Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee was untouchable. Until Wednesday night.

He’d won two ALDS games against the Rays on the road and an ALCS game in Yankee Stadium. His 2010 postseason ERA was 0.75. He became a franchise savior. But by the bottom of the fifth inning in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night, Lee was out.

He started off the night business as usual with a three-up, three-down inning. Then he worked the offense at the plate with some claw and antler action with a double before advancing to third base on a sacrifice fly in the second inning.

But then things went sour on the mound. Giants’ second baseman Freddy Sanchez had his way with Lee, getting a World Series record three straight doubles on the Rangers’ ace. After 4 2/3 innings, Lee had given up seven runs, six of which were earned, on eight hits. Coming into the game, Lee had only given up 13 hits and two earned runs this whole post-season.

The fact that he struck out seven batters will be minutia in the morning.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci said in his World Series preview this week that the only way the Giants would be able to win games started by Lee would be if the Rangers’ bullpen had to take over. Well they don’t call Verducci the greatest baseball writer in the world for nothing. The Rangers’ bullpen took over early and Texas lost 11-7 and it wasn’t even that close until a three-run rally in the top of the ninth.

If the Rangers had won Wednesday night, Lee would have become 8-0 in postseason starts. That would have made him the first starter ever to win Game 1 of the World Series in two consecutive years with two different teams, and only the second pitcher to win Game 1 on the road twice.

So what was the deal? Where were those eight innings of shutout baseball he had against the Yanks nine days ago? Maybe he was distracted by the Giants fans wearing Tim Lincecum wigs.

But the Rangers didn’t lose just because of Lee. The stars just weren’t aligned. Literally, the Rangers stars of Lee, center fielder Josh Hamilton and third baseman Michael Young were not on top of their games.

Hamilton, the ALCS MVP who had six runs on seven hits against the Yankees, went 1-for-4 in his World Series debut. Young went 0-for-4 and had a crucial error in the third inning that allowed the Giants to tie the game at 2-2, starting San Francisco’s scoring frenzy.

By game’s end, the Rangers had four errors, which was more than they had in the entire ALCS. Maybe they were just getting it all out of their system in one game.

The Rangers are not the giving-up kind. They came back and beat the Yankees after giving up a five-run lead and losing Game 1, and they came back Wednesday night and rallied in the ninth inning to shorten the scoring gap to four runs.

So there’s no need to worry. Stay confident. There’s a lot of baseball to be played. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

The Texas Rangers are in the World Series — finally.

Tonight’s game one versus the San Francisco Giants ends a 50-year long wait for the franchise that has never been on baseball’s grandest stage, no longer making them the team that has gone the longest without a World Series appearance. The Washington Nationals and the Seattle Mariners remain the only teams that have never made it to the World Series, and the Rangers have been around at least seven years longer than both of them.

The journey to the World Series for the Rangers started in Washington, D.C., where the team formerly known as the Senators struggled mightily for 11 years.

Since moving to Arlington in 1971, the team has only been to the playoffs four times, not once advancing past the first round before this year.

The wait for Rangers fans has been long and excruciating. For fans around UT, the wait has been even worse because of the fact that most of the students here aren’t even old enough to remember the playoff teams of the ’90s.

With the team’s lone playoff appearances coming in the ’90s, Rangers fans have forgotten what it is like to have baseball matter this late in the year. For many students who are fans, it is difficult to even remember the successful days of Juan Gonzalez and Pudge Rodriguez.

“The Rangers have definitely made my October better,” said UT freshman Chris Lee, not to be confused with Rangers’ pitcher Cliff Lee. “They give me something to watch. The Rangers have been my salvation.”

The fact that this fan base only really knows losing makes this season a godsend for Dallas-area sports fans, especially with the Cowboys’ subpar play.

While the Cowboys are usually the main draw this time of year, the success of the Rangers have fans refocusing their attention.

“This run is way better than any of the Cowboys’ Super Bowls, it even goes over the 2005 Rose Bowl,” said UT freshman Chris Perez.

Although Ranger fever at this point of the year isn’t necessarily reserved for lifetime fans of the team, this type of successful run is perfect for a fair-weather fan that may have just begun cheering for the Rangers.

Biology senior Shaunak Das is not afraid to admit that he jumped on the Rangers’ bandwagon this season. Das watched the Rangers regularly in the late ’90s and has finally come back to the team this year.

“[It’s] because they finally showed some promise and weren’t completely out of the race before summer rolled around,” Das said.

Other bandwagon fans have jumped on for different reasons, such as the great Cinderella story they present by having the fourth-lowest payroll in baseball and still making the World Series.

“When I learned that the Rangers went bankrupt and are now going to the World Series I started paying attention because it’s a good story and a big deal,” said design freshman Katie Eldredge.

But for the hardcore fans, some are not keen on the idea of the newest Rangers followers.

“[It’s] bullshit if you have watched the team for only the last three months and can’t name [pitchers] C.J. Wilson from Colby Lewis,” Lee said.

Further proof of the Rangers renaissance around UT is the increased sales of shirts and memorabilia at surrounding retail stores such as Academy Sports and Outdoors.

“Sales are up 100 percent because we didn’t carry anything before the playoffs, just hats and stuff. Now all of the things we ordered are selling very quickly,” said an Academy manager from the Sunset Valley location who did not want to be named.

It’s not just gear that’s flying off the shelves. Tickets for these games are as hot as Justin Bieber right now. The nosebleed section tickets are going for $400 at the cheapest rate, which are seats that only cost $6 in the regular season.

“Playoff sales have gradually picked up, there were a few out for the Rays, a few out for the Yankees, and now everyone wants to go to the World Series along with their brother, sister and the postman,” said Jimmy Romack, owner of local ticket sales business Ticket Cloud.

This is a perfect example of the fickleness of Rangers fans and the bandwagon mentality that is sweeping Austin, although the extra support for the team shouldn’t be dismissed.

Long-time fans, no matter how much they grudgingly agree, even take it from an interesting economical viewpoint.

“It is really good for business after the bankruptcy, and it gives us a good chance to keep Cliff Lee,” Perez said.

Either way, for the Rangers fans new and old around Austin, being in the World Series is an amazing surprise.


 

Even though both teams had to get by last seasons’ league pennant winners, the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants are set to face each other in the 2010 World Series.
Although probably no one outside of Arlington or the Bay Area expected it — the two squads haven’t won a World Series in the modern era.

For the Rangers, this isn’t just their first World Series appearance, they hadn’t even won a postseason series until this month. Now that they have two series wins under their belt, the former Washington Senators franchise is on a roll and have built a rabid fan base of Texans that are filling Nolan Ryan’s house with unwavering support.

The Giants, on the other hand, haven’t won a World Series since they made the move to San Francisco from New York in 1958.

In July, the National League won their first All-Star game in more than a decade, giving the Giants home-field advantage in the series. Here are some other factors that will determine the winner of the 106th World Series:

The Rangers will win if...

• Cliff Lee can remain perfect in the postseason

Lee is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight career postseason starts, including 3-0 this year with the Rangers. In just two postseasons, Lee already holds numerous playoff pitching records, including having 30 strikeouts between walks at one point and having five 10-strikeout games in the postseason, a record he shares with Randy Johnson. In all likelihood, the latter record will be shattered by Lee in the near future. He will try to keep the Giants hitters off balance with his Greg Maddux-like fastball location, consistent curve ball and deceptive cutter. He will be working on full rest for Game 1.

• Mitch Moreland can stay on his ALCS tear at the plate

Moreland, who is filling in at first base for Jorge Cantu, hit .389 in the ALCS while scoring three runs and driving in three more. If Moreland can continue to bat like this to complement Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Jr., Vladimir Guerrero, Michael Young and Elvis Andrus, Ron Washington’s Rangers will be in a good spot offensively.

• Josh Hamilton can continue to leave the ballpark

If anyone is going to hit any balls into AT&T Park McCovey Cove (over right field fence and concourse), it’s going to be Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who knocked four home runs off of Yankee pitchers in the ALCS and hit .350. Hamilton anchors the Texas lineup and hopes to have just one more ginger ale celebration this season.

The Giants will win if...

• Cody Ross can keep playing like a Triple Crown champion

Ross is hitting .324 this postseason and has hit four home runs in 10 playoff games, including three against the Phillies in the NLCS. He has gone 11-34 with eight RBI and six runs against the likes of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Tim Hudson. If he can keep holding down the bottom of the San Francisco lineup and Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey and Pat Burrell continue to produce in the heart of the order, the Giants may be able to score enough runs against Lee, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter and C.J. Wilson.

• The city of San Francisco can avert a natural disaster from happening

From the heavy floods of the 1962 World Series to the earthquake of 1989, the Giants have experienced a myriad of troubles with weather and seemingly fateful disasters. Not to mention, Dusty Baker’s son Darren almost got trampled at home plate as a bat boy in 2002 before being taken out of harm’s way by Giants runner J.T. Snow.

• The bullpen can hold up in close games

The Giants have become masters of one-run games, as displayed three times against the Braves and again versus the Phillies. The core relieving crew of Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and closer Brian Wilson will have to hold firm against the potent Texas offense, which is sure to test Wilson and crew, especially in late innings in the games in Arlington. With starters as good as Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain, the Giants need only to score a few runs each game to have a chance to win, but the bullpen must remain solid and avoid walks.

Prediction: Giants in 7 

MLB commentary

I have a confession to make: I’m a bandwagon Rangers fan.

Before you jump on me for my fair-weather ways, look at yourself in the mirror and tell me you aren’t the same way.

If you’re a person who has been going to the Ballpark in Arlington since you were 5 years old and sat through those 100-degree summers of losing, then props to you. The team you’ve been waiting for all these years has finally come through, and you deserve to be a part of this pennant race more than I do.

But I personally don’t see any shame in my sudden change of faith. My hometown baseball team is good. Really good. So I’m going to cheer for them.

When I was little, my dad had Rangers season tickets because he’s a baseball guru (imagine his dismay when I didn’t last through my first and only softball practice). He took me to every Rangers Opening Day game from ages 6 through 15, but that was the only game I’d attend all season.

Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to go to the ballpark and eat hotdogs and get mint chocolate chip ice cream in those awesome baseball hat bowls. I even had a “Pudge” Rodriguez jersey and hoped to catch a fly ball in my little black mitt. But I’m one of those people who doesn’t enjoy sweating in plastic seats watching a slow, three-hour baseball game just for my team to end up losing.

My whole life I’ve been an avid sports fan, but never liked baseball thanks to the Rangers.

But then a few months ago, the Rangers acquired a certain All-Star lefty — Cliff Lee — and everything changed.

“I didn’t know we were going to get him. It didn’t look as though we had a chance,” Rangers manager Ron Washington told <em>ESPN.com</em>. “When we got him, it sent a spark throughout the whole team. It meant the organization was serious about helping us win. I thought we had a good club. I thought we could make the playoffs. But when you get a guy like Cliff Lee, well, then you can start thinking big.”

The Lee trade gave me a spark, too. So on July 27th, I watched him pitch against the A’s in his fourth start as a Ranger. He struck out 13 batters and only allowed five hits and one run in nine innings as the Rangers won 3-1.

“Wait, the Rangers are good now,” I thought. “Am I a ... Rangers fan?”

The answer was yes.

So I started paying closer attention and developed a newfound love and appreciation for baseball.

Now the Rangers are in the ALCS for the first time in franchise history and I’ve got my antlers and claws up. I even went to Game 3 of the Rays series, and am currently watching Lee mow down the Yankees in his third post-season game of 10-plus strikeouts.

But it’s not just Lee that’s turned me into a fan. It’s the fact that the team sprayed Ginger Ale in the locker room after winning the ALDS so that center fielder Josh Hamilton could participate in the celebration. It’s the way the team didn’t fold in Game 2 of the ALCS after giving up a five-run lead to the Yankees the night before. It’s because every time closers Alexi Ogando or Neftali Feliz take the mound, the coolest Dominican Republic music blares on the speakers at the ballpark.

The Rangers have that underdog passion that I find so attractive in teams and despite the fact that I’ve never taken an interest in this club ... it’s World Series or bust!