Monday, October 11, 2010

Needing a win, now more than ever

Maybe I got caught up in the hype. I wanted to believe it could be so easy after too many crash-and-burn playoff performances from the Dallas-area teams. But there were the Texas Rangers, leading the Tampa Bay Rays 2-0 in the best-of-five series on the brink of winning the first playoff series in franchise history.

The Rangers needed to win just one game at home in two tries to secure a berth in the American League Championships Series against the New York Yankees.

Instead the Rays - five outs away from going home despite the AL's best record in 2010 - came from behind to win Game 3 and beat up on the Rangers in Game 4 to force the deciding fifth game back in St. Petersburg.

Texas is now 0-6 all time at home in the playoffs with two losses in 1996, and one in both 1998 and 1999, all against the New York Yankees. However the Rangers are going into a place for the deciding fifth game where they have already won twice and, despite dropping the last two games, will have their ace Cliff Lee on the hill.

Tampa Bay will run out their top gun on the mound as well, and for Rangers fans who think it will be as easy as Game 1, don't get too comfortable. David Price can pitch with the best of them. He's the number one arm on the American League's number one team. Don't expect him to throw fastball after fastball as he did in Game 1 of the series. Price will take a different approach this time around.

As for the Rangers, this is why you got Cliff Lee, so you can win a pair of playoff games in a given series. The man who last year won two games against the Yankees in the World Series while with the NL Champion Phillies, Lee is the hired gun that Texas had to have to compete in the playoffs. Maybe he'll have a bad playoff start, and if so, so be it, but the Rangers have to like their chances from a pitching standpoint, which is something this franchise has never been able to feel comfortable about.

The offense will have to pick up, and Josh Hamilton needs to make an impact in this series from the plate. He's been moving well enough in the outfield for us to forget his rib injury that sidelined him through a chunk of September. Now he's got to help this franchise drop the label of "only team never to have won a playoff series."

Tuesday at Tropicana Field is the biggest game in franchise history. And they have perhaps their best ever option on the mound for them. A win erases all the second guessing from Game 3 and all the missed opportunities from a Game 4 that got away from them. A loss means that the franchise was able to triple their overall playoff win total (from 1 to 3, so woo-stinkin'-hoo), but that can't be the bar.

For too long this metroplex has been plagued by collapsing teams that fell apart when it mattered most. The Cowboys' record in December when playoff berths and seeding is on the line is well-documented, with too many ugly late-season losses in the Parcells and Phillips eras. The Mavericks held a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals and a 13-point lead with 6:28 left in Game 3 before finding a way to lose that game and the rest of the series to the Miami Heat, which now looks more and more like the only shot that franchise truly had at an NBA Championship. The Mavs followed it up the next year by collapsing to Don Nelson's Golden State Warriors as the first No. 1 seed to lose a best-of-seven series to the No. 8 seed in NBA history.

Could it really be that the Dallas Stars miraculous run to the Western Conference finals in May of 2008 is really the best post-season run since that team's Stanley Cup Championship, and before that the Jimmy Johnson Dallas Cowboys?

This sports-loving city has been so beaten down over the last decade, and the Texas Rangers of all franchises could be the greatest saving grace with a Game 5 win.

Sadly DFW sports fans should keep their hopes in check. But considering the Dallas Cowboys are now 1-3 on the season, the Rangers could overtake this town with the biggest win in franchise history on Tuesday. It could happen. It might not. The Rangers have brought playoff baseball back to the metroplex for the first time in 11 years, and while this region may be a little too comfortable with disappointing defeats, it just can't be time to give up on these guys yet.

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