Five-game series. The other guys own the home field advantage. Cliff Lee gets the ball first, and if the series goes long enough, he'll get it in the final game, too. In between, C.J. Wilson will start a game as well.
That's how it lined up for Texas against Tampa Bay, the American League's best team in 2010, and that's what we're faced with now against New York.
In that Rays series, Lee won his two starts and Wilson won his one, as the duo gave up a combined two runs on 13 hits and two walks in 22.1 innings, striking out 28. All three were on the road.
In the five games remaining in this series, one (tomorrow night's Lee start) will be on the road, as will Wilson's next scheduled start (Wednesday afternoon). Lee would come back around, if necessary, in Arlington, Saturday night, in a Game Seven.
I'll admit, after about an eight-hour day at Rangers Ballpark yesterday, that I haven't read much about Game Two, so forgive me if this has been discussed and knocked down already. But when I saw Tommy Hunter getting loose in the sixth inning yesterday, I began to wonder if the Rangers aren't thinking about going to Derek Holland (rather than Hunter) in Game Four on Tuesday - Holland has worked his way into a key spot in the bullpen but shouldn't be needed in relief of Lee tomorrow - or even Wilson.
The latter would be risky, as Wilson has never started a big league game on short rest, and he did throw 104 high-intensity pitches on Friday, but if the club believes he's conditioned physically and mentally to do it, imagine this: Wilson on short rest Tuesday, and possibly on short rest again on Saturday . . . which would mean Wilson (1, 4, 7) and Lee (3, 6) could start five of a possible seven games in this series.
Unlikely, but with Hunter warming in the sixth yesterday, you have to wonder what the plan is now for Game Four.
The big story in Game Two, of course, was the punishment the Rangers handed out to Phil Hughes, who had allowed three hits in 15.1 scoreless innings against Texas in his career, all in Arlington. The Rangers were .064/.154/.128 hitters against Hughes going into Saturday; if you limit it to the nine Rangers in yesterday's starting lineup, they had a collective .094/.147/.156 slash.
Yesterday? A cool .500/.565/1.000. Texas was 10 for 20 off Hughes, with seven of the 10 hits going for extra bases.
That included 5 for 11 (with four extra-base hits) in counts that got to two strikes. Texas had seven two-strike hits altogether on the day.
Meanwhile, Colby Lewis was strong out of the gate, needing just nine pitches (seven strikes) to finish the first ahead of the Rangers' havoc run in the bottom of the inning. It was a quick, efficient inning for Lewis, the kind that the dude in the black shirt a row back from me would have been proud of.
Lewis wiggled out of trouble in the second, though Robinson Cano (flyout to right), Nick Swisher (double to right), and Lance Berkman (lineout to right) all barreled up on him. Texas put up a four-hit, two-run second, and Lewis came back to strand a couple in the New York third, just as he'd done in the second.
Two more Texas runs in the third (on three doubles), and Lewis did what the game asked him to do, to steal a Wash-ism. He threw strikes in the fourth (eight strikes, four balls) and fifth (11 strikes, five balls - though that included a Curtis Granderson walk). When his command deserted him two outs into the sixth (10 strikes, including a Cano missile halfway up the home run porch, and nine balls), his day was done.
The lead at that point was five, and the bullpen was being entrusted not only with two inherited runners but the task of going 3.1 innings. After what happened Friday night, it wasn't exactly a comfort spot.
Clay Rapada, Alexi Ogando, Darren Oliver, Darren O'Day, and Neftali Feliz: 10 outs (four on strikes), no runs, one hit.
It wasn't the cleanest of bullpen efforts (80 pitches, just 47 strikes; four walks), but it was absolutely effective, and should be a terrific confidence boost for the beleaguered Red Bull crew. They get the day off today and possibly tomorrow in Lee's start, and should all be ready to go Tuesday.
A few other thoughts:
Is this the best couple weeks Elvis Andrus has had all year?
How many New York fans are dead certain that Derek Jeter's winter contract will be for four years, matching the length of time Andrus has before he can be a free agent?
Forget it, Yanks.
Ian Kinsler? Say it with me: Bat path.
Cano is an absolute beast. Love that guy.
(What if that trade six years ago had been Alex Rodriguez for Alfonso Soriano and Cano? Sigh.)
Texas walked seven Yankees. None scored.
One of the things Lewis said last night was that it felt like a regular season game yesterday. He admitted to being a little amped up against Tampa Bay, but was relaxed against New York.
I believe him. It's a uniqueness about this team's veterans and coaching staff.
The Rangers' 7-8-9 hitters (David Murphy, Bengie Molina, Mitch Moreland) yesterday: 5 for 10 with four RBI.
Moreland can play every remaining inning of the post-season, as far as I'm concerned. The only thing Jorge Cantu offers that Moreland doesn't is experience, and Moreland has proven, over and over, that he's not handicapped by his inexperience. At all.
By the way, I did my part yesterday. Newsday's Ken Davidoff, who wrote one of the forewords for the 2008 Bound Edition, started his entry this way: "Let me start out by asserting that Jamey Newberg is the greatest guy I've never met."
Ten straight playoff losses against the Yankees was enough for me. I felt my small contribution toward the busting of that disgusting streak was to make sure I finally met the man face to face, after many years of emails and instant messages.
We met before the game. Streak busted.
Did the sweep against Minnesota result in too much rest for New York starters C.C. Sabathia and Hughes? Some of the Yankees suggested after Texas 7, New York 2 that it's possible.
Underlying tomorrow's Cliff Lee start: In the last 19 ALCS's that have started out locked up after two games, the team that took Game Three won the series 14 times.
But the intrigue for me goes beyond that, as we start to think about Game Four, and about the fact that Tommy Hunter was getting loose in a key spot in the game yesterday. The idea of C.J. Wilson and Lee pitching five games of a possible seven is a lot to digest, but confronted with the irritation of a day off during the greatest baseball time of my life, I'm having a tough time right now preventing my mind from jumping up and down a bit.
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(c) Jamey Newberg