Sunday, October 17, 2010

Getting Even (ALCS tied, 1-1)

One day after the Texas Rangers couldn't hold onto a 5-0 lead against the New York Yankees, they again found themselves leading 5-0 in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Show of hands, who was nervous?

Kinda hard not to be nervous. The Yankees are a juggernaut of an offense capable of teeing off on anyone at any time. The Rangers bullpen is young (well, except for Darren Oliver) and new to the playoffs. But for 3 and 1/3 innings, they preserved a healthy lead over New York to take Game 2 of the ALCS, 7-2, for the franchise's first home playoff win.

Manager Ron Washington seems to be egging on the home crowd and the fans' antler craze, orchestrating a double-steal in the first inning which cashed Elvis Andrus from third base to put Texas ahead, 1-0. David Murphy demonstrated why he should be in the lineup, despite the broadcasters saying otherwise seconds before he took out his boomboom stick and went deep to right field. Three RBI-doubles later, Texas had more than enough runs, but against the Yankees, it never seems like enough.

Starting pitcher Colby Lewis finally got the run support that seems to evade him during the regular season, tossing 5 and 2/3 innings as Rangers starting pitching again stifled the Yankees. Washington went to the pen, giving the ball back to three of the five relievers involved in the Game 1 meltdown the day before. Clay Rapada, Alexi Ogando, Darren Oliver and Darren O'Day kept New York off the board until the ninth inning when Neftali Feliz took the ball.

While Feliz struggled with a pair of walks, he ultimately was able to record the final out, inducing a fly out to deep left field that Nellie Cruz tracked down to send this series to the Bronx, tied 1-1.

Since Game 5 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay, everyone and anyone around baseball has been chirping about Cliff Lee. Cliff Lee. Cliff Lee. Now is when the Rangers need him most, for him to be at his best to steal Game 3 at Yankee Stadium and put Texas ahead in the series. Lee is undefeated in the playoffs in his career and had great success against the Yankees last year in the World Series, pitching the Phillies to their only two series wins before eventually losing in six games.

For so long, the Rangers have given the metroplex a reason to doubt, a reason to worry. Game 1 of this series is a classic example. But could it be that Cliff Lee is the complete opposite, providing a reason for legitimate hope that Texas could in fact return to Rangers Ballpark for Games 6 and 7 and potentially take the American League pennant in 2010? The concept itself seems absurd to this longtime Rangers fan, but that is what Lee and this squad are doing.

They are running hard. They are aggressive both on the base paths as well as from the mound attacking the strike zone. They have the power at the plate. This is, in fact, a team that can compete for a World Series just three wins away.

This is the Texas Rangers? Believe it or not.

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