The Rangers in Autumn…two days to go
From Eastport to Block Island, New Englanders were screaming mad. Only a couple of weeks before, the Red Sox had been baseball’s one sure thing, but now Fenway Park was like St. Petersburg in the last days of Czar Nicholas.
Peter Gammons, describing the collapse of the 1978 Boston Red Sox in Sports Illustrated
General George Patton: “Two weeks ago when we took Palermo they called me a hero, said I was the greatest general since Stonewall Jackson.”
General Omar Bradley: “And now they draw cartoons about you.”
If the Rangers don’t win one of their next three games, their season is over. Think about that. Back early in the season, the Rangers were being compared to the greatest teams in baseball history.
Now they are in a situation that few foresaw just a few weeks ago. The red-hot Athletics are in a position to steal the division title, which would leave the Rangers in a one-game wild card playoff against either the Orioles or the Yankees.
Lose that and Tony Romo will no longer be the No. 1 sports topic of discussion in North Texas, even if it would only be a temporary reprieve.
Actually, from a historical standpoint, the Rangers situation has the same feel as it did back late in the 1996 season. Remember that?
The Rangers went into September looking like a sure thing against the rest of the American League West. They beat the Blue Jays on Sept. 10 and had a nine game lead over the Mariners with 18 to play. The first division title in club history was within their grasp.
Then they proceeded to lose nine of their next ten games. On Friday, Sept. 20, they had a 5-4 lead over the Angels going into the bottom of the 10th and Mike Stanton gave up two runs to blow the save.
At that point, the Rangers had a one-game lead over the Mariners but they were tied in the all-important loss column. The Rangers clubhouse in Anaheim Stadium was deathly quiet
Then came the two biggest games in club history or easily the biggest up until the last two years. John Burkett and Ken Hill pitched back-to-back brilliant games on Saturday and Sunday, the Rangers won both games and left Anaheim with a two game lead. The Mariners faded in the stretch and the Rangers won the division title.
Burkett and Hill are retired. Now it’s Matt Harrison and Ryan Dempster. Not sure the irony involved but Dempster was one of two pitchers traded for Burkett in August of that year. The other was Rick Helling, who won a huge game for the Rangers against the Angels late in September in 1998 to help win a division title.
The three games involving the Rangers in the last 48 hours have been tremendous baseball. Sunday was an extraordinary day at the Ballpark in Arlington, maybe the best I have ever witnessed there in the regular season. These games are a simple reminder of why baseball is the greatest game ever invented.
Forty years ago my father took me to the Oakland Coliseum to see the Red Sox play the Athletics, the second Major League game I ever saw in person.
The first? Game 1 of the 1971 National League Championship Series between the Giants and the Pirates at Candlestick Park. The Giants won, 5-4, on an incredible blast by Willie McCovey, a two-run home run. Gaylord Perry started and won for the Giants.
Why not Juan Marichal? Because he had to start the last game of the regular season. The Giants needed one more victory to clinch the division title and he pitched against the Padres in San Diego. Will never forget the tension that night as Northern California collectively waited to see if Marichal could wrap it up.
The Giants had an eight-game lead on Sept. 5 and were in danger of being overtaken by the Dodgers. But Marichal beat the Padres, 5-1, that night and the Giants won the division.
You live for this kind of drama.
Matt Harrison vs. Travis Blackley. Or will it be Ryan Dempster vs. A.J. Griffin on Wednesday?
The National Pastime in Autumn. Nothing like it.