What we play for.
I was thinking last night about all the numbers I was going to dig into and talk about this morning.
The decimated lineup’s sudden offensive surge.
MUTRIHOF’s staggering numbers on the road, and overall.
The club’s eye-opening shutout total.
C.J. Wilson on the road, or on day two, or against batter one.
Texas, 19 games over .500 for the first time since 1999 – which was the last time we played more than 162.
Ian Kinsler’s slash line since returning from injury.
Pudge Rodriguez’s OPS (and Matt Nevarez’s ERA and K/BB).
Kevin Millwood, month to month.
Elvis Andrus, on the other hand, trending up as he nears uncharted territory.
Even a mention of Florida receiver and Rangers farmhand Riley Cooper’s five catches for 105 yards on Saturday.
But Danys Baez and Ian Snell took a little wind out of my sails.
Which reminded me that, in spite of the fact that following this organization has long lent itself more to a focus on statistics than on game outcomes late in the year, that’s sort of a foolish exercise in September 2009. In some Rangers seasons – really, most of them in recent memory – this would be the time of year when we’d have to resort to talking about the record for team doubles, or the number of players used, or a player’s consecutive 200-hit seasons.
But focusing on the numbers now would only be a distraction from recognizing how the offense may suddenly be squaring up as a group as well as it has all year. How the defense continues to make plays we’re not used to seeing it make. How much character and resilience this team has shown all year, shrugging off pennant race inexperience and injuries to key players and any number of losses that the mainstream media has hastily labeled as the “catastrophic moment” that has never arrived.
The taglines from 1000 Ballpark Way have changed, appropriately, from “Built for fun” to “It’s September. This is what we play for.” This season isn’t about hit streaks or save totals or – despite emails I received yesterday afternoon from about 20 of you – who deserves the Cy Young Award.
It’s about the games, something that we’ve always known in April, that we’ve occasionally been lucky enough to preserve into August, but that we have very little experience with in September.
I’m as guilty as anyone of putting Neftali Feliz’s numbers in a frame, for example. But you can’t fully appreciate what he’s been able to accomplish unless you watch him work and see how he’s doing it, and maybe there’s a lesson there.
The only numbers really worth our focus right now are 2.0 and 4.5, and you get the sense that the team isn’t even letting those numbers distract them. It’s about today’s opposing pitcher, and opposing lineup. No sense worrying about what the Red Sox are doing, or the Angels – other than on September 18, 19, 20, 28, 29, 30, and October 1, when Los Angeles will be in the opposite dugout. But even those are dates the Rangers’ players will concern themselves with on September 18, 19, 20, 28, 29, 30, and October 1, and not before. There are games to be played in the meantime, and that’s all the players seem to be putting on their plate, one at a time.
The key numbers on any given day? Simple: Score more than we give up.
A year ago, this report might have been three or four times longer. I just don’t feel like it’s worth the time right now to dive too deep into the numbers, preferring instead to curse Baez and Snell, pout a little over the lack of a Rangers game on today’s schedule, and think about whether Millwood – in spite of his diminishing effectiveness – can step it up against Luke French in Rangers Ballpark tomorrow night, adding more texture to this remarkable baseball season and reminding us just what it is that we play for.
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(c) Jamey Newberg