We were reminded all weekend of Step One, as Mark Teixeira manned first base in the road grays, going 2 for 13 with no extra-base hits. He’s a tremendous player, who made this team a lot better when he was moved.
We saw a whole lot of Step Two today, as Julio Borbon (added to the organization in June 2007) and Elvis Andrus (July 2007) and Neftali Feliz (July 2007) played up to the moment and looked like anything but second-year big leaguers in helping Texas complete an impressive sweep of baseball’s best team.
And, of course, we saw today what Step Five was all about, as Cliff Lee carved up the team everyone expects him to join three months from now. Eight-plus innings from Lee, just two hits, and an uncharacteristic three walks – including to the first batter he faced and the last (Derek Jeter in each case). Just five strikeouts, but 14 groundouts and an efficient 109 pitches. Outstanding.
You and I made as many plays today as David Murphy did. Borbon and Nelson Cruz had a combined four touches: Two flyouts to right, Eduardo Nunez’s single to center that broke up Lee’s no-hitter in the sixth, and Jeter’s RBI double to right center.
Nunez is the player the Yankees refused to part with in order to get Lee from the Mariners in July.
It was only the second time in Lee’s 12 Texas starts that he delivered a strong effort and also got run support, and it now feels, just maybe, that we’re about to see a string of those.
The last time Texas swept the Yankees at home was in 1996, a season in which the Rangers would eventually win Game One of the ALDS, in New York. The Rangers-Yankees karma since then has been lousy, but none of the players or coaches or baseball operations folks here now were here then, and maybe this little three-game set did a little bit to minimize whatever stigma might still be attached, if there’s actually any of that which exists other than with the fan base and media. (Then again, there’s that 0 for 3 in New York this season.)
Up against Texas high school football Friday, college football Saturday, and NFL Sunday, the Rangers averaged nearly 46,000 per game for the series, the second-most ever for a three-game series in 39 seasons of baseball in Arlington. And now the Rangers get what amounts to two nights off. They can catch Dallas-Washington later this evening and some Monday Night Football tomorrow night, like the rest of us. Then it’s back to work.
The magic number stands at 12, as Oakland just fell to Boston, 5-3. The A’s kick off their series in Kansas City tomorrow afternoon, while Texas kicks back and waits for Detroit to arrive for a Tuesday-Wednesday series. The A’s next travel to Minnesota, while Texas will be in Seattle for a series that Lee should close out on Sunday.
The Rangers won’t seal a playoff spot that weekend, but they’ll be a bunch closer to it by then, and the way Lee pitched today, they suddenly look a bunch more like a team that has a chance to do something big in the post-season.
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(c) Jamey Newberg