s. The middle game of the set, a 7-1 final, was a lot closer than the final score indicates. Colby Lewis and Trevor Cahill matched 0′s for six innings, with Cahill tossing a no-hitter through 5. Texas finally broke through with two runs, followed by the A’s cutting the lead to 2-1. It wasn’t until after Cahill left the game that Texas teed off on the A’s relief corps, plating 5 insurance runs to run away with the decision.

Sunday’s finale should have been easy. Facing former Ranger Rich Harden, the Rangers struck for 3 in the first due to Harden pitching like, well, the Rich Harden who pitched for the Rangers in 2010. By the time Harden was gone (over 100 pitches in just 4 innings), the Rangers were comfortably ahead 6-0. Consistent Matt Harrison was on cruise control when, suddenly, the A’s decided to make a game of things. Taking advantage of well-timed hits sandwiched around a couple Rangers errors, Texas suddenly found the game tied at 6 heading into the 8th inning. A 1-out Mitch Moreland walk in the 9th, followed by a stolen base by pinch-runner Craig Gentry, set up David Murphy’s game winning 2-out single. Three Neftali Feliz-thrown outs later, the Rangers had their sweep and their four-game lead over the Angels. 

AMAZING STAT: Heading into Sunday’s finale, Texas stood at 68-52 on the season. One can easily say the Texas offense is nowhere as potent as it was in the World Series year of 2010. Josh Hamilton isn’t hitting for as high an average or with as much power as his MVP year. Ian Kinsler is having a down year with the bat. Elvis Andrus has regressed defensively. Yet Texas entered Sunday’s game with a better 120-game record than the 2010 team (they were 67-53 at this point). The reason? A better rotation in the #3-#5 slots than a year ago and a LOT more offense out of the catcher position with Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba compared to Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor.

Four games in LA coming up. Reasonable expectation? Missing Dan Haren’s spot in the rotation works in the R’s favor and gives Texas a good chance to go at least 2-2 and maintain the 4-game lead. Too bad I won’t see every inning of every game. Can’t stay up that late and function well at work the next day like I used to. Having a lead when it’s time to retire for the night would be nice, though…

By the way, thank you Robinson Cano, for beating the Angels Thursday and thank you, Edwin Encarnacion, for your game-winning hit for the Blue Jays today!

 

One Incredible Year

I became a fan of the Texas Rangers before they were the Texas Rangers:

 

Senators Jersey.jpgMy very first post outlined my allegiance to the Rangers from the time we both resided on the Eastern Seaboard. My first baseball game ever was a Washington Senators game and, as of this moment, my most recent baseball experience was a Texas Rangers game, Game 4 of the World Series.

I have seen a lot of miserable seasons in 40 years and a few good ones. But I have never encountered what 2010 brought to me as a fan.

When I began this blog just before the start of the 2010 season, I’m not going to claim I didn’t expect all of this. Actually, I had a pretty strong feeling the Rangers could win the West, which is truly why I started it. I wanted to chronicle not only the games, but the feelings I had leading up to winning a Division Championship for the first time in 11 years. Beyond that, I certainly had hopes that the futility of first round playoff losses would also come to an end. Again, that came to fruition.

If you had told me at the start of the season that my Rangers would not only accomplish those two things, but they would go beyond and get into the World Series? Well, I probably would have said, “Thanks for thinking so highly of my team, I hope you’re right.” And while I was saying it, I would have been thinking, “Golly, wouldn’t that be amazing if they did? Nah, this is the Rangers we’re talking about!”

As I look back on the season, I can’t imagine a scenario like the one that played out. The team’s two catchers at the start of the season were nowhere to be found at the end of the season. The same could be said about the Rangers’ two first basemen who started the season and two other first basemen who took over in the middle third.The same could be said again of the team’s top two starting pitchers.

Meanwhile, the Texas closer lost his job a mere two weeks into the season and was the set-up man on the DL at the end of it (Frank Francisco sure could have helped in the World Series, that’s for sure!).

If that wasn’t enough, the Rangers qualified as one of the last two teams alive with a team that featured an All-Star second baseman who had two separate trips to the DL costing almost two months of playing time, an All-Star right fielder who had three DL trips while still managing to knock in almost 80 runs, and an All-Star Left fielder/center fielder who missed most of the last month of the season and still will probably be the league MVP.

A magical season indeed. Even if they come back next year and win the whole thing, I’m not sure it would top what every Rangers fan got to experience this year because, as much as every one of the faithful has dreamt of seeing the Rangers in the World Series, I think very few of us ever really expected it to happen. Now that we see it can happen, will we as fans become jaded and expect it every year?

For that matter, will this experience change the players on this Rangers team? Several are coming up on their first arbitration year and will be getting a hefty pay increase in the off-season. Will success and more money spoil them and soften the edge they played with in 2010? So far, they seem to be answering correctly and indicating this year only makes them hungry for more in 2011. But success affects people in different ways. This will be Ron Washington’s challenge next year, to keep his team hungry and playing just as hard as they did this season.

Washington’s been rewarded with a two-year contract extension. The Rangers have already cut ties with Rich Harden, Cristian Guzman, Brandon McCarthy (who never appeared with the big club in 2010) and Esteban German. They have declined the mutual option on Vlad Guerrero’s contract, making it a 50/50 proposition the Rangers’ leading RBI man will be back next year. Bengie Molina is contemplating retirement. Cliff Lee is a free agent. As is Jorge Cantu, although there is virtually no chance he will be back. It is also doubtful Jeff Francoeur will be offered arbitration, so he is probably gone as well.

Still, a healthy core remains and if the Rangers succeed in resigning Lee, there’s a good chance Texas goes into the 2011 season as the favorites to win the West once again.

As for this blog? One of my early readers pointed out it will be tough to come up with a new name as catchy as the original of “World Series 40, Rangers Fan 0″. But change it must should I decide to continue on. I’m open to suggestions for a new name so send them my way! Until I make my final decision, I will do some off-season postings on signings, trades and the like.

I do know, if I continue to expose the world to my mostly inconsequential thoughts, that recapping every game may be difficult to accomplish two years in a row. It took incredible discipline to post day in and day out when juggling it with a demanding real-life job and giving quality time to the family while watching or listening to games almost every day and/or night. So that part of the blog may change a bit. What won’t change is my love of Texas Rangers baseball and it will continue to be the focal point of every post made in this space.

To my family, I thank you for not only supporting me in my fandom over the years, but for supporting me and even encouraging me in putting those words down for the world to see. To 17-Year Ranger Fan and Ranger Fan-In-Law, I thank you for posting during days when I was indisposed or you got to attend the game. To my eldest, a lifelong Mariners fan, I thank you for not only tolerating me over the years but actually joining the bandwagon at the end of the season. And to Mrs. Mariner Fan/Ranger Fan, your support and love is what keeps me going every day. I couldn’t have done this blog without you.

To my loyal readers and those who discovered my musings late in the regular season, I thank each and every one of you for the moments of your time you have given me. Whether you have commented or not, I appreciate each and every one of you.

I actually thought when I started this blog that I would mostly hear from fellow Rangers fans and we would commiserate back and forth over the course of the season. What was so surprising was discovering the majority of you are fans of other teams! Truly unexpected. That’s what a love for the game of baseball can do. To you, I hope you have come to appreciate the players, their attitude and the way they play the game as much as you appreciate your own teams. Who knows? Maybe I converted a couple of you along the way.

Last but not least, I thank the Texas Rangers for giving me a season worth talking about. Hardly a day went by that I couldn’t find something new to talk about with this team. I am proud to call myself a Texas Rangers fan and I will be a Texas Rangers fan until I take my last breath.

But note to family: When that last breath is taken, a Rangers casket (or urn) will not be required. We can draw the line there. 

Nothin’ Beats Texas Home Cookin’: Rangers 4, Giants 2

Rumors of the demise of the Texas Rangers bullpen have been greatly exaggerated.

 

The Texas Rangers rode two home runs and great relief pitching to become the first team in Texas ever to win a World Series game at home. The 4-2 win cut the Giants lead in the Fall Classic to 2-1.

 

My game preparation Saturday consisted of driving from the Rio Grande Valley to the Austin area, a five hour haul, about three of which were spent listening to MLB Radio on XM, where we proceeded to hear talking head after talking head tell us about every single facet of the game the Rangers have failed at in the first two games.

 

I realize Texas has gotten spanked in both games, but I also know sometimes the scores aren’t indicative of the whole story. I heard about how the Rangers weren’t hitting so far. Well, I guess they conveniently forgot Texas hit well enough to score 7 runs in the first game. They just didn’t hit against Matt Cain.

 

I also heard how the Giants were pasting the ball offensively against the Rangers. True enough in Game 1, but in Game 2, they didn’t do much against CJ Wilson. And even in scoring 9 runs, they only got 8 hits.

 

Of course I’m a homer. I’m going to see more roses for the Rangers than others. I know overall the Giants played better in the first two games, and I especially give them kudos defensively. But I still say this series is closer than the first two box scores have shown.

 

So when Jeff Joyce and Jeff Nelson said they wanted to hear from Rangers fans and if they still had faith in their team, Mrs. Mariner Fan-Ranger Fan called them up, handed me the phone and I proceeded to wax rhapsodic about my beloved Rangers for 2 minutes on national radio. That must’ve been the key to Game 3…

 

We arrived at our son and daughter-in-law’s just in time for the first pitch. It was worrisome right off the bat. Colby Lewis had a rough 1st- 20 pitches, a hit and a walk, but he got out of it with no runs scoring. The bottom of the first wasn’t much better when Elvis Andrus struck out swinging to start the Rangers first and Pat Burrell ended it with a catch against the left field wall on what I could have sworn was going to be a Vlad Guerrero home run.

 

The bottom of the second wasn’t getting much better for me. Nelson Cruz doubled and went to third on an Ian Kinsler groundout, but Jeff Francouer followed with an absolutely TERRIBLE at bat, grounding to 3rd on the first pitch and nearly doubling Cruz off third. Fortunately, Bengie Molina followed with a walk.

 

When Mitch Moreland worked Jonathon Sanchez through eight pitches, I was just telling the family how it was a positive at bat, no matter the outcome. Then came Sanchez’ 9th pitch. BOOM!!! Moreland deposited it over the right field wall for his first career homer off a lefty and a 3-0 Ranger lead! The whole family went nuts in the living room. Even the dogs wanted to share high fives.

 

Lewis took it from there, starting with a 1-2-3 shutdown 3rd inning and continuing with a 1-2-3 fifth as well. Lewis was magnificent through 7 2/3, striking out six and walking two, the only blemishes being solo home runs by Cody Ross and Andres Torres.

 

Sanchez’ night ended in the 5th when Josh Hamilton touched him for a solo shot over the right center field façade, making it 4-0 at the time. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Giants relief corps threw shutout ball from that point forward.

 

As for the Rangers relief, it was enough for Fox broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver to do everything but call for Ron Washington’s immediate firing, they felt it was mismanaged so badly. Why, it was OBVIOUS to them that Colby Lewis NEVER should have been allowed to face Aubrey Huff. Why, EVERYONE KNOWS that should have been Darren Oliver’s job. And after Huff, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING bringing in Darren O’Day. Now it’s time to bring in Neftali Feliz to try for a 4-out save. HOW COULD THE RANGERS BE SO STUPID, they seemed to say.

 

Except O’Day got Buster Posey to ground weakly to short to end the inning. And then Feliz threw some serious cheese in the 9th to retire the Giants in order and seal the win.

 

Have you ever noticed when a manager does something that doesn’t make sense to these guys, he’s a terrible manager, but if he wins he’s a great out of the box thinker? It amuses me to no end.

 

So we’re back in it. It wasn’t as pretty as I’d like- we could have used some more offense and I don’t know what Vlad Guerrero was thinking trying to steal second with two outs in the 5th. And the Giants defense finally proved to be human with Edgar Renteria’s error.

 

We’ve got a series now and I can’t wait to get to the ballpark tomorrow to see Game 4 in person! I have a feeling Tommy Hunter is ready to put the woes of his last two starts behind him. If not, I hope Derek Holland is ready to get over his Game 2 performance because he will be needed. Just about everyone, including a majority of Rangers fans, seem to feel Texas should go with Cliff Lee on three days rest, but the Rangers seem pretty intent on starting Hunter (they may have changed their minds if the Rangers had been down 3-0 going into Game 4). Honestly, if we can grab Game 4, I like our chances with Lee, Wilson and Lewis closing out the Series.

 

Arlington, Texas, here we come. WE’LL BE THERE! GO RANGERS!!!

 

 

This I Guarantee: Giants 11, Rangers 7

What’s this? A bold prediction coming from 40-Year-Ranger-Fan following a blow-out loss in Game 1 of the World Series? You bet! And here is that bold guarantee: I guarantee the ratings of Game 2 of the World Series will be lower than those of Game 1!

Seriously. The World Series is baseball’s showcase event, the one time of year when even the casual fan will check out what’s going on on the diamond. We rabid Rangers fans and the equally rabid Giants fans will be glued to TV sets tonight. The casual fans nationwide, the ones with no dog in the hunt, probably watched last night’s game and came away with one of these responses: “Those are the two best teams in baseball?”; “Those are two of the best pitchers in baseball?”; or “Is CSI on tomorrow night?”

If the World Series is indeed when baseball puts it’s best foot forward, the casual fan most likely came away completely underwhelmed. We were treated to lots of runs, true. We were also treated to mostly bad pitching, even more horrid defense (mostly by the Rangers) and a very poor barometer of the caliber of both of these teams.

For my Rangers, it really started out well. The single runs scored in the first and second innings were textbook Rangers playoff baseball. In the first, an Elvis Andrus single, a Michael Young walk, a groundoutto advance the runners and and infield single scoring the run. In the second, a Bengie Molina single (who, by the way, was given an AWESOME reception by the San Francisco fans during the player introductions), a surprise double by Cliff Lee after faking the bunt and a sac fly.

But there was trouble in paradise. I’m sure I’m not the only Rangers fan who noticed that Cliff Lee was struggling with his command in the first two innings. It got progressively worse in the 3rd, when Lee had to expend over 30 pitches to get out of the inning and by then, the Giants had managed to tie the score.

San Fran exploded in the 5th and chased Lee, making him look very human after two years of looking invulnerable in post-season action. Then, after chasing Lee, the Giants iced it with a three-run jack off of Darren O’Day, capping a 6-run fifth and staking the Giants to an 8-2 lead which they never relinquished.

Not that Tim Lincecum was the light’s out pitcher everyone was expecting either. Lincecum gave up his share of hits and, after being staked to a 6-run lead, couldn’t follow up with a shutdown inning. Lincecum didn’t make it out of the 6th, but still left up 8-4.

I like to give broadcasters the benefit of the doubt, having been one once myself. Sometimes you make a stupid mistake with a name or something. As long as you quickly correct it, no harm no foul. Still, I had to chuckle at Tim McCarver last night when he said Lincecum pitched a good game. Really??? Maybe in relation to Cliff Lee he did, but rarely if ever do you hear a broadcaster refer to four runs in 5 2/3 innings a good game. Nitpicky, I know, but I found it funny…

We did have two innings of solid baseball by both sides. Alexi Ogando had his strongest post-season outing striking out four in two shutout innings, while San Francisco’s relief corps dominated the Rangers bats during the same stretch.

The Rangers made it real ugly in the 8th. Mark Lowe, on the post-season roster for the first time these playoffs pitched so well I almost wanted to bring Rich Harden back. Vlad Guerrero proved all those naysayers about his defense in right field absolutely right by butchering not one but two plays. The combination of those two let the Giants score three more times to make it 11-4 headed to the 9th.

But here’s where I give the Rangers credit and why Game 1 is not necessarily an indication of Texas being out of it by any stretch. They still came out in the 9th and battled. Battled so much that the Giants even brought their closer in in a blow-out game to finish it off. And the Rangers did some damage against him as well. They fought back from the Giants’ 6-run 5th with a 2-run 6th of their own and the answered the Giants 3 in the 8th with 3 of their own in the 9th.

And Cliff Lee? Well, now we know he’s not perfect. If there’s one knock I have on Lee now that I’ve had half a season to see him, is he is all about his command. When he’s on, he’s lights out. When he doesn’t have the command, he gets knocked around. Other pitchers can go out there and not have their best stuff and can sometimes figure out how to be successful without it. With Lee, I haven’t seen that. He has it or he doesn’t and there’s not much in between.

Game 2 has CJ Wilson against Matt Cain. Cain is perfect in the post-season himself, even to the tune of a 0.00 ERA. Maybe the Rangers can prove that he’s human tonight. Whether they do or not, this I guarantee. It may be a better played game by both sides, it could even be one of those classic 3-2 affairs, but it won’t be seen by as many people as saw Game 1 last night.

Rescue Me: Rangers 10, Yankees 3

Thank you, Bengie Molina and Derek Holland.

The two of you rescued me from the most excrutiatingly boring baseball game I had seen all year. Easily.

Trust me, I would have felt that way if it had been the Rangers in front by one instead of the Yankees going to the top of the 6th. Tuesday’s Game 4 of the ALCS was two hours old and we hadn’t even made it to the halfway mark of the game.

I managed to cook a five-course meal over the course of one half inning.

I started reading “War and Peace” in between Tommy Hunter pitches. I got through half of it by the time Hunter was mercifully pulled.

The tempo of the game started to turn when Derek Holland came in from the bullpen in the 4th. While Tommy Hunter has regressed in two starts of the playoffs to the point where a 2010 13-game winner is now going to enter 2011 as the #5 starter at best, Derek Holland has finally turned a corner in his development.

Who knows whether it’s because he finally just decided to start trusting his catcher or some other lightbulb suddenly went off in his head? Whatever the reason, Holland is finally starting to show the “upside” everyone in the Rangers organization has been talking about for the past three years. Holland has turned in two solid scoreless long-relief outings in the ALCS. He started turning the corner in the ALDS when, after giving up a two-run homer to his second batter, Holland settled down to hold the Rays scoreless for four innings. He has allowed a couple inherited runners to score but otherwise has been solid and is now a favorite to nail down the #4 slot in 2011 (#3 if Cliff Lee isn’t resigned).

While the tempo picked up a bit with Holland on the mound, it still was only good enough to keep me from reading half the time. AJ Burnett matched Hunter’s pace and he lasted two innings longer than Tommy. And one batter too long.

Oh, Yankee Nation will be talking about Joe Girardi’s decision to intentionally walk David Murphy to get to Bengie Molina for a LONG time. Molina finally provided the jolt to bring the game back to something worth watching (not to mention giving the Rangers a 5-3 lead).

By the time the smoke cleared, Texas had scored five more times on the Yankee bullpen, Josh Hamilton had cleared the fences twice and Nelson Cruz went yard big time as well.

All this and I haven’t even said a word about the two disputed home run calls in the 2nd inning (both calls were correct to my mind- Cano had a homer, Berkman did not). Really, all I have to say about it is this: Did you see the guy in the stands giving Nelson Cruz attitude after Cruz complained about interference? I sure wish we could have gotten a shot of his face after Molina’s shot…and Hamilton’s…and Hamilton’s again…and especially after Cruz’, although I have a feeling he wasn’t even in the stadium any more when Cruz added the icing on the cake.

Here’s how I feel bad about the Yankees. I wanted Mark Teixeira to go 0-21 in the ALCS. I wanted to see him fail miserably. But I would NEVER want Tex to have to bow out of a series the way he did. You always want to win a series with your best players against their best players. The Yankees are now missing one of their best players. We’ve won three of the four we need against their best. If and when we get the last one, it’ll be just a little less pleasurable because he won’t be there. Tex, I hope you’re ready and raring to go come April 2011!

Media Alert #1: Don’t be at all surprised if you hear or read someone in the national media say one of the following, either before Game 6 begins this afternoon or in the off day tomorrow (if there is one): 1) How the Rangers are making the Yankees look, well, old; and 2) That some unnamed scout or other sundry baseball insider told them before the ALCS that a Rangers rout was not surprising at all because of this, this and this. In the first case, they’d be making a valid observation. In the second, they’re just trying to make you think they knew something all along when they really didn’t.

Media Alert #2: Some national writers and reporters I don’t give much credence to, mainly because they pull out Example #2 listed above after every big game or series. One reporter who this does NOT apply to is Peter Gammons. Pete’s a pretty sharp guy and he’s usually got a pretty good idea what’s going on in baseball. Yesterday on MLB Radio, Gammons was asked where he thought Cliff Lee would end up in 2011. Gammons thinks Lee stays a Ranger. And he sounds pretty sure of it too.

If not for one bad inning, the Rangers would have swept the Yankees. Still, the toughest win is yet to come. The good news is we have three shots at getting it while the Yankees have to win out without Teixeira on their side. A tall order. Still, New York has Sabathia, Hughes and Pettite going the next three games. Each and every one of them has given the Rangers fits in the past. There’s still one more to get before reaching the Promised Land for the first time. I’m not going to gloat yet.

I do, however, thought it funny when the TBS broadcast team started talking about how the Yankees now want more than anything to face Cliff Lee a second time. Seeing him in Game 7 is the only way they have a chance at the World Series now.

A New Era Begins

7PM CDT October 15,2010. No matter how many games this lasts, it will be the latest the Rangers have ever played in a calendar year.

Four steps need to be made, each one putting the team closer to what longtime fans once thought unfathomable- the World Series.

Will the 2010 Texas Rangers successfully walk up those steps in 2010? The next 4-7 games will tell.

Funniest thing I heard: Listening the MLB Radio on the XM on the way to work as I always do, I heard a Yankee fan call in to Jim Memelo and Jeff Nelson. His complaint? “Cliff Lee this, Cliff Lee that. Can we please stop talking about Cliff Lee?” Hysterical. Pot, meet kettle. No disrespect intended, but sir, do you realize how much the rest of the nation hears about the Yankees day in, day out? Especially in the off-season? And you can’t take someone talking about someone else for a change for even three days? Please. Wonder if he’d be complaining if Lee had gone to the Yankees instead of Texas back in July.

What 40 years of futility does to one’s mind set: Yesterday I followed two links via Lone Star Ball and read two articles picking the Rangers to beat the Yankees in the ALCS. I didn’t know what to do with this. I’m so used to nobody picking the Rangers, I don’t know how to respond to someone picking for them. I even started thinking it has to be bad news for someone to say the Rangers are favored. This team seems to perform better as underdogs. One regular Rangers blogger was certain we would lose Game 5 against the Rays. That’s how used to failure we are. That’s why success smells so sweet right now.

Sizing Up The ALCS: OK, time for some serious comparisons. Despite home field advantage for Texas, it’s easy to see why the Yankees should be favored. History is definitely on their side. They have a scary offense. They’re sound defensively. Their pitching is pretty good.

I don’t think there’s any doubt the Yankees, around the infield, are the stronger team. Texeira vs. Moreland, no contest. Kinsler-Cano. Edge to Cano because of Kinsler’s 2 DL trips, otherwise a push. Jeter vs. Andrus, edge Jeter. A-Rod vs. Young. Sorry, Michael. You’ve been our rock but A-Rod’s power is the difference there.

On the other hand, the Rangers have the upper hand in the outfield, especially in outfield depth. Hamilton and Cruz certainly top Granderson and Swisher. Plus we have Borbon, Murphy and Francoeur to counter Gardner, Thames and Kearns.

Behind the plate is a wash. Posada and Cervelli are better offensively than Molina and Treanor, but I give the defensive/play calling edge to the Rangers.

DH is easily in the Rangers column with Vlad Guerrero, although he hasn’t been hitting with a lot of power lately. He’s still someone who can change a game in a hurry.

Offensively, then, it’s pretty much even. That brings us to pitching.

To me, this series comes down to how Andy Pettite performs. Pettite missed a big chunk of the season with a groin injury. He’s made four starts since he returned. Pettite pitched well in his first start. Then he got shelled in his second and third appearances before pitching a good game against the Twins in the ALDS. Pettite has given the Rangers fits in the past and he has a sterling post-season record. Still, two good starts and two bad starts since coming off the DL makes him a wild card. Plus, he’s the one who has to contend with Cliff Lee in the ALCS.

To be sure, CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis HAVE to perform well for the Rangers to have a chance. Like Pettite for the Yankees, I’m not 100% sure either pitcher can do it twice in this series. And the Game 4 match-up? I think both Rangers fans and Yankees fans have absolutely no idea who comes out on top in a Hunter-Burnett match-up. From what I can gather, fans on both sides are expecting their guy to LOSE this one!

Bullpens are pretty equal as well. You have to give the Yankees the closer edge with Rivera against the Rangers rookie Feliz, even though Texas has had success against Rivera in the regular season. I think the Rangers have more quality set-up guys than the Yankees, so that puts the bullpens as a wash.

Overall, that spells a pretty even series to me. The keys for the Rangers are Josh Hamilton starting to hit again and the Rangers as a team not letting the Yankees get into their heads. If they stay level-headed and Hambone gets his timing back, they can win this thing and go to the Ultimate Show.

The Prediction: The history of this ballclub says to me (unfortunately) if this is just a 4 or 5 game series, that probably means the Yankees have won. Six or seven games tells me Josh is back on his offensive game and the Rangers will be on top in the end.

In 1996, Texas made the playoffs for the first time in their history. They won the season series from the Yankees, 7-5. They lost to the Yanks in the ALDS in four games.

Despite winning four of their last five against the Yankees (the last three without Josh Hamilton), regular season success does not necessarily mean post-season success.

Time to prove it can!

My Favorite Things

My 20 favorite things that occured between 4PM and 10:15PM Central Daylight Time on October 12, 2010:

1) Getting a text from my oldest, who spent his formative years in Washington state and is a lifelong Mariners fan, saying “I’m rooting hard for your boys tonight. Go Rangers!”

2) Having a webchat with my daughter and Rangers Fan-In-Law and seeing my 21-month-old grandson say “Go Rangers!” for the first time. Rangers Fan-In-Law is raising that boy right.

3) Seeing my devoted wife, Mrs. Mariners Fan-Rangers Fan come home from work, go to the bedroom and, without prompting, immediately putting on her Rangers jersey.

4) Getting my Josh Hamilton shirt out of the laundry basket and putting it on for the first time in the playoffs, whether it was stinky or not!

5) Elvis Andrus scoring from second on a groundout in the first inning. 1-0 Rangers.

6) Mitch Moreland almost catching a pop-up bunt, but coming close enough that the runner on first stopped going to second, putting two runners on first. First out of the game for the Rays.

7) Moreland again, making a great catch in foul ground in the bottom of the first while somehow avoiding everyone when he fell into the photographers’ well after the catch.

8) Ian Kinsler laying back on David Price’s breaking ball and punching it through for a single- twice!

9) Bengie Molina steals second- a highlight in anyone’s book!

10) Cliff Lee alertly throwing home to keep the go-ahead run from scoring in the 3rd.

11) Michael Young keeping the baserunner on second from advancing to third on the same play.

12) Nelson Cruz stealing third and coming home on a throwing error in the 4th. 2-1 Rangers.

13) Vlad Guerrero taking the extra base and scoring when Ian Kinsler beats the throw to first to avert the double play in the 6th. 3-1 Rangers.

14) Ian Kinsler hitting a 2-run jack off Rafael Soriano in the top of the 9th. 5-1 Rangers.

15) Cliff Lee, Cliff Lee, Cliff Lee. CG, 6 Hits, 1 Run, 0 Walks, 11 K’s

16) Rangers 5, Rays 1.

17) Getting a phone call from 17-Year-Ranger Fan 30 seconds after the game was over.

18) Getting another text from my eldest telling me maybe I should’ve started doing this blog sooner. Hmmm, could I have been the difference maker? Sure, what the heck. I’ll take personal credit for it!

19) The road team winning every game of the 2010 ALDS.

20) Getting to the ALCS for the first time ever!

Cloud 9.

 

Top Of The World, Ma!: Rangers 5, Rays 1

I know, I know. It’s only one game. I shouldn’t get this excited when the magic number is 3 for the ALDS. But I can’t help it. This is the Rangers’ first playoff win in 14 years, people!!!

Eleven years after their last appearance on the post-season stage and 14 years after their first post-season win, the Rangers doubled their lifetime post-season win total with a 5-1 win over the Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS.

Settling down to watch the DVR-taped game (and trying to successfully watch a taped game without fast-forwarding through anything except the commercials), I found my patience pushed right from the get-go. Following a scoreless top of the first in which the Rangers had two hits, the Rays responded in the bottom of the first with three singles to load the bases with just one out. I was very tempted at that point, telling myself, “If this is going to be a long day, I don’t know if I can handle watching the agony of it all!”

But I resisted the urge. I stayed right there, hands off the fast forward button on the remote. And Cliff Lee worked out of it. Two strikeouts later and the inning was over with no damage done.

Then the Rangers struck against David Price, with both of my picks to click coming through! A Jeff Francoeur double brought home Ian Kinsler with the first run. One out later, Bengie Molina’s single plated Francoeur and it was 2-0 Texas!

Nelson Cruz’ solo shot in the third made it 3-0. Molina hit a solo shot to in the 4th to make it 4-0. Vlad Guerrero sent Josh Hamilton home with the fifth and final run in the fifth on a double.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee totally settled down after the second inning, retiring twelve in a row at one point. Lee set a Rangers playoff record with 10 strikeouts, the only blemish on his day a 7th inning Ben Zobrist home run.

I was tempted to hit that fast forward button again in the 9th when Neftali Feliz came in to get the last three outs. In a non-save situation, Feliz walked the first two batters. I feared the worst. After the first walk, Elvis Andrus came over to try to keep Feliz calm. Two pitches into the next batter, Bengie Molina came out to give him a pep talk. After the second straight walk, pitching coach Mike Maddux joined Molina. Whether this was another pep talk or a dressing down, it worked. Feliz struck out two of the next three batters and the Rangers had their second playoff win in history!

TBS’ announcers mentioned something I’d been thinking of earlier but hadn’t had a chance to mention, when they brought up the upcoming Reds-Phillies game, being started by Edinson Volquez for the Reds. Volquez was the player the Reds received in the trade sending Josh Hamilton to Texas. Both are now in the playoffs for the first time in 2010. I wonder, would the Rangers be here now if the trade had never happened, if Volquez were a Ranger today. I can’t help but think they would be a team still another step away from being a playoff contender. Definitely a trade that turned out to be a win-win for both teams!

In one game, the end of a 9-game playoff losing streak, the first road win of 2010 against a team in the AL playoffs and the first win in Ron Washington’s managerial career.

Still two wins to go to get to the next level, but I like our chances with CJ Wilson on the mound Thursday.

In closing, another round of thanks for one and all who have been reading throughout the season or even just the past couple of weeks. I’m humbled to have my words pop up in MLBlogs’ top 50 for the month of September at #31. I almost wish I’d slipped to #32- Josh Hamilton’s number. But there’s no Ranger wearing #31 right now, so I guess I’ll claim it as my uniform! For a month, at least.

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