THE NEWBERG REPORT — MAY 26, 2006

Just one in 162. Yeah, right.

When the story of the 2006 season is written, hopefully there will be more than 162 to talk about, and if that’s the case, last night’s game is going to be prominent among them, as much as any May game can be.

An impossible comeback against a team with designs on catching you atop the division.

A stake in the heart of a club that had already lost five straight, none in such a devastating fashion as that one.

Handing the other team’s closer his second loss of the season (after also dealing him his first), and bailing your ace out.

Two picturesque slams: Rod Barajas’s blast to get the Rangers on the board in the sixth inning, and Phil Nevin’s helmet spike as he approached an awaiting scrum at the plate.

Thursday night staged the extraordinary return to action of the club’s most inexperienced and lowest-paid player, and the return to glory, for one night at least, of its most experienced and highest-paid player.

Everyone would agree that Ian Kinsler boasts the strongest upward bullet on the Texas Rangers. Most would say that nobody on the roster is as up against it as Nevin. Last night, those two had baseball moments they’ll never forget, and provided us with a few of those, too.

And meanwhile, the happiest face at the home plate pogo-fest might have belonged to Jason Botts, in spite of the fact that he’s the player whose playing time could be affected most by Nevin’s and Kinsler’s play. (Of course, Botts may have appeared to be the happiest guy only because you couldn’t see the faces of anyone standing less than 6’7″ in that swarm.)

(If you didn’t see it or don’t believe me, check Botts in the photo on Joe Siegler’s excellent www.rangerfans.com/ site.)

The Nevin connection is obvious. His brutal month precipitated the promotion of Botts, who started at DH his first two days up, relegating Nevin to the bench.

Meanwhile, Kinsler’s return makes Mark DeRosa a supersub once again, and it would stand to reason that, with so few players in the lineup candidates for platoon treatment, Buck Showalter will rely on DeRosa — who hit .342/.411/.608 in Kinsler’s absence — to give occasional breaks to everyone from Kinsler to his three infield-mates to Brad Wilkerson to Kevin Mench. And by breaks, I don’t necessarily mean days off. Any of those players could end up designated-hitting on days that DeRosa relieves them defensively, which could conceivably have the added big-picture benefit of keeping everyone stronger longer. But spreading the DH slot around affects Botts’s opportunities, whether Nevin works his way back into the picture or not.

Some of the Rangers’ iron men might resist the idea of getting more days off (or days at DH) than in previous years, but maybe less so since DeRosa would be the beneficiary. He’s the new (and improved) Dellucci on this club, a veteran leader who has the utmost respect of everyone in the clubhouse. And he’s having a heck of a year.

Kinsler, with a single and two solo bombs, picked up right where he left off when he broke his thumb on April 11, lifting his season numbers to .520/.600/.960. He’s stepped to the plate 30 times, and reached base 18 times, racking up two doubles, three homers, eight singles, a hit-by-pitch, and four walks, while striking out just twice.

Barajas had his two biggest moments of the season, with the grand slam in the sixth and a diving tag of Adam Melhuse at the plate to end the top of the eighth, keeping Texas within a run.

Fantastic work out of Ron Mahay, racking up three strikeouts in a perfect sixth and seventh.

Mark Teixeira’s line drive home run busts down the floogates. Guaranteed.

The Rangers made a few roster moves on Thursday, designating outfielder Adrian Brown for assignment to make room on the active roster for Kinsler, and exchanging righthander Robinson Tejeda for Frisco reliever Wes Littleton, who will be with the club tonight and tomorrow before Oklahoma lefthander John Rheinecker is recalled to pitch Sunday’s series finale against Oakland, his former club.

Littleton has been evil all season. The sidewinder is 3-0, 0.66 with three saves in 17 RoughRider relief appearances, giving up three runs (two earned) on just 13 hits (.137 opponents’ average) and seven walks in 27.1 innings, punching out 25. He’s induced 39 groundouts and only 17 flyouts, and perhaps most significantly, he’s getting left-handed hitters out. After AA lefties hit .336 off Littleton in 2005, he has held them to a .184 clip this year. He’s also reduced righthanders’ average against him from .265 in 2005 to a filthy .105 this season.

As Frankie Francisco, Scott Feldman, and C.J. Wilson proved in the past, the Rangers have no qualms about bringing up a pitcher without any AAA experience if they think he’s ready to get big league hitters out. Whether Littleton gets that chance before he returns to the farm on Sunday probably depends on John Koronka and Kameron Loe’s ability to get into the sixth inning these next two nights.

Rheinecker is 2-0, 1.80 in his last seven RedHawk starts, with 11 walks and 31 strikeouts in 40 innings. Righthander Vicente Padilla will be pushed back to Monday’s opener of the Seattle series in order to give his right ankle an extra day to rest.

Tejeda had walked 14 hitters in 16.1 big league innings, and his unsightly 21.2 pitches per inning meant that even on days that he had good stuff, he was taxing the bullpen. He didn’t exceed five frames in any of his four Ranger starts.

Texas will outright Brown to Oklahoma if he clears waivers, but he has the right (having been outrighted previously) to refuse the assignment and take free agency.

Righthander Antonio Alfonseca is eligible to be activated from the disabled list but will pitch at least once more (either in Oklahoma or in a simulated game) before that happens. He threw a scoreless inning for Frisco on Wednesday.

Francisco will reportedly head to Frisco for a rehab assignment after pitching an inning at extended today.

Righthander Josh Rupe threw an inning at extended on Wednesday.

Oklahoma righthander R.A. Dickey (shoulder) was been activated from the disabled list, giving up seven runs in four innings last night, while Bakersfield catchers Mike Nickeas (hamstring) and Emerson Frostad (hand) returned to action as well.

RedHawk right fielder Laynce Nix homered twice last night, driving in five runs. As Mike Hindman points out this morning, Nix has two extra-base hits each in three of his last four games, and has his AAA numbers up to .292/.345/.575.

Rehabbing lefthander Fabio Castro gave up an unearned run in three innings for Frisco last night, scattering four hits and a walk while fanning a pair.

Blaze outfielder Ben Harrison has a share of the California League with 10 home runs, and teammate Steve Murphy is one bomb short.

Watch out for Clinton righthander Omar Poveda. The 18-year-old fired a career-best eight innings last night, permitting three runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk, fanning nine. It was the Venezuelan’s first win of the season, despite the fact that he’s thrown five straight quality starts, and six out of eight overall. In 46.2 innings, Poveda has punched out 48 and issued only 11 walks.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus speculates that the Rangers could end up with University of Texas center fielder Drew Stubbs or Houston-area high school righthander Kyle Drabek with the number 12 pick in the June 6 draft.

T.R. Sullivan now has a Rangers blog. Check it out.

A good friend who is more of a student of hoops than I am tells me regularly that I think too highly of Steve Nash. You know what? Derek Jeter has flaws, too, but the guy gets the most out of the talent he has, seems to bring out the best in his teammates, and wins. How can being a winner not be the ultimate measure of a ballplayer?

Nash is my favorite athlete playing for a team other than mine.

I’m looking forward to Mavs-Suns, Game Two, but no more so than these next three against the A’s and the three after that against the Mariners, all at home. This team has overcome a ton of key injuries and an erratic bullpen, but the fact is that nobody in the division has gotten off to a strong start, and Texas sits two games up on the field.

Can you rule out the possibility that last night’s impossible win galvanizes this club even further? These are six huge games at home.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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