Did you ever think, in the middle of October, we'd still be talking about the Texas Rangers?
Normally this time of year is reserved for the Dallas Cowboys and football. Instead, the Cowboys have not only taken a back seat but they've been so bad that the Rangers have gotten top billing on just about every radio station in town.
Let me take you back to Opening Day here in Arlington, Texas.
A close friend of mine has his own radio show every Monday afternoon just a few blocks from the ballpark at Arlington. He asked me to come on and talk a little baseball and give my predictions for who would win each division.
While I didn't call a lot of them right, picking the likes of the St. Louis Cardinals to win the National League Central and the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the National League West, one prediction I did make ended up coming true. It was the last prediction I ever expected to be right.
It wasn't the easiest of picks and especially not against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This was a team that had been the dominant force in the American League West for so many years. Not to mention winning the World Series back in 2002 and taking home five AL West pennants this decade, including four of the previous five years.
But I guess you could call it a hunch or maybe it was a little of the homer in me coming out. Though I don't know how that could be seeing as I was a California boy born and raised.
There was something I saw in this roster. Something that I felt that told me the Rangers were going to be a team to be reckoned with this season.
They had added Vladimir Guerrero, former Los Angeles Angel, a guy that would take the Rangers apart when he would come to the ballpark as an opponent.
Next to him was a guy by the name of Josh Hamilton. He had a story that just about every baseball fan knew from his days as a young man, to the guy that blew thousands upon thousands of dollars on drugs and alcohol, to the man that's turned his life around completely and has become one of the more prolific baseball players in the game today.
Along with Guerrero and Hamilton are guys like long-time Ranger Michael Young, young short stop Elvis Andrus, who I remember watching when he was with the team's Double-A affiliate, the Frisco Roughriders, second baseman Ian Kinsler and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The team had the look of being able to do big things this season—I just never expected that it would get to this level.
What I also didn't count on, from Opening Day to now, was the complete ineffectiveness of pitchers Scott Feldman and Rich Harden. Both of whom aren't even on the Rangers postseason roster.
After finishing 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA last season, Feldman finished 2010 with a 7-11 record and a 5.48 ERA. As for Harden, this is a season he'd much rather forget. In 18 starts, Harden finished with a 5-5 record and a 5.58 ERA, by far his worst numbers in his career.
The guys that have stepped up are 24-year-old right-hander Tommy Hunter, reliever turned starter C.J. Wilson and 31-year-old right-hander Colby Lewis.
Hunter finished the 2010 regular season with a 13-4 record and 3.73 ERA, Wilson has been even better than that going 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA and Colby Lewis was 12-13 with a 3.72 ERA.
These three guys have been some of the biggest reasons the Rangers are where they are right now. But it was one big move at the trade deadline that has made the biggest difference.
A few days prior to Major League Baseball's trade deadline at the end of July, the Texas Rangers slipped in front of the New York Yankees and stole away left-hander Cliff Lee all by offering up Justin Smoak, one of the Rangers' top prospects.
The deal looked like it backfired on them after Lee struggled through his first few starts. However, after the Rangers took him out of the rotation and had him checked out by a doctor, he was given a few cortisone shots for what the team called a back issue and was given a clean bill of health.
Since then, Lee has been nothing short of unstoppable. Through three postseason starts, he is 3-0 with an incredible 0.75 ERA and has double-digit strikeouts in all three of his starts, including a 13-strikeout performance in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Yankees.
Now, with the Rangers up three games to one in the American League Championship Series, this franchise is one win away from their first-ever trip to the World Series.
After struggling to get past the Tampa Bay Rays in the first round of the playoffs, the Rangers have dominated the Yankees in every aspect of the game. If not for one bad inning in Game 1, the Rangers would be coming home with a four-game sweep of the defending champions. That in itself is far more telling of how this series has gone.
The Yankees bullpen has been, for the most part, ineffective, as has their ace CC Sabathia, No. 2 man Philip Hughes and the October disappearing act Alex Rodriguez, who has just two hits in 15 at-bats against Texas in this series.
What might make this win even sweeter for Rangers fans is reading an article like this from the New York Daily News, showing the kind of respect or lack thereof that was given to this ball club before this series started.
So as Dallas and Fort Worth, along with the outlying North Texas areas, get ready to celebrate tonight if the Rangers can wrap this series up, I sit here and wonder if this changes the dynamics of sports here in Texas.
With the new ownership in place and guys like Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg running the team, they are set up to be a franchise that can contend year in and year out.
With that in mind and the fact that the Dallas Cowboys have just one playoff win in over 15 years, could this slowly become more of a Ranger town than a Cowboy town?
Before you say no, don't forget that this is one of the biggest bandwagon towns in sports. Those that were saying, "Who cares about the Rangers?" at the beginning of this season are the same ones that are wearing the "claw and antler" T-shirts and yelling, "Go Rangers" at the top of their lungs.
That's a question that can be debated until the Rangers take the field for the 2011 season. But, for right now, these sports fans are throwing their support behind, and keeping their focus on, a team that deserves it.
There's excitement in Texas and it has nothing to do with football.
The Rangers are one win away from the World Series. How do you like that?
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