UnbeLEEvable. You can mark October 12, 2010 down in the history books as the day the Texas Rangers won their first playoff series in franchise history. And they did it in in sparkling fashion due much to the history-making, lights out pitching of lefty Cliff Lee who looked like a god pitching against mere mortals. Stepping on to the mound in a Game 5 “win or go home” situation Cliff Lee was, well, Cliff Lee. While leading his team to a 5-1 victory, he looked all the part of a superhero on the mound (without a cape, unfortunately) confusing batters with his wicked pitch selections while pitching all 9 innings complete with 11 strikeouts and no walks bringing his series numbers to staggering heights. With 16 innings pitched, 11 hits allowed, 2 runs scored, 21 strikeouts, 0 walks, 224 pitches, and 166 strikes thrown you could make a serious case for Cliff Lee being the Rangers’ ALDS MVP. His 21 strikeouts (without a walk) were the most in a playoff series ever and his 11 Ks in Game 5 were the most in a “winner take all” situation in playoff history. Oh and by the way, he tossed 120 pitches last night… 90 of them were strikes. Are you kidding me, Captain Consistency? Not only did Cliff dominate the mound, but his pitching counterparts overachieved throughout the series as well: Texas pitchers struck out 55 batters over the course of the five game series, a record for a division series. And while we’re talking about making history, it was also the first time in playoff history that the visiting team won every single game. Just complete madness. The record books were definitely re-written last night and I’m glad it happened at the hands of the Rangers.
Let’s be clear about one thing, the Rangers whole-heartedly earned their Game 5 victory. Their first 3 runs in the game were manufactured by sheer alertness, speed, and aggressive base-running. It was all about the hustle and therefore it was all about the infamous antlers for the Rangers. Elvis Andrus stole second base and then made a run for third with Josh Hamilton at the plate in the first inning. Andrus ended up scoring easily thanks to the distracted play of Rays picther David Price and first baseman Carlos Pena. Hamilton ended up earned an RBI without even getting a hit. Nellie Cruz’ speed after an off-the-wall double in the fourth caught the Rays off guard for the second time. Cruz took off to steal third and catcher Kelly Shoppach’s attempted throw to tag Cruz out went sailing over third baseman Evan Longoria’s head into left field, allowing Cruz to score easily. Vlad Guerrero scored from second base in the sixth inning on a ball that didn’t make it out of the infield. Wait, what? Guerrero got a jump off of second base as Ian Kinsler hit a dribbler towards second base. The Rays tried to turn a double play, but Kinsler beat the tag at first. As pitcher David Price, who was covering first base, turned to argue the call with the first base umpire, Vladdy took off for home and slid in just ahead of the throw to home. Even notoriously slow Rangers’ catcher Bengie Molina (I would be slow too if I sat crouched all day long too, Bengie) earned a stolen base, his first since 2006. Ian Kinsler’s two-run homer in the ninth sealed the deal. Lemme tell you, there were plenty of antlers and smiles to go around in the Rangers dugout during the duration of the deciding Game 5. Embrace the antlers.
When Rays outfielder BJ Upton popped up for the final out of the game Cliff Lee didn’t even turn around to watch. He just started walking towards Molina as the two joyously embraced somewhere between the mound and home plate and were soon mobbed by the rest of their delighted teammates. My heart swelled when replays revealed manager Ron Washington scurrying over to another coach in the dugout and putting his arm around his neck in anticipation the second Upton made contact with the ball. When Andrus made the catch to end the game, the two happily embraced and started jumping up and down like little kids. The camaraderie this team has built is something rare and is a thing to behold in professional sports. From their claw and antler hand gestures, which are usually accompanied with a toothy grin, to their childlike prancing around in the dugout after big plays, these guys look like Little Leaguers first experiencing the joy that baseball can bring to a young boy. After Kinsler’s dinger in the ninth that essentially iced the game, cameras panned to him and Hamilton playing in the dugout. Kinsler pulled out his imaginary flaming guns (his thumb and pointer finger on both hands), blew on them, and re-holstered them on the belt of his uniform as Hamilton was playfully jabbing him in the ribs. Seriously, how cute are these guys?! I love it. The boyish charm, family-like unity, and their genuine love for the game and each other is more evident than I have ever seen on another professional team and it brings a smile to your face.
And if you’re questioning the classiness of this group of guys… I’m about to put that to rest. The Rangers put their own spin on the traditional post-game lockerroom champagne popping celebration. The first round of celebrating was done with ginger ale last night so that MVP candidate Josh Hamilton could feel comfortable partaking in the festivities. Hamilton, whose previous battles with substance and alcohol abuse were well-documented in the media, missed out on the celebration when the Rangers clinched the AL West because he wanted to stay away from the alcohol running freely in the lockerroom. He dressed quietly in a side office and swiftly left his teammates celebrating to speak to a church group about his life. Last night, that was not the case. The Rangers made sure of it by sacrificing the traditional booze-fest for the love of their superstar teammate. They impatiently waited for Hamilton to arrive after a post-game interview and promptly doused him with ginger ale upon his arrival. “They were waiting on me out there. They came around the corner, they doused me with the ginger ale. I had no idea they were doing that. It says a lot about my teammates, them understanding the sensitivity of my situation and not wanting to send the wrong message to other people out there.” In today’s sports world of egotistical, fame obsessed, power hungry athletes this was one of the classiest acts I have ever witnessed. These guys have made it impossible not to fall completely in love with them even if you aren’t a hometown fan like myself. The unwavering love, unity, and class is what has made this ball club what it is. Bring on those damn Yankees!