October 2010

World Series Game Three, Texas 4, San Francisco 2.

Three years ago he was the 530th player selected in the draft, in the 17th round.

Two years ago the Rangers experimented heavily with turning him into a pitcher, and in fact gave him the choice as to whether he wanted to make a wholesale career transition to the mound.

Four hours ago he had the greatest at-bat any Texas Rangers hitter has had in 2010.

Fastball up, ball one.

Curve upstairs, ball two.

Fastball inner half, destroyed into the upper deck in foul ground.

Fastball down and in, for called strike two.

Curve inside, fouled off.

Curve inside, fouled off.

Curve inside, fouled off.

Changeup down, fouled off.

And on the next 2-2 pitch, the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Mitch Moreland turned an 89-mph left-handed fastball around for a three-run, no-doubt bomb, a shot that won this game . . . .

. . . in tandem with the man on the mound.  The Rangers came into this post-season without a home playoff win in franchise history.  They now have three.

All three belong to Colby Lewis.

Coming in each of the club’s last three home playoff games.

After getting shafted in run support most of the season, Lewis hasn’t needed much of it this month.  Tack on his five innings of shutout ball in a no-decision against the Rays, and his post-season ERA now sits at 1.71, with a .176 opponents’ average and 24 strikeouts in 26.1 innings.  

If Moreland’s at-bat was the greatest by a Ranger this year – and of course, a case can arguably be made that it was therefore the greatest in franchise history – Lewis may be the greatest off-season acquisition, all things considered, that any team in baseball made this past winter.

And if this thing ends up going seven, which lots of us predicted before the series got rolling, Colby Lewis will get the ball that Thursday night, presumably against Jonathan Sanchez.

On the omen subject, this morning I wrote this:

I got to the airport and boarded Flight 488 to Phoenix, where I’d connect on another flight to Dallas.  Was the flight number a nod to number 48, Colby Lewis, going eight innings tonight?  Or getting eight runs of support?  Or Lewis and, somehow, Jorge Cantu (number 8) getting the most camera time at the end of a Rangers win?

He didn’t go eight innings, but was basically one pitch away from doing it.

He didn’t get eight runs of support, but he got eight hits, including a couple very big ones, and he made them stand up.

It wasn’t Lewis and Cantu, but it was Lewis and the man who has made Cantu obsolete.

What a win.

Enjoy the hell out of the attached Eric Nadel audio clips.

Game Four Sunday night, Halloween.  

I think we’ll all be disappointed on level or another not to see some Rally Minka’s in the crowd.

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SUNDAY MORNING ADDENDUM:

A few quick hits:

Colby Lewis started 26 of 30 Giants hitters off with strike one.  Just tremendous.

The 22 Rangers hitters who faced Jonathan Sanchez – who led all Major League starting pitchers in opponents’ batting average (.204) and was top 10 in the NL in strikeouts – swung and missed just three times.

That’s as many swing-and-misses as Pat Burrell had in the first inning.

Nelson Cruz has 12 extra-base hits in the playoffs.  That’s the most by one player in one post-season in the history of Major League Baseball.

Alexi Ogando will be a huge factor tonight.

And Cliff Lee will make his final start of 2010 tomorrow night.  Will it be his final start as a Texas Ranger?

Peter Gammons made a radio appearance on Boston’s WEEI on Thursday:

As for the biggest name among the free agents – starting pitcher Cliff Lee – Gammons was short and to the point about his future.

“Cliff Lee is going to sign with Texas,” Gammons said.

First things first, Big Game Hunter.  Bring out that breaking ball, go as Colby Lewis for Halloween, and do your thing.

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World Series Game Two, San Francisco 9, Texas 0.

OK, I’m fine now:
My team’s in the World Series.
Just time to hold serve.

This Friday haiku thing is pretty stupid, and I knew it months ago.  It was probably mid-season when I knew it had run its course (you were probably there long before that), but I wasn’t about to cut it off, not during this season.  Didn’t want to jinx things.  I’ll give it up once 2010 is in the books.  Not before that.

And I heard from lots of you last night, not commiserating but instead delivering the pep talk that in past years I’ve felt some sort of urge myself to deliver.  Thank you for that.

I envy lots of things about this city I’m about to depart, heading back to Texas.  There are things I envy about their amazing ballpark, too, but there’s nothing that I envy more at this minute than the 2-0 lead the Giants now have over the Rangers.  I think the Giants eighth surpassed the Mavs’ fourth-quarter playoff meltdown against the Spurs years ago as the most deflating sports experience I’ve ever had, in a game that I still feel would have gone differently if Ian Kinsler’s fifth-inning, 401-foot missile hadn’t missed clearing the fence by a blister.  Matt Cain (who I’d proposed trading Marlon Byrd, Eric Hurley, Omar Poveda, and Marcus Lemon for two years ago: bah) was brilliant, but C.J. Wilson was nearly as good, and if Texas had gotten that 1-0 lead . . . .

I’m hungry, real hungry.  Sometimes that sucks, and it doesn’t feel very good.  But better, as a baseball fan, to be hungry on October 29 than dead.

I’m still looking to buy a couple tickets to tomorrow’s game and be alive again, in our House, watching this team bounce back like it has a thousand times this year.  It’s the World Series, dammit, and 28 teams and the fans that care about them would trade places with us in a heartbeat.

Sorry for last night’s postgame delivery, and for this silly haiku thing — but not really.  I’m trying to keep up my end, to do what it takes to win, and the 5-7-5 every Friday morning was part of what got me back to the computer this morning, but less so than the dozens of emails I got from you all last night.

Let’s go.

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Game Three.

I wasn’t really looking for an omen yet when I woke up at 5 a.m. on Friday, nor as I stood outside in the San Francisco dark and rain at 6 a.m. to grab a cab.  

A taxi pulled up and I plopped into the back seat.  Told the cabbie I needed to get to the airport.  He turned his head back forward, and the front of his ballcap, which he was wearing backwards, swung around and stared me down.

BostonRedSox_B2.jpg 
We talked baseball for the next 20 minutes, and half of my mind that whole time was on 2004, as I stared at the Boston B.  

The Red Sox, before sweeping St. Louis in the World Series for their first title in 86 years, lost Game One of the ALCS to the Yankees, in New York.  Ace Curt Schilling got drilled early, Boston managed to score some runs late, and the 10-7 Yankees win looked closer than it really was.

A lot like San Francisco 11, Texas 7 in Game One.

The Sox kept Game Two close but couldn’t get anything going against Jon Lieber, failing to pick up their second base hit until the seventh inning.  A close game that didn’t feel that close.  Final: New York 3, Boston 1.

Until the Rangers’ eighth-inning bullpen disaster, a lot like the their Game Two loss to the Giants.

Boston had lost twice on the road to open the series.  Lost Game Three at home, in fact, obliterated by a 19-8 score.

Won Game Four at home, in 12 innings.

Won Game Five at home, in 14 innings.

Won Game Six, back in Yankee Stadium. 

Won Game Seven in Yankee Stadium. 

I don’t know if it’s an omen, but it’s recent history, and happens to be more than just precedent for a team to come back after dropping two post-season games on the road.  Given where the Red Sox hadn’t been in decades and looked like they weren’t going to get once again, what they did in 2004 seemed even more impossible after falling 0-2.  More than just precedent.  Maybe inspiration.

I got to the airport and boarded Flight 488 to Phoenix, where I’d connect on another flight to Dallas.  Was the flight number a nod to number 48, Colby Lewis, going eight innings tonight?  Or getting eight runs of support?  Or Lewis and, somehow, Jorge Cantu (number 8) getting the most camera time at the end of a Rangers win?

Maybe the better omen is what Lewis (8-3-1-1-3-7) and Jonathan Sanchez (2-3-2-2-2-1) did in their respective teams’ decisive LCS Game Sixes.  Texas needs to be patient with the volatile Sanchez, who led the Major Leagues in walks in 2010 (doppelganger C.J. Wilson was second).  And Lewis feels like the right guy to remind the Giants why they shouldn’t be this confident at the plate.

A reader emailed me to report that a sports talk radio station in San Francisco was planning a parade on the air yesterday, convinced that when the Giants return home, it will be to celebrate, not to play baseball.  Good.  Very good.

Kevin Millar is part of MLB Network’s studio show this morning, and I’m back to thinking about Boston in 2004.

The last time Colby Lewis pitched, some of you bristled at Minka Kelly’s appearance in my gameday report, because, you said, no girlfriend of Derek Jeter should be counted on as a Rangers rally point.  Nonsense.  “Friday Night Lights,” man.

She’s now part of the cast of “Parenthood,” which is set in San Francisco.

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Fear the Rally Minka.

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10-28 Newberg Report: World Series Game One, San Francisco 11, Texas 7

From the early lead to the beatdown that followed, from the failure to capitalize on chances to the widespread mistakes, last night’s Giants win over the Rangers was similar in a number of ways to Monday’s Giants win over the Cowboys.

But where Dallas plays with very little character, Texas has proven it has it in very deep supply, and that’s why Wednesday’s butt-whipping, while disappointing, doesn’t bang my trust in this team.  

The opener of the Yankees series, after the disastrous eighth, felt devastating.  This one, a smackaround of the highest order, does not.

Cliff Lee was shockingly mortal.  During the game it crossed my mind that, given how unusually undominant he was, maybe he tweaked his back swinging the bat, but there’s been no talk of that since the end of the game.  He simply didn’t have his breaking ball, got far too much of the plate too often, and San Francisco squared up a lot.  The control was there (two-thirds strikes, one walk), but the Lee command we’ve all gotten used to was way, way off.  

And this is important: San Francisco earned this one.  Don’t chalk it all up to Lee’s substandard effort or the defensive and baserunning blunders.  The Giants spanked Texas.

Lee entered last night’s start with a 7-0 record in post-season play, scattering nine earned runs (over eight starts) in 64.1 innings.  Last night: six earned runs in 4.2 frames.  He surrendered more extra-base hits last night (five) than he had in his three Rangers playoff starts against Tampa Bay and New York combined (three).

Had the Yankees forced a seventh ALCS game, Lee would have pitched Saturday, on regular (four days’) rest.  Instead, he pitched last night on eight days’ rest.  A factor?  Who knows.  But maybe getting Lee back into his routine, with him taking the ball in Game Five on regular rest — yes, there will be a Game Five — will be a good thing.

The unfortunate part is that Texas, despite squandering a huge opportunity to turn the one-run first inning into something bigger, wasn’t terrible against Tim Lincecum (could the Giants bring him back for Game Four if the situation calls for it, given that he threw only 93 pitches last night?), but still couldn’t come away with a win.  The offense wasn’t shut down by Lincecum, or by Brian Wilson late, and maybe that’s one small positive to take away from Game One.  This wasn’t the late ’90s playoff offense.  

And it wasn’t late ’90s Vladimir Guerrero defense.  Brutal.  Just brutal.

According to postgame reports, Guerrero will be back in right field tonight, and my comfort level with that idea is on near-empty.  If we were talking about taking a hot bat out of the lineup and replacing it with Andres Blanco or backup catcher offense, that would be one thing, but I’m just as confident right now in David Murphy’s bat as Guerrero’s, if not more so, and the defensive difference is obviously massive.  Hope Wash hasn’t ruled out a change for tonight.

A thought: Would you rather have to strongly consider pulling Guerrero for defense late in the game (exposing the cleanup spot to an option worse than Nelson Cruz from a Hamilton-protection standpoint), or have his bat on the bench available for the late-inning spot of your choosing?  Particularly facing the right-handed Matt Cain (who held righties to a .217/.273/.356 slash this season — though to be fair, lefties got to him at only a .225/.280/.382 rate), I’d feel much better with Murphy in the lineup tonight, and obviously in the outfield with C.J. Wilson on the mound.

Eighteen runs (and 10 pitchers) in a game started by Lee and Lincecum just doesn’t compute.  I remember thinking, on our connection descent into Las Vegas on Tuesday night, that the scene below looked like a pinball machine on tilt.  That’s what the Giants attack looked like last night.  A couple bleeders down the right field line early, but lots of barreling up after that, particularly with two outs.  I think I read that only one time all year did the Giants rack up that many extra-base hits in one game.  They’d scored more than four runs only two times in their last 19 games, and hadn’t scored in double digits in more than a month.  Nobody could have ever seen that coming, not in a game entrusted to Lee.

San Francisco did what Texas has done all post-season, jumping on opportunities, and the Rangers didn’t do enough of that last night.  And so, as a result, the Rangers need to win four out of six, but they’re good enough to do it, and plenty resilient.  Take Game Two behind C.J. Wilson, and Texas will have shifted home field advantage heading into Saturday’s Game Three in Texas.

(Hey, speaking of which, if you happen to have two good seats for sale to Saturday’s game in Texas, lower bowl between the bases, can you give me a shout?  I need to buy a couple, and obviously I’m not expecting to get them for face value.)

Because of the unusual sloppiness of Lee’s start and the Texas defense last night, there’s room for an argument that the Rangers let down a bit after the huge series win over the Yankees that got them here.  But we’ve come to know enough about this team that we need not worry that a bad Game One loss could linger into Game Two.  The Rangers simply got their tails whipped, and that should have no bearing on Game Two, when the club can take advantage of its faulty short-term memory, start with a clean slate as they did against the Yankees, and secure a two-game split to open this series.

Time tonight to just take out the garbage and get back to playing Rangers baseball.

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Time to go.

The lead was 1-0, top of the seventh.  Joey Votto swung at the first pitch of the inning, grounding out to Ian Kinsler.

Then Scott Rolen singled to center field.  Matt Holliday singled to center field, too.

In came Matt Thornton, and he got Chris Young to pop out to first base.  Thornton then got ahead of Marlon Byrd, and was one strike away from escaping the threat.

But Byrd battled back, and worked an eight-pitch base on balls.

With the bases loaded, up stepped Brian McCann.  Thornton started him off with a strike, which McCann fouled off.

And then McCann laced a 98-mph fastball to right field, clearing the bases, with Byrd sliding in ahead of Kinsler’s relay throw to the plate for the third run.

McCann’s double gave his team a 3-1 lead that held up, breaking a 13-year National League All-Star Game losing streak.

And it’s the reason I’m sitting here reviewing deposition transcripts in a hotel room in the Fisherman’s Wharf district, rather than in my office in Dallas.

Read this fantastic article about the architect of your baseball team, and this one about your team’s ace, and this one, too, and then start to think about getting buckled in.  I’m telling myself this because I’ve been writing about this team for more than 12 years now, and caring about it at an insane level for three times longer than that, and I need the assurance:

This is all going to start making sense in a little more than seven hours, at which point It will be Time.

The Texas Rangers, in seven games.

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Almost there.

Thirty minutes before kickoff of that game last night against the other Giants, this was the scene at a local Academy, where a massive Rangers display is all you see the minute you walk through the doors to the store:

academy5.jpg 
Thirty minutes before the end of that abomination of a football game, if you were listening to Brad & Babe on the radio call (or, I understand, the ESPN call, too), you heard a crystal-clear “Let’s Go Rangers!” chant break out in the stands.

Awesome.

Thirty minutes after the football game, you heard this week’s barrage of excuses and weakness from the putative head coach, which only serves to reinforce how much I get fired up when I hear a Ron Washington press conference, an event of reliably (if sometimes recklessly) straight truth that, in the past month, for me, has elevated itself from “refreshing” to “galvanizing.” 

“We’re here to whip their ***,” said one of them yesterday.

“We’re just not right on the right track,” said the other recently.  “It’s just off kilter barely in those games that we’ve lost.” 

I think I now get it, far more than I ever did, as to why Ron Washington was the man for this job, and why Jon Daniels knew it.

That’s one of the topics Ted Price, Adam Morris, and I explored last night as we recorded the latest edition of Rangers Podcast in Arlington.  Ted should have the show uploaded sometime today.  I’ll give you a heads-up when that has happened. 

One lowlight of the show was my lack of preparation for a lot of the World Series nuts and bolts that Ted wanted to discuss.  My brain just isn’t ready for what’s about to happen.

There’s already been a lot of very good writing and television about Rangers-Giants, and promises to be a ton more.  Over the next seven or ten days the best baseball writers in the country turn their focus squarely to this team. 

But I don’t have it in me, not yet at least, to talk about roster decisions or lineup issues or how long I think this Series will go, and in whose hands the trophy gets raised.

I’m getting there, but last night during the Podcast I was still struggling to get my baseball brain wrapped around Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants, World Series.  Emotionally, I’m there, and have been since the Fifth Inning.  But the part of me that’s supposed to offer some sort of analysis, a fact or two to support a theory or to lay the foundation for a trend to keep an eye on, that part isn’t ready to go to war.  All of this is still a little too surreal.

Hopefully you’ve come not to expect much objectivity from me.  But there will be some.  There will.  Soon enough I’ll get buckled in and ready to roll, ready to bear down. 

Listening to Wash helps.

So does the thought of Lincecum-Lee.

Wow.

Lincecum.

Lee.

I’m just about there. 

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A Pennant is won — ALCS, Game Six: Texas 6, New York 1.

Though for reasons that I’m sure will begin to become more clear before long, the late-’90s playoff run never felt like this one.  Part of it was that this club’s previous Mark Teixeira, slugger Juan Gonzalez, was reportedly not going to sign long-term for Larry Walker money ($75 million over six years), and at about this time in 1999, following the club’s third playoff season out of four, the Rangers decided to explore the idea of trading Gonzalez.  He was shipped to Detroit in November.

What followed in 2000 was a 71-win season, the club’s worst in 12 years.

Texas then signed the best young player in baseball to the record-obliterating $252 million deal that was supposed to shoot the club right back into perennial relevance.

That contract was for ten years.

Starting in 2001.

And ending in 2010.

We can all make a list of a dozen reasons that last night’s result was fitting.  One that we’ll all talk about well after his own date in Cooperstown is that the instant that Alex Rodriguez’s 2010 season ended, the season that was supposed to conclude a landmark Rangers contract that would be the centerpiece of a World Series-contending roster, at that very instant Texas earned its first-ever World Series berth, not with him but against him and, in a way, in spite of him, as at least one of the “kids” he disparaged and deserted six years ago and many others who weren’t around yet leaned forward, facing him, as were 50,000 of the millions who had once imagined big things with him in a Rangers uniform, and had been abandoned ourselves.

A-Rod was looking out at the team he couldn’t bear to play with, and then with a 1-2 count he was just looking, as Kid Neftali followed 100-99-99 with a picturesque 83-mph slider, a buckler that broke 11 inches and once and for all broke the hearts of a thousand New York writers convinced that the Rangers were merely invited to the Yankees’ progressive dinner that began in Minnesota and would continue in a National League park on Wednesday.

In a season that could never have been scripted – never – that last pitch, freezing Alex Rodriguez and sending this team to a place it had never been, a place that 10 years ago it had hoped with a pile of cash that A-Rod would help take them to, couldn’t have been scripted any more perfectly.

Dial back to the eight innings before that moment, and to the year before A-Rod signed with Texas, and you find Colby Lewis.  Drafted by the Rangers in the supplemental first round in 1999, Lewis was on a fast track to join a pretty good baseball team, and probably felt pretty good about the future of the franchise he was part of when A-Rod arrived after the 2000 season, when Lewis had just finished his first full pro season, in High Class A.  The superstar shortstop was only four years older than Lewis, after all.

But it then fell apart for the A-Rod Rangers, who finished all three of his seasons here (2001-03) in last place in the division, getting Lewis’s first 30 big league starts and a handful of relief appearances the last two of those seasons.  His ERA over 161.1 innings was a bloated 7.08.

A-Rod was traded right before camp in 2004.  Lewis lasted only a little bit longer, making three starts in April before being shut down with what was diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff.  He was done as a Ranger.  For six years, that is.

Alex Rodriguez wasn’t supposed to be somewhere else in 2010, and Colby Lewis wasn’t supposed to be back, pitching in a Rangers playoff rotation.

But they were, facing off over the last week six times, for the first time in their careers.  

A-Rod went 1 for 6 against Lewis, one of the kids he ran away from six years ago.

Not that that matchup stood out in the six-game series for either Rodriguez (who hit .190 overall) or Lewis (who held New York to a composite .196 ALCS average, after holding Tampa Bay to a .118 clip in his one ALDS start against the Rays).  But, given A-Rod’s importance to the Yankees attack, and the history here, it sure was sweet, particularly as he got rung up by Feliz on the final pitch of the series, and New York’s season.

When I predicted Rangers in six games a week ago, I didn’t expect the Yankees to hit .201 or post a team ERA of 6.58.  I didn’t expect Texas to rack up more extra-base hits (24) or more stolen bases (9) in the series than any playoff opponent ever had against the Yankees, or score the second-most runs (38) of any New York playoff opponent – trailing only the 41 that Boston scored in the 2004 ALCS, a series that went seven games rather than six.

Texas, which hit .304 with an .890 OPS (the second highest ALCS OPS since the series went to the best-of-seven format 25 years ago) and pitched so well most of the time, dominated this series, plain and simple.

In that same October 15 report, I wrote: “This I think I know: Over the next week and maybe for the rest of my life, I will harbor an irrational hatred for Nick Swisher, there will probably be a home plate ump or two whose name I’ll remember forever, and not fondly, and there will be several moments and images that will push all other moments and images down in my mental sports scrapbook.”

All of that is true, and there was that moment in the fifth inning last night when Swisher and home plate ump Brian Gorman threatened to make Rangers history, as Gorman ruled no contact on a clear hit-by-pitch, allowing Rodriguez to trot home on a wild pitch and tie the score, 1-1.   

After Swisher grounded out on a 10-foot dribbler fielded by Lewis, Jorge Posada doubled to right, and that would have scored Rodriguez anyway, and maybe even Swisher – but in any event would have at least sent him to third with one out rather than two – but there’s also the theory that the pitch sequence to Posada might have varied, and maybe he doesn’t double at all.  And even if Posada put the same pass on the ball, with Mitch Moreland holding Swisher on first, maybe he gloves the shot that instead eluded him with the bases empty.

But two points about the above.

First, that wasn’t the key Swisher punk moment.  There was an ESPN report on Thursday that, as reporters asked a few Yankees players for comment about Cliff Lee, Swisher fired off a tirade for all in the clubhouse to hear: “You guys are talking about Cliff Lee?  Who cares?  I can’t wait to hit against his ***!”

April 16, buddy.

Second, last night’s omen.  

There was a little sense of dread that crept in on the blown hit-by-pitch call, as three balls had been barreled that inning (Rodriguez’s double to the wall in left center, Lance Berkman’s sacrifice fly to right center that might have gone out on other nights, and Posada’s double to right), and there had been outs earlier in the game that New York had squared up on as well.  Lewis had lost command in the sixth inning in Game Two, and with New York having tied the game in the fifth last night, and starting to hit the ball hard with regularity, the game didn’t feel very good.

With Posada on second, and Derek Holland starting to get loose in the pen, the batter was Marcus Thames.  On the third pitch, he fouled an inside Lewis fastball straight up, a mile high, and I knew I’d have a play on it from my seat.  I can remember thinking the play needed to stay on my left shoulder, as our six-year-old Max sat to my right.  The ball ended up hitting my hand and the hand of the gentleman to my left at the same time (I call pass interference), and a woman sitting behind us came up with the ball – and gave it to Max.  

After that?  Two more strikes to Thames, a foul tip and a swinging strike three.  

After that?  Texas erupted in the bottom of the inning for f
our two-out runs, blowing the game open and making it OK to start thinking about the words “World” and “Series” in earnest, to start to really believe that those “little town” blues were, once and for all, melting away.  

After that?  Eleven up, nine down over Lewis’s next three innings, culminating with possibly the worst swing of Derek Jeter’s career, before Feliz was summoned to slam it shut in the ninth.

Game-changer.

max_ALCS_foul_ball.jpg 

And a lot better than the omen I was really worried about – the dual cloudbursts just before and right at gametime, far too reminiscent of October 2, 1998, the lone home game of that year’s ALDS sweep at the Yankees’ hands.  Texas blanked New York in eight of nine innings that night, but the four-spot the Yankees scored in the sixth off Aaron Sele made it feel like 40-0 (as the Rangers had scored just one run in the first two games combined), particularly when a three-hour sideways-rain delay followed New York’s four-run inning by minutes.

Speaking of rain, can you imagine if Texas was pushed to a Game Seven tonight, and this lousy weather we had today ended up halting the game for such an extended period that Cliff Lee was forced out early due to inactivity?

Another what-if: If Joe Girardi hadn’t flipped Andy Pettitte and Philip Hughes, lining Pettitte up to pitch Games Two and Six rather than games Three (which he dealt in but lost to Lee) and Seven, would last night have gone differently with Pettitte on the mound?

As Max and I walked through the concourse an hour after the game ended, I heard someone singing, “Start spreading the noose.”  I smiled.

A little misleading, I guess.  I was smiling for about two hours straight by that time, just as Max was as he fell asleep in the car on the way home, lullabied by a cacophony of celebratory car horns that sounded oh-so-sweet.

You must read what Peter Gammons wrote about the Texas Rangers today.  You just have to do it.

Here’s some other entertaining reading from the last week.

Filip Bondy (New York Daily News): “Ryan’s no-hitters aside, this ALCS represents one of sports’ great historical mismatches, 40 pennants versus zero.  The Yanks should win this series just by throwing their pinstriped uniforms onto the field and reading from a few pages of The Baseball Encyclopedia.  If only Bud Selig would agree to waive a few silly postseason rules, the Bombers might send their Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster to Arlington for the first couple of games, make this a fair fight.”

Neil Best (Newsday): “We have had four decades to get used to it, yet ‘Texas Rangers’ still doesn’t sound quite right.  It’s a mixed marriage between a football state and a hockey nickname, one that has produced a reliably mediocre baseball franchise.  Now, thanks mostly to a pitcher passing through on his way to the Bronx next season, the uninspiring Rangers are all that stand in the way of a World Series capable of distracting Football Nation.”

Mike Greenberg (Mike & Mike Show, ESPN Radio), on Friday morning: “Even if you’re a Rangers fan, you’re hoping for a Game Seven with Cliff Lee.”

Rob Neyer (ESPN): “I don’t think the Rangers will let Daniels get away.  And it sure sounds like the Mets like Sandy Alderson.  But if I grew up in Queens and somebody offered me a chance to escape Texas and run the New York Mets . . . .”

Good grief.

There’s more, but leave those guys alone, especially the New York writers, in their time of mourning.  Lay off.  They’re having to deal with the illicit taking of a birthright.  Hold a good thought.

All those intentional walks to Josh Hamilton last night were the in-game equivalent of the Angels telling Vladimir Guerrero last winter that he couldn’t get it done any more.  Big Mad Vlad.  Love it.

Mitch Moreland: A Starter Is Born.

Texas didn’t clinch the West at home, and didn’t win the ALDS at home, so nailing the ALCS down at home was extra-awesome, and I keep telling myself, with some amount of resignation but not too much, that it will never be the same again.  At least not after the next week and a half.

The crowd last night was extraordinary.  Really.

It’s been written in several places the last couple days, but people are noticing a parallel between Cal Ripken’s passing of the torch to Derek Jeter in 1996, and what might be happening now between Jeter and Elvis Andrus.

The Rangers/World Series commercial that Fox is running tonight gives me chills.

Speaking of tonight’s game, I’m pulling for the Phillies but then I want the Giants tomorrow.  I want this thing going seven, which of course sets up Texas better in terms of pitching matchups.

Too soon to focus on the World Series roster, especially before knowing the opponent, but is Jorge Cantu’s spot in jeopardy? 

Way too soon to think about the off-season, but what do you do with Nelson Cruz, who has three arbitration years coming up?  Do you dare offer him a long-term deal that extends beyond that?  Remember, despite his moderate service time, he’s already 30.

Lee told Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports on Friday: “I love this situation I’m in.  I love this team.  I love my teammates.  It’s been a fun ride.  It’s been an unbelievable experience. . . . It’s the closest to home I’ve ever played.  This is great for my family, to be this close to home. . . . I would like to think there were a lot of Arkansans watching this game.  Hopefully we can make them proud and bring home the World Series championship.”

Not much need to add to that, is there?

Not now, at least.

Two months ago, Morosi tweeted this, as noted in a Newberg Report Trot Coffey delivery: “One rival exec describes Rangers as ‘very active’ lately.  ‘They’re trying to win the World Series,’ the exec says.”  Whether Morosi’s note was in reference to the Rangers’ rumored pursuit of Manny Ramirez, who was conveyed to the White Sox two days later, or Jeff Francoeur, whom Texas acquired five days later, or something else the club was working on, the point was made.

This front office – and we must remember that John Hart brought Jon Daniels here, and Tom Hicks both entrusted a huge job to Daniels and brought in Nolan Ryan – is what Kevin Goldstein described to us at Newberg Report Night as “scary smart,” and while I think this fan base is unusually cued into that, I hope we don’t take it for granted.  Just as Jimmy Johnson wouldn’t have been as successful as he was without bringing Norv Turner, Dave Wannstedt, Butch Davis, Dave Campo, and Tony Wise aboard, Daniels will be the first to credit his directors and advisors and scouts, as he did on the trophy stage behind second base on Friday night. 

Among the finest moves the Daniels crew has made, even if not as heralded as the Teixeira Trade or the Cliff Lee Trade or Volquez/Hamilton or the shift of C.J. Wilso
n to the rotation, was the almost unprecedented guarantee given to a Japanese export invited to return, a unique commitment to Colby Lewis, whose career arc, unlike Alex Rodriguez’s, has been marked not by landmark dollar amounts but by a pioneering scouting effort.

Scary smart has made this baseball team scary good when it’s healthy and clicking, and right now Texas is both.  I don’t mind these few off-days before we get rolling again, facing off against Bengie Molina’s former teammates or Cliff Lee’s, but I can’t wait to sit back and watch what’s next, making me no different from you, millions of other Rangers fans, and Alex Rodriguez.

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To join the free Newberg Report mailing list so you can get e-mail deliveries of every edition of the newsletter, daily minor league game recaps, and frequent Newberg Report News Flashes, go to http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport
 

Morning jolt.

I just went out to pick up some celebration kolaches for the family and a Dallas Morning News that I’ll probably never open.  It’s raining here, very gray.  The streets are quiet.  Kinda sleepy.

More than half the people I ran into were wearing Rangers caps.  I’m not joking.  Four of them asked me, some total stranger in a just-woke-up ballcap of my own, some variant of: “How ’bout that game!  Can you believe it?!?”  

Stopping by a North Dallas donut shop and 7-Eleven is an admittedly super-small sample, but it feels like a baseball town right now, something that’s been on my wish list since childhood, somewhere up there near a World Series in Arlington.  

I haven’t had nearly enough sleep, and it’s not like I’m begging to be thinking any more clearly than I am right now, but the last 10 very cool minutes have me ready to write finally.

This will take a while, probably hours, and not consecutive ones, but I hope to have something out to you today at some point.

In the meantime, I have a favor to ask.  My DVR behaved like a Phil Hughes pitch left up in Nelson Cruz’s zone last night, and I sit here without a recording of the Game.  

Three Bound Editions, any year, to the first person who can burn for me a DVD of the Game and the postgame trophy ceremony (and any other postgame celebration footage you were able to grab).  

If three books isn’t enough, I’m in a weak bargaining position.  Exploit me.

Back atcha soon with a report on Texas 6, New York 1, World Series Drought 0.

No more words.

ESPN’s Buster Olney said on a national radio segment yesterday that he’s never seen a baseball team more relaxed than Texas is right now, that the club seems able to shrug losses off like no team he’s ever been around.

So there’s today’s dose of analysis.  There’s nothing left to say.  It’s all been said.

Friday Night Lights.

Rally Minka.

minka_kelly_007.jpg

 

You know that scene in one of the Star Wars movies where Luke shuts his cockpit controls off and fires the kill shot to destroy the Death Star, relying just on instincts?

These two teams have played each other for a week now.  Forty-four innings, 386 pitcher-hitter faceoffs, 1621 pitches.  The front offices have done everything they can, and so have the advance scouts.  There shouldn’t be any tricks left, no alarms and no surprises. 

Tonight, and maybe tomorrow, come down to two really good baseball teams, very familiar with each other, going at it in hand-to-hand combat, each looking for the kill shot.  The next series that one of these two teams will get to play will have some novelty to it, but not this one, not anymore.  This is raw, primal baseball, and I can’t stand that Game Six doesn’t start right this second.

Elimination
It’s Time to end Yanks’ season
Start spreading the noose

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To join the free Newberg Report mailing list so you can get e-mail deliveries of every edition of the newsletter, daily minor league game recaps, and frequent Newberg Report News Flashes, go to http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport
 

ALCS, Game Five: New York 7, Texas 2.

As my buddy Darrell Cook so aptly said on Twitter:

The Rangers forced a Game Six.

That game had all kinds of junk in it, the kind that’ll make you grumpy.  C.J. Wilson had a really terrible day.  The defense had a couple lousy moments.  There was baserunning fail.  An ominous, hold-your-breath injury.

And yet the offense battled all day, outhitting the Yankees and picking up at least two bases (hitting and/or running) in every inning until the eighth.  Base hits from everyone but Vladimir Guerrero.  Despite zero walks, a healthy supply of baserunners.  More than enough.

But what was nearly a complete absence of timely hitting paralyzed the Rangers’ chances to make a real game of it.  They created plenty of opportunities.  Just didn’t capitalize on them at all.  

Since I haikued Rangers-in-six last week, it would be disingenuous of me to start brooding over where the team now finds itself, no matter how crummy a ballgame Texas just played.  It’s almost silly that it took six road playoff games for the Rangers to lose their first, and now they have two chances to close this thing out at home.

This team has earned a lot this season, including the right not to have us panic.  The resiliency factor comes up a lot with these guys, particularly after the way they responded following two home losses to Tampa Bay and the Game One disaster against New York.  I’m less worried about the Rangers’ psyche than I am about the odds of beating up on Phil Hughes a second time, about Nelson Cruz being right even if he’s able to play, about the Yankees getting Colby Lewis out of the game early again by working counts.  Texas will be ready to go.

As far as Cruz goes, I might just be ready for an outfield of Josh Hamilton, Julio Borbon, and David Murphy on Friday, and let Cruz DH.  Guerrero was really good yesterday, but that’s been the exception this month.

As has been the game in which Texas has appeared overmatched.  Just about nothing came together today, and I think we can all agree that that’s easier to take than a loss like Game One’s, when Texas was better all night with the exception of one nightmare half-inning, especially with a team like this one that has proven all year that it can bounce back from anything.

Two chances now to bounce back, in front of a packed Rangers Ballpark, but executing on that first chance sounds real good, and not just because it would keep Texas from having to face just its second elimination game this year.  

While the idea of Cliff Lee in Game Seven would be more dramatic, more poetic, more epic, the Rangers have already given us more than their fair share of dramatic this season, and I’d sure appreciate it if we could wrap this thing up behind Colby Lewis in Game Six, setting Lee up instead for a brand new Game One, and Game Five after that.

===========================================================

To join the free Newberg Report mailing list so you can get e-mail deliveries of every edition of the newsletter, daily minor league game recaps, and frequent Newberg Report News Flashes, go to http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport

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