Good baseball.

I was flipping through a month-old issue of Sports Illustrated yesterday that had in it an excerpt from Selena Roberts's book on Alex Rodriguez. The excerpt was subtitled "A-Rod in Texas" and detailed the ugliness of A-Rod's first season as a Ranger, on and off the field. Roberts noted that, as of June 8, 2001, 59 games into the first season of the $252 million man's 10-year contract, Texas was 27 games out of first place.

As of that date, the Rangers' team ERA was 6.06, and opponents were hitting an obnoxiously healthy .309/.375/.499. The club was as bad as it had been the year before, despite A-Rod's arrival. That week was marked by the drafting of Mark Teixeira and a decision by pitching coach Larry Hardy to demote himself back to bullpen coach.

And yet before last night, if you were to listen to talk radio or read certain columnists the last few days, you'd probably be fighting off a message that the 2009 Rangers, nearing the end of June, were as buried as the 2001 club that was 20-39 on June 8, following a home loss to Houston in front of more than 47,000 fans.

With last night's all-cylinders win (I'm choosing to ignore that disgusting ninth inning), Texas is back to within 1.5 games of the Angels' division lead, and yet will need tonight's series finale, with Kevin Millwood (2.64 ERA) facing Jered Weaver (2.65 ERA), first place against second place, to surpass in three nights the attendance that the club drew on that night eight years ago when it was 27 games back.

There's no reason not to have 30,000 in the building tonight. Ace on ace, a chance to go 5-1 for the season against Los Angeles, the final home game against the Angels until mid-September, an opportunity to go into an off-day with what ought to be a rested bullpen as Tampa Bay gets ready to come to town.

But before you pack up your crew to get to Arlington tonight, make sure to place your All-Star votes today. Ian Kinsler's (.267/.344/.521) lead over Dustin Pedroia (.289/.370/.382) for the American League nod at second base has shrunk from 200,000 votes to a scant 6,830, and balloting closes tomorrow. If you go to TexasRangers.com (specifically, here) and vote the maximum 25 times, you'll get two free tickets to a future Rangers game.

(Milton Bradley voted 25 times in Sports Illustrated's recent poll of 380 players as to which manager they'd least like to play for. Lou Piniella "won" with 26 percent of the vote.)

It appears that Elvis Andrus is going to finish third in the shortstop vote (behind Derek Jeter and Jason Bartlett), and it's not out of the question that it's going to be the lowest finish for him for many years. Can't rule out that he gets a shot to suit up this year, actually.

Loved the five home runs and the five stolen bases last night, but under the surface I dug this just as much:

Thirty-one foul balls in 3.2 innings off of Joe Saunders (who hadn't lost in a month). Eight of them in David Murphy's first two trips.

That's good baseball. That's how you help dispose of a good starting pitcher in heat like this early in the game, and get to a bad bullpen.

"He kind of provides an element we don't have a lot of: speed, contact, doesn't strike out, puts the ball in play." Jon Daniels said that about Julio Borbon when he was called up on Monday, but last night - at long last - it could have been said about the Rangers attack as a whole. More of that, please.

Borbon ought to be in the lineup to make his defensive debut tonight, but it's going to be interesting to see which of Murphy, Marlon Byrd, or Nelson Cruz - each of whom was really locked in last night - will sit against Weaver to make room. Or will Hank Blalock not get the start against the righthander? That wouldn't go over real well with the veteran, who has already bristled a bit about his playing time.

That, of course, is to say nothing of Josh Hamilton's return within a week. (Hamilton went 1 for 4 with a walk and a stolen base as Frisco's DH on Monday. His rehab tour continues with Oklahoma City tonight as the RoughRiders host tonight's Texas League All-Star Game.)

Happy 29th Birthday to Cruz, who is a .214/.214/.214 lifetime hitter against Weaver in 14 extra-base-hitless at-bats.

Then again, Cruz was a .200/.200/.467 hitter against Saunders before last night's 1 for 2 with a home run.

The bullpen over the last five games: 16 innings pitched, one earned run, 10 hits, one walk, 16 strikeouts.

There are some pitchers in Oklahoma City making a case to be up here.

Righthander Dustin Nippert in his three rehab appearances with Frisco and one with the RedHawks the past two weeks: 14 innings, one run, five hits, four walks, 11 strikeouts. If you think he's being ramped up to step into a back-of-the-bullpen role, you might want to think again: his four outings have lasted two, three, four, and five innings, and he's now on a five-day schedule.

Meanwhile, righthander Guillermo Moscoso in his return effort for the RedHawks after being optioned back to the farm: five shutout innings, two singles, no walks, two strikeouts.

Righthander Neftali Feliz in his two relief appearances for Oklahoma City: 3.2 innings, one run on three hits and a walk, three strikeouts. It's not time yet: he has yet to pitch on consecutive days; in fact, he has yet to pitch on one day's rest.

Righthander Orlando Hernandez in his three RedHawks relief appearances: three innings, one run on one hit (a solo homer) and one walk, five strikeouts.

Get this: Righthander Warner Madrigal issued seven walks in his first seven AAA appearances this year, spanning 10 innings. In his ensuing 15 games pitched (16.2 innings), he hasn't walked anyone - and fanned 21. Overall, he has a 2.03 Oklahoma City ERA and is holding opponents to a good-looking .181/.235/.309 line.

Lefthander A.J. Murray had an ERA of 0.71 in June, and is at 1.27 overall for the RedHawks. Left-handed AAA hitters are hitting .216/.310/.216 off him.

Lefthander Mike Hinckley in nine June relief appearances: 1.80 ERA. In his overall time with the RedHawks, lefties are hitting .194/.324/.290 off him.

A Detroit Tigers blogger named Eddie Bajek attempted a year ago to reverse-engineer the Elias free agent ranking formula, and if his snapshot rankings are accurate, Vicente Padilla could be a Type A free agent after the season if he continues to pitch like he has. Type A's, if they are offered arbitration in the off-season but sign elsewhere, net the clubs that lose them a first- or second-round pick plus a supplemental first-rounder.

Some local reports indicated over the weekend that German Duran had already signed a new minor league deal with Texas after being placed on release waivers, while others reported that he wouldn't be clear to do so until today. The latter is more likely, but in any event it seems clear that Duran will remain in the system.

Incidentally, the reason Duran was placed on release waivers rather than designated for assignment and then placed on outright waivers is that you can't do the latter with an injured player. Duran is recovering from an appendectomy.

Baseball America's online cover story this morning is on Hickory lefthander Yoon-Hee Nam, who sits at 7-1, 1.73 in four Crawdads starts and 15 relief appearances (57 strikeouts in 52 innings, 30 hits and 17 walks).

Eric Nadel underwent successful a procedure to strengthen the attachment of the retina in his right eye on Monday, and will return to the radio booth tonight. He is expected, however, miss next week's road trip to Anaheim and Seattle, as he's not supposed to fly yet.

Napoli: Italian for "bad beard."

Texas has signed its second-round pick, Fresno State third baseman Tommy Mendonca. He debuted for Spokane last night, striking out looking as a ninth-inning pinch-hitter in a 6-5, 10-inning Indians loss to Tri-City. Mendonca was the Western Athletic Conference player of the year this season, hitting .339/.447/.721 with 27 homers (third most in the country) and 78 RBI in 62 games.

Last year's second-round pick, lefthander Robbie Ross, got the start for Spokane in the game, fanning nine in 5.1 innings. In 15.1 pro innings, all in the last week and a half, Ross has punched out 24 while issuing only three walks (though he does lead the Northwest League with four home runs allowed, in what is the third-highest workload in the league).

But Ross and every other mortal bows down in one sense to Dominican Summer League lefthander Miguel De Los Santos (who I had on my breakout list in the 2007 Bound Edition, before he fell victim to Tommy John surgery that season), who has thrown 15.2 innings in the month-old season, striking out 41. You might recall from my June 13 report that he had one strikeout not go for an out (dropped third strike), so it's seven outs rather than just six that the 20-year-old has recorded on balls in play. But come on: 47 outs, 41 strikeouts, two hits (.038 average), nine walks, one run.

Yes: 41 strikeouts, two hits.

He's good at baseball.

For what it's worth, lefthander Martin Perez and righthander Jake Brigham are no longer pitching in tandem for Low A Hickory.

The Rangers' 32nd-round pick, Florida high school outfielder Reggie Williams Jr., was named a first-team All-USA player by USA Today.

Remember when righthander Dan Haren pinch-hit for Arizona against the Rangers last week and struck out after failing to get a bunt down off of C.J. Wilson? Haren - who homered and doubled for the Diamondbacks last night - homered off Wilson when the two were college opponents.

Lefthander Kason Gabbard in three starts for AAA Portland in the Boston system: 0-3, 19.64 (16 runs on 14 hits, 14 walks, and three hit batsmen in 7.1 innings). Ouch.

The Dodgers' AA affiliate at Chattanooga signed a new second baseman last week: 29-year-old Ramon Nivar.

Righthander Brandt Walker, the Austin high schooler whom Texas used its 21st-round pick on in the 2006 draft (four rounds before popping Derek Holland) but failed to sign, was Houston's eighth-round pick out of Stanford three weeks ago. He's already signed and is pitching in relief for Tri-City in the New York-Penn League.

The baseball that Grant Schiller is donating for auction at Newberg Report Night on August 2, which already included the signatures of Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Chris Davis, Kevin Millwood, Scott Feldman, David Murphy, Taylor Teagarden, Derek Holland, Jeff Zimmerman, Jeff Russell, and Travis Metcalf, now also includes Josh Hamilton.

The international signing period opens tomorrow.

In the meantime, the latest huge game in the most fascinating Rangers season in years is tonight.

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title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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