When I was a senior at Hillcrest High School in 1987, our basketball team won its first state title, taking down the hated Cleburne Yellow Jackets, 51-42.
The championship game came two days after Hillcrest had beaten the heavily favored Bay City Black Cats, who came into the tournament with a No. 1 state ranking and one of the top players in the country, Louisville-bound LaBradford Smith.
I wasn’t in Austin for those two games,* but I remember the sense that after we’d conquered Bay City on Thursday, 54-51, the Saturday title game felt sort of anticlimactic.
[* The baseball team was playing in the Sherman Tournament that weekend, from which I retain three memories: (1) Pitching the final two innings of a combined perfect game win over The Colony; (2) giving up an 800-foot home run to Plano East’s Reggie Green, whose teammate Kirk Piskor hit three homers of his own in the game; and (3) having no assistant coach at the tournament because he elected instead to drive to Austin to watch the basketball games (10 years before he’d become the Best Man at my wedding).]
Bay City was the big dog. Smith was Kobe. Like those Super Bowls several years later when Dallas matched up with Buffalo in consecutive seasons, each time after getting past the 49ers, the win to get to the final game was the more intense one, the one that felt more like a war survived.
I’m not suggesting that Texas-St. Louis will be anticlimactic, but like the Cleburne Yellow Jackets or the Buffalo Bills or, a year ago, the San Francisco Giants, there’s a strange feeling about teeing it up against a team against whom there’s not much of a history, no LaBradford Smith or Jerry Rice or Alex Rodriguez-level villain, no real score to settle.
St. Louis does stand in the way of the ultimate prize, just as Cleburne and Buffalo and San Francisco did, but there’s not much of an edge for me going in. Facing Tampa Bay last year, there was the stigma, the curse, of the Rangers having never won a playoff series in 38 years. Afterwards, the Yankees, of course, were the nemesis, the smug franchise that had serially prevented Texas from ever advancing in the post-season. This year, the Rays were looking for payback against the Rangers. And then there were the Tigers, the club whose ballpark Texas seemingly couldn’t win in.
But the Cardinals? Like the Giants, they’re likeable enough. I suppose you could manufacture some venom to direct toward Lance Berkman, like Brian Wilson a year ago. But it would be sort of forced.
There’s just no history between these teams, who have played all of three games against each other (in 2004, when a different version of the Rangers punished tomorrow’s starter, Chris Carpenter, for their one win – though I suppose it might be worth noting that Carpenter, who would presumably pitch Game Five in Texas, has a 6.99 ERA and .342/.407/.550 opponents’ slash in Rangers Ballpark), and don’t even spring-train in the same part of the country.
It’s difficult for me to gather up a whole lot of hate for the St. Louis Cardinals, which isn’t to say that Allen Craig won’t go from virtually anonymous to a key figure in Rangers history, or that Rafael Furcal won’t have a couple Edgar Renteria moments, or that Jaime Garcia won’t turn in a Madison Bumgarner performance.
Or that Albert Pujols might not go all Miguel Cabrera on the Rangers, and then some.
I like that Arthur Rhodes announced to Scott Miller of CBS Sports two nights ago: “We match up good with [the Rangers]. We have a similar lineup, but I know our bullpen is better than theirs.”
If he’s comparing the pen he’s in now to the one he was part of in May, featuring Dave Bush, Cody Eppley, Darren Oliver, Pedro Strop, Brett Tomko, Ryan Tucker, and himself, I’d tend to agree.
But that’s not what he meant, and I’m trying to let that comment get me worked up a little bit. But it’s not working.
Still, man, I couldn’t be more fired up about the baseball games that kick off tomorrow night. Not so much to take the hated St. Louis Cardinals down, but rather to avenge a World Series loss from a year ago and avoid having to deal with the national perception that the Rangers could be the 1970s Vikings or the early 1990s Bills, two teams I don’t think of as great ones but instead, perhaps unfairly, as teams that just couldn’t get it done.
In that sense, Pujols and Carpenter and Berkman and Rhodes and their teammates stand in the way, and that’s unacceptable.
Now I’m ready.