Motivated.

A friend mentioned this morning that only good teams go into the Yankees’ house and win 2-1 games.  I liked that.

C.J. Wilson, coming off the best inning he’s had in 2008 — not just in the results but in the barrage of 96′s that he commanded on both sides of the plate against Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, and Jorge Posada — said shortly after locking down his 18th save that, before the game, some of the bullpen guys were in a cab whose driver was listening to a local sports radio talk show host yapping about how Texas didn’t stand a chance last night and, in fact, was about to inescapably get swept by the Yanks.  

The way the relief corps has turned things around the last few days, those guys didn’t really need any extra motivation, but they got it.  The bullpen on Sunday: 3.1 innings, no hits, no walks, four strikeouts, two-thirds strikes.  The bullpen last night: 3.1 innings, no hits, no walks, three strikeouts, two-thirds strikes, plus six groundouts and one flyout — the game-ending pop-up that Ian Kinsler squeezed.  Perfect last night, the only play that marred the bullpen’s otherwise perfect Sunday was a dropped pop-up by Kinsler.

The big difference was that Eddie Guardado didn’t chip in last night, taking the mound to start the eighth but exiting with what’s being called shoulder inflammation after just a couple warm-up pitches.  

Not good.  The shoulder is what shelved Guardado for three weeks in April.  

That thought I’ve been floating that we go trade for an eighth-inning reliever whether we’re in the race at the end of this month or not?  I’m still in favor of it, but if Guardado is shut down for any length of time, it’s important that we don’t do anything foolish.  Make the same trade you would have if everyone were healthy — don’t get desperate and give up more than you would have otherwise just because of Guardado’s situation, whatever it is.  

Two games over .500 feels great because it had been 254 games since we were last there, because it happened in Yankee Stadium, because it feels like a breakthrough given that this club had been winless in six previous 2008 attempts to get there.  But it’s still just two games over .500.  

Plus, maybe Frankie Francisco is going to be that eighth-inning guy after all.  He’s commanding his fastball again, and has stranded his last 10 inherited runners.

I want to throw a stinkin’ parade for Scott Feldman and for everyone in baseball operations and instruction whose vision of what Feldman could be prevented the club from designating him for assignment over the winter.  If you asked 100 people outside the Rangers organization six months ago which was more likely: seeing Feldman’s name on the waiver wire or considering him a possible number three for several years, wouldn’t you have gotten 100 identical responses?

Best Michael Young has looked at the plate all year?  Maybe.  When he’s locked in, he drills lasers to right field, and when he starts drilling lasers to right field with a little consistency, you know he’s about to go on a tear.

Chris Davis chewed his gum, unimpressed (if not unaware) that Texas hadn’t defeated Mike Mussina since Davis was a junior at Longview High (a year before the Yankees would draft him unsuccessfully in the 50th round).  It was Davis’s first time to set foot in Yankee Stadium, and I bet his first game in front of 50,000-plus hostile fans.  

His approach, under those potentially daunting circumstances?  See the ball, hit the ball.  Hard.

Two friends (one my wife) have commented to me in the last few days that the Rangers seem to be having more fun than any other team in the league.  Between the lines there’s an intensity spectrum that has Guardado’s and Milton Bradley’s fiery brand on one end and Ian Kinsler’s, Michael Young’s, Josh Hamilton’s, Kevin Millwood’s, Wilson’s, and Davis’s calm exterior on the other, but they all share a certain look in the middle of the field after those happy 27th outs, a look that was never quite like this under Buck Showalter, even in the surprising 2004 season.

I doubt that’s any more indicative of a team primed to taste the post-season in the foreseeable future with a bunch of these players than it is of a relatively ordinary win-loss record that, nonetheless, for the first time this year, will remain over .500 no matter what happens tonight.  But the way this team is executing in most phases on most nights, many times relying on key contributions from young players who weren’t expected to be in the big leagues this soon, it’s easy to envision something coming together here, to wonder if that five-step plan is at least one step ahead of schedule.

Keep one eye on what’s happening on the farm, and you see not only that when the industry weighs in this off-season, Texas could very well boast the number one farm system in baseball, but also that the vertical depth has developed to the point that it’s no longer as bottom-heavy as it seemed just four months ago.  

That first wave that has given us Davis, Eric Hurley, Max Ramirez, Brandon Boggs, German Duran, Doug Mathis, and Warner Madrigal in the first half has another three or four waves building behind it.  This team’s inventory, as we’re seeing on the field, has made the big club a lot more interesting than it’s been in a long time, and it’s going to make trading season a lot of fun around here every July and every December for years to come.  Detroit’s trade with Florida this winter (to get Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis) hasn’t worked out for the Tigers, but the Rangers are about to become that team, the one that has the prospects that can get the trades done which other teams want to close but can’t.  

That two-qames-over benchmark on September 22, 2006 featured a lineup that contained only two players — Young and Kinsler — who are even on the roster today.  You take a look at this 43-41 team, a team that’s playing .590 baseball since late April, and you see a lineup that, without question, has more pieces that will be part of things going forward.  As the blueprint continues to come into sharper view, imagine the ability Jon Daniels will have over the next few trading seasons to use this franchise’s prospect depth, built through the draft and through trades and through one of the most aggressive international operations in the game, to go get impact players to push this franchise one step closer.  

That would fire me up even if I didn’t get to plop down on the couch with my family tonight and settle in for Kevin Millwood-Joba Chamberlain, to see if my team — which has had a losing record in only one of its last seven months of play — can play another crisp, composed, opportunistic game and put that .500 record three games back in the rearview mirror.

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

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