THE NEWBERG REPORT — April 11, 2008

It was a banner day for a bunch of people, from Ron
Washington (sporting a winning record as a manager for the first time) to Chuck
Morgan (game 2000) to Kevin Millwood (third great start, first win) to Marlon Byrd
(whose batting average changed for the first time this year and who made a spectacular
throw to third to cut down Adam Jones trying to take an extra base in Game Two)
to C.J. Wilson (tripling his save total in the span of 18 pitches) to Ian
Kinsler and Michael Young (who came up big in key spots in both games, at the
plate and on the bases and in the field).

But what also stood out for me was that Josh Hamilton, who
does almost nothing quietly, was quietly instrumental in both ends of the
Thursday sweep.

In the Rangers’ 3-1 win in Game One, Hamilton plated Young
(who had reached on an error) on an opposite field double in the first inning
and then greeted left-handed reliever Jamie Walker with a workmanlike,
eight-pitch at-bat in the seventh that culminated with a sacrifice fly to right,
again scoring Young (who had stolen second and taken third on the catcher’s
throwing error, and then scored with a masterful slide).  Having never faced Walker, one of the most
reliable southpaw relievers in the game, Hamilton
watched the first five pitches, running the count full, before fouling the next
two off and then delivering the sac fly. 

Hamilton
never got the ball out of the infield in Game Two, going 0 for 5.  But he was responsible for two runs (in a
one-run victory) that no box score or trendy new statistical formula will credit.  Tied at 1-1 in the third, Kinsler and Young
each drew walks off Orioles starter Adam Loewen, bringing Hamilton to the plate.  Having never faced the big lefty, Hamilton let two pitches go
by, a strike and a ball, before striking what appeared to be a tailor-made double
play ground ball to second base.  Brian
Roberts fielded it cleanly, fed it to shortstop Luis Hernandez cleanly, and
Hernandez turned it cleanly, firing to first baseman Aubrey Huff. 

But the 6’4″, 235 Hamilton shot out of the box and tore down
the line, beating the Hernandez throw, and as routine as the grounder looked,
the play at first wasn’t really even that close. 

It hardly seemed consequential at the time, but moments
later Hamilton would score (easily) behind Young
on a Milton Bradley double to left center, giving Texas a run that it wouldn’t have had if he
hadn’t legged out the fielder’s choice.  Then,
after Hank Blalock lined out to left, Byrd walked and David Murphy singled
Bradley home, extending the Rangers’ lead to 4-1.  If Hamilton
hadn’t thwarted the double play in his at-bat, the Blalock line-out ends that
inning.  Instead, Texas tacks on one more
run, making it two scores that Hamilton’s play enabled in what would be a
one-run victory.

The twinbill means that Texas will need to use a sixth
starter on Monday, and since chances are that Josh Rupe will be optioned to Oklahoma
on Saturday so that Luis Mendoza can be activated to start that night, it’s
likely that Jamey Wright will get the Monday assignment — unless Texas chooses
to dip down and recall lefthander A.J. Murray, who was sensational on Wednesday
(six innings, one run on two hits and no walks, five strikeouts, an economical
60 pitches) and would be slated to pitch on Monday anyway.

Something to keep in mind as far as Robinson Tejeda is
concerned: While Texas was able to get him through waivers this week and
outright his contract to AAA, it now gets tougher to hang onto him.  If he pitches well out of the Oklahoma bullpen and is brought back to Texas during the 2008 season, he’ll basically
be on his last run with the Rangers.  If Texas
were to drop him from the roster thereafter, as the club did in March, he’ll either
get claimed (or traded) or, if he makes it through waivers again, he’ll have
the right to decline an outright assignment at that point and take immediate free
agency (players can’t refuse an initial outright but can turn down any
subsequent outrights).

If, on the other hand, Tejeda is not added to the roster
between now and October, he’ll have the ability to leave via minor league free
agency after the season. 

The Mets had been rumored since the end of camp to be
interested to some degree in Tejeda, but instead they signed righthander
Claudio Vargas yesterday to a minor league deal.  Perhaps the key factor was that New York can get Vargas
a couple starts on the farm before throwing him onto the big league mound, something
the club could not do with Tejeda, who, since he’s out of options, would somehow
need to be stretched out on the big league level before settling back into a
rotation role.

The Commissioner’s Office suspended promising Atlanta center field
prospect Jordan Schafer 50 games for violating baseball’s minor league drug
program.  You might recall that, according
to Baseball America,
the Rangers had the choice between Elvis Andrus and Schafer in the Mark
Teixeira trade (though Baseball Prospectus suggested the Braves refused to make
Schafer available). 

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is hitting .333/.417/.571 with
eight RBI in six RedHawks games.  Andrus sits
at .345/.367/.414, has hits in all six Frisco games in which he’s played, and
has yet to commit an error.

First baseman Jim Fasano (Kansas City T-Bones) and lefthander
Broc Coffman (Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks) have joined the independent Northern League.  The Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic
League signed lefthander Scott Rice.

Toronto
purchased the contract of lefthander Jesse Carlson, who made his big league debut
last night.

Buck Showalter returns to Baseball Tonight on Monday.

Arizona
lefthander Doug Davis earned a win against the Dodgers on Tuesday, and had his cancerous
thyroid gland surgically removed yesterday. 
Holding good thoughts.

It’s never all that useful to make too much of anything
that happens on the field in April, but you might recall the stretch that Texas
had early in 2004 when the club won 5 of 6 against Anaheim and Seattle, took 2
of 3 from Kansas City, and then swept Boston at home, starting with a high-intensity
doubleheader on May 1 that featured two Francisco Cordero saves.  A week later the Rangers overcame a 10-run
deficit to beat Detroit,
16-15, in 10 innings. 

While that string of games, during which Texas was
jockeying with Oakland and Anaheim at the top of the division, wasn’t necessarily
the key stretch in the club’s surprising 89-win season, it felt at the time like
it set a tone, like there was something different going on. 

Young and Blalock were key cogs on that 2004 team, and
Gerald Laird and Joaquin Benoit were around, too.  But that’s it.  Kinsler was in the midst of his breakthrough
season at Clinton and Frisco.  Washington was coaching
for the A’s. 

Morgan was here in 2004, as he has been every year but
one since 1983.  Millwood was in his
eighth and final National League season. 
Byrd, Millwood’s Phillies teammate, was in the midst of a hugely disappointing
sophomore season that followed a 2003 run at Rookie of the Year.  Wilson
was shut down for all of 2004, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery in Surprise
and nowhere near the radar.

Wilson
was light years closer to the radar, though, than Hamilton, who was serving a year-long
league suspension and in the middle of a three-year absence from the game.

There aren’t many people in Rangers uniforms who can use
May 1, 2004 as a rallying point for 2008, and it would be premature and foolish
for us as fans to make too big a deal of last night’s results. 

But sweeping a pair in one night feels like more than
just two wins, at least for me, and even if it was a big night for different
reasons for a manager and a P.A. man, an ace and a struggling outfielder, a
closer and the team’s two leaders, and a freak of nature who can beat you in a hundred
ways, if this team can use 3-1 and 5-4 to jumpstart a good-looking run over the
next few weeks, there might be something admittedly intangible that we’ll be
able to look back and credit April 10 for.

 

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

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