Thursday, October 07, 2010

Rangers Raise the Bar

For much of their history, the Texas Rangers have been a fun to watch also-ran. Sure, they hit the ball hard, they hit the ball far. But for years the team that provided plenty of excitement offensively never had the pitching to go along with it -- not to mention how once-mighty bats would become sheepish during the three stints the Rangers did wander into the post-season.

This season, the Rangers battled. Pitching. Defense. They could hit. They could run. This team did it all. It came to fruition on September 25 when they clinched the American League West and advanced to the postseason for the fourth time in franchise history. It gave the metroplex a chance to celebrate the Rangers, to recognize the Rangers. A tip of the cap and moving on.

Not. So. Fast.

The Rangers going into the playoffs was almost a novelty in North Texas. Three short series against the Yankees in 1996, '98 and '99 molded that perception. But with the Rangers now leading the Tampa Bay Rays 2-0 as the best-of-five ALDS shifts to Arlington, this is no longer a novelty act.

This is a team that has a shot.

And with a 6-0 shutout of Tampa Bay this afternoon, the lowly Rangers shed themselves of a losers light and put themselves in position to no longer be referred to as the only team in the Major Leagues never to have won a post-season series. Now, for the first time ever, this team has a realistic expectation of success.

Simply making the playoffs is no longer enough.

It wasn't something we could declare after the Game 1 win. Cliff Lee could have been just a hired gun, someone to win one game before the Rangers bowed out as they had in 1996 after taking the first game from New York. But C.J. Wilson's pitching performance let the baseball world know that this series would in fact be the Rangers official coming out party. They have arrived on baseball's October stage, and they aren't going to be taken lightly again.

In a region where football is king and everything else is fodder, the Rangers are rising up and demanding the attention of their market. The Claw. The Antlers. And now, a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series. A win on Saturday completes a sweep and sets up Lee to pitch Game 1 of the ALCS. It also makes permanent the legitimacy the Rangers are forging this October.

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