Howdy y’all from the Lone Star State! Thanks to Sarah for allowing me to brag a bit about our boys in blue, the Texas Rangers. After their strong showing last season under President (now co-owner) Nolan Ryan, the Rangers grabbed a hold of the AL West lead by the early summer and held on with a tight grip. Making their first appearance in the postseason since 1999, this Rangers team isn’t like teams of the past-instead of carrying a load of power bats, this team combines speed and solid pitching from both the starting rotation and the bullpen. Well…they do have some power bats too. The Rangers are going to have a tough competitor in the ALDS facing the Tampa Bay Rays, but when you’re a team looking for their first postseason series win *ever*, you might as well face the best!
Here’s a few tidbits about the Rangers…I can write a term paper about this team and every player, but with these early afternoon starts, let’s keep it simple. A top nine list to describe the awesomeness of the Texas Rangers:
Of all the recognizable names on the Rangers roster, the longest tenured player on the team is Michael Young. The literal “Face of the Franchise,” he joined the team in 2000. After 1508 career games (#2 on the active player list), he finally is making his first postseason appearance, along with other playoff virgins-the Giants’ Aubrey Huff (#3 with 1479 games) and the Phillies’ Mike Sweeney (#4 with 1454 games). Random factoid: current leader Randy Winn (1717 games) started the season with the eventual AL wildcard Yankees, but was designated for assignment. A few days after being officially released, he signed with the St Louis Cardinals. Still has to wait at least one more year for that dance invitation!
Michael and his wife, Christina, are the current chairpersons for the Rangers Triple Play, an annual event benefiting The Texas Rangers Foundation. The guys dress up, play games like Fielders’ Feud (Family Feud with the outfielders opposing the infielders), and have the annual rookie performance. This special from 2009 was themed “Guys and Dolls” and included the performance of “Afternoon Delight” in the style of Anchorman.
Unlike some teams who have “stuffy” benefits and fundraisers, the Rangers like to have fun, both on and off the field. One SportsCenter-worthy moment came during interleague play in New York in 2008. In 2009, Rangers Insider covered the players handshakes and other celebratory moves. This year’s trend, the “claw” and “antlers", was introduced to the team by Nelson Cruz (of ”Boomstick”fame) and veteran journeyman Esteban German. The “claw,” like a long distance high-five, is used when something positive offensively occurs (basically-a hit); the “antlers” are used when the player shows speed, whether going first to third or beating out an infield hit.
Speaking of speed, one of the most entertaining, and surprising, moments of the Rangers’ 2010 season was when newly acquired catcher Bengie Molina hit for the cycle in Boston. The oldest of the Molina brothers is often referred to as one of the slowest base runners in the major leagues, so the call for his final hit needed (a triple) is particularly hilarious. He was only the fifth Rangers player to ever hit for the cycle (the last one was blog favorite Ian Kinsler in 2009), and the first catcher since 1900 to hit a grand slam as part of the cycle.
Interesting walk-off wins have been the Rangers’ signature this season. There was the Nelson Cruz first-pitch homerun against Boston and his 13th inning homerun beating the Yankees. Twice the Rangers have beaten certain Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera in their final at-bat: David Murphy’s single and Jeff Francoeur’s odd walk-off HBP. The strangest (and most defensively cringe worthy) walk-off came against the Mariners, with the walk-off strikeout.
Time to show some love to the pitchers. The Texas heat in high summer has been the downfall of many Rangers teams in the past. When Nolan Ryan became president of the team and Mike Maddux joined the coaching staff, an emphasis on extra conditioning and no pitch count limits became the norm. With the trade of Kevin Millwood to the Orioles, the Rangers lost their “horse” of the rotation who ate up innings, even if he was on the losing end. A former Ranger returning after a long journey following surgery and a stint overseas, Colby Lewis was the “unknown factor” of the rotation this season. All he did was continue his high strikeout count (led the NPB in strikeouts in 2008-09) and make 32 starts, with 24 of them at least 6 innings pitched. As well as leading the NPB in strikeouts, Colby also lead in pitcher homeruns, hitting five during his two seasons. This one) hit the back of the fencing of the seating area. Notice the “gift” the player receives after the homer.
Whereas Lewis was the unknown in the rotation, the surprise addition was former setup man/closer C.J. Wilson. The blue-gloved lefty is the most accessible Ranger, whether by Twitter, his blog, or at charity events, including Guitar Hero and bowling. He totally embraced the extra running and conditioning that Ryan preached last season, and combined it with his straightedge, healthy lifestyle. He has almost tripled the numbers of innings pitched this season, and has made the most starts by anyone on the staff with 33.
One of the most dependable arms out of the bullpen is righty sidewinder Darren O’Day. In his second season with the Rangers, he ranks 7th in the league in appearances with 72. His delivery isn’t the only unusual thing…Darren actually received his degree in animal biology, as well as completed (and passed!) both the MCAT and LSAT exams. His outgoing, energetic personality didn’t seem to fit with the law school lifestyle-however, it fits perfectly with his bullpen mates. In the past, the Rangers bullpen saluted the outfielders and still perform a pregame ritual with Red Bull.
The most important bullpen member is, of course, the closer, Neftali Feliz. The 22-year-old fireballer is finishing his first full season in the closer role with great success. He was named to the 2010 All Star roster, set the rookie record for number of saves in a season (currently at 40), and is a strong candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year. He was considered the rawest, but most promising, piece of the Mark Teixeira trade as a starter with a 100+MPH fastball. Up until 2009, Neftali was starting in the minor leagues-did not move to the bullpen until he joined the majors. Whether he will rejoin the rotation in the future is unknown, but after the successful transition of Wilson, it might be possible.
Honestly, I could write about every one of the guys, but we have afternoon games to watch. Hopefully y’all learned a little more about some of the Rangers and will cheer them on in the playoffs-if you don’t already have an AL favorite, that is. One thing they can almost guarantee is an exciting game.