Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Holy Claw! The Rangers are going to the ALCS!

After 50 years of waiting, the Texas Rangers let the rest of Major League Baseball know that they were no longer available for league-wide doormat services. The last franchise to have never won a playoff game shed their ignominious descriptor and stifled the Tampa Bay Rays to advance to the first American League Championship Series in franchise history.

Perhaps the Rangers should give the entire $3 billion of the new TV contract to Cliff Lee... just throwing it out there.

The left-hander totaled a pair of wins and 21 strikeouts against no walks between games 1 and 5 of the best-of-five series, including a complete game in Tuesday night's 5-1 Rangers win at the Trop.

The first time the road team won every game of a MLB playoff series is so much more significant to the North Texas region than for it's anecdotal details. This is history for the Rangers. And with a guy like Cliff Lee, it's hard to completely dismiss their chances against the Yankees in the ALCS.

Tonight the Rangers ran with the urgency of a team on the brink and the reckless abandon of a franchise that had to simply "figure it out" by any means necessary. Each of the first three runs Texas scored were manufactured -- in every sense of the word -- by aggressive if not jaw-dropping base running.

Elvis Andrus scored from second on a Josh Hamilton ground out in the first inning. Nellie Cruz gave Texas the lead again, 2-1, when he swiped third base and the Rays catcher threw the ball into left field, allowing him to score. And Vlad Guerrero pushed the envelop on a just-missed double play by the Rays, scoring from second base on what the Rays were hoping was the inning-ending twin-killing.

By the time Ian Kinsler smashed his two-run homerun in the top of the ninth inning, his third bomb of the ALDS, it was bring on the Yankees and everything else be damned.

An interesting thought: Cruz, who scored that go-ahead run in the fourth inning, was only on second base because he loafed along the first base path thinking his shot to deep left-center was out of the park. As a result, he was only able to reach second base and not have at least an attempt at third. As it turns out, Kinsler followed with a single anyway after Cruz took home on Shoppach's throwing errors, but it's still scary to think that Shoppach never throws the ball into left to gift Texas an extra run if Cruz is already on third instead of trying to swipe it from second base.

They don't give MVP awards for League Division Series, but when you think about the job Kinsler did in this series, it's odd to believe that he wouldn't be the guy for Texas. After all, he did hit .444 (8-for-18) with 3 homeruns and 6 RBI.

Then again, when you consider the job Cliff Lee did in Games 1 & 5, the fact that Texas made the play for a guy who was seemingly, undoubtedly heading for New York from Seattle earlier this season, and the fact that without him the Rangers are not only a ho-hum playoff team, but they might not have even made it, it's pretty clear who was the most valuable Ranger in this series.

Lee allowed a run off six hits with 11 strikeouts and no walks, reaching double-digit strikeouts for the second time in the series. He threw a complete game in the deciding fifth game, sprinting to the mound in the bottom of the ninth after Texas extended its lead with Kinsler's two-run shot in the top of the frame.

He was, quite frankly, everything an ace should be in the postseason. He was automatic. He was awesome. And HE pitched the Rangers deeper into October than they have ever been before.

For a sports-loving region that has suffered for as long as North Texas has with playoff collapse and after late-season choke year after year, the lowly Texas Rangers awoke the DFW metroplex into a Claw-crazed frenzy. Even after two kick-to-the-groin losses at home over the weekend, the Rangers erased those sour memories and replaced them with one that is now the defining highlight of the franchise's first 50 years: an opportunity to compete for a World Series berth.

The ALCS against the Yankees doesn't start until Friday in Arlington. And while the Rangers have shown that they cannot be counted out in this 2010 postseason, I'm not sure we can dismiss their chances against New York because they are now seemingly playing with house money.

Win the AL West: check.
Win a playoff series: check.
Win the ALCS: ___

Just another step for a franchise that has clawed (and antlered) its way into the middle of October.

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