We don't agree on everything, but one thing I'm guessing most of us can share a coffee nod on is that October 12, 2010 was one of the greatest days in that part of our lives that includes baseball.
Texas 5, Tampa Bay 1.
A playoff series that was a stepping stone, rather than a brick wall.
Cliff Lee, whose 9-6-1-1-0-11 line culminated with that Don Draper march toward Bengie Molina as he buried his 120th pitch, an 88-mph cutter, up and boring in on B.J. Upton, who bungeed it straight up into short left, where a backpedaling Elvis Andrus camped under it as Ron Washington put Jackie Moore in a chokehold, bouncing up and down with the rest of us until ball met glove and Cliff met Bengie and Texas celebrated a Game 5 win and the reality that, for the first time ever, it was moving on from one playoff series to the next.
(You can watch that pitch here, several times and from several angles. The second showing features Eric Nadel's brilliant call and visual proof that Josh Hamilton is the worst playoff-winning-mound-scrum celebrator in the history of ever. The third features the quintessential view of the Cliff and Bengie moment.)
But just as decisive in Rangers 5, Rays 1 was the havoc Texas created on the bases, rattling Tampa Bay's nerve and making no mistake about which team was taking the game to the other.
Minutes in, after Andrus had shot a game-opening single to right off David Price, he stole second base, and then, when Hamilton rolled over a Price curve to first, Andrus tore for third and didn't stop as Price gathered a toss from Carlos Pena at first. Andrus cut the bag at third and busted it home, where he slid safely without a throw, scoring from second on a routine groundout and giving Texas a quick lead in the win-or-go-home road game.
It happened again in the sixth, sort of. After Hamilton had skied out to right, Vladimir Guerrero singled up the middle and Nelson Cruz followed with an infield single to short. Ian Kinsler then barreled a one-hop screamer to Pena, who gloved it and fired to second to force Cruz, and shortstop Jason Bartlett threw back to Price covering first as Kinsler lifted into his final stride. Price caught the ball in time to complete the double play, but he blew the dance, unable to find the bag with his foot as Kinsler crossed — and as Vlad refused to stop at third, rumbling home and beating Price's throw to the plate by inches to turn 2-1 into 3-1, a huge extra run on the momentum scoreboard.
Between the Andrus and Guerrero moments, there was Molina's straight steal in the third inning and, in the fourth, Cruz's two-out steal of third base that forced a wild Kelly Shoppach throw into left field, which allowed Cruz to scamper home.
After the game, Rays skipper Joe Maddon included in his series-ending thoughts the observation that the Rangers "played our game tonight and they beat us. They made the breaks on the bases tonight. They deserved to win."
Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle disagreed with the notion that it was Texas borrowing from the Tampa Bay playbook. "Those who follow our club would know we can run the bases with reckless abandon at times," Hurdle said. "We stepped on the gas tonight and found a way to manufacture runs."
In that five-game series, in which the road team won every time, Texas stole six bases in seven tries. In the ALCS against the Yankees that followed, the Rangers attempted 10 steals and succeeded nine times. They didn't run as often or as well in the World Series (two for four), a five-game set in which they didn't play with the lead very often and appeared too often to play scared.
This morning's nostalgic reachback to October 12, 2010 is all I could think about as Texas 10, Los Angeles 3 unfolded last night. Leonys Martin and Andrus each stole three bases, including two each in the first inning, and Craig Gentry added one. This, after a six-for-six effort the night before (Martin three, Andrus two, Gentry one).
Tuesday, the Rangers stole bases in four different innings. They scored in three of those frames.
Wednesday, they again stole bases in four different innings, before taking the foot off the gas late. They again scored in three of those frames.
I'm a sucker for big outfield arms. I'm a sucker for complete-game playoff starts that end with a slow, methodical walk toward the catcher before the 27th out falls into a teammate's glove. And I'm a sucker for baseball offense that puts constant pressure on the opposition, seeding the fear of the running game in pitchers who'd prefer to be able to devote more focus on the hitter and in defenses who know better than to make the wrong throw, sometimes to no avail.
Maybe it coincided with Cruz's departure from the lineup and a conscious effort to modify the attack as a result, or with the advance scouting that prompted Texas to exploit an Angels pitching staff that doesn't hold runners well, but whatever the reason, my favorite Rangers baseball doesn't bide its time waiting on baseballs to sail over a fence. My favorite Rangers baseball involves havoc and pressure and what a former hitting coach who now manages a team with baseball's best record once called a dose of "reckless abandon."
Last night's game and the one before it reminded me of one of the great sports days of my life, and has me even a little more eager to tune in this weekend and next week and for the rest of these 162, just to see if the boost this club really needed wasn't so much that one extra bat as it was a change in approach, a return to game-planning damage like this team did when it was first proving it was capable not just of playing playoff baseball, but more so of winning playoff games and playoff series, with a loose, aggressive, energetic attack designed to rattle the other guys and make them play a little more tight, and a little less well.