It's fitting that Colby Lewis was the starting and winning pitcher in the game that sent the Rangers to their first World Series ever. Lewis' story is a microcosm of the Rangers' story since the end of the 1990s.
2002 and 2003 were some pretty bad times for the Rangers. These were the times when Chan "Oh Krap" was the team's "ace," Hideki "Fat Toad" Irabu was the closer, and A-Rod would often hit a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to make it a 12-2 game instead of a 12-1 game. Texas was never historically bad enough to get a top draft pick, but never good enough to be competitive. Then again, if Texas had gotten the No. 1 overall draft pick, how would the Empty Golf Shirt have handled it?
The team's pitching prospects were not something to give fans hope for the future, either. I can remember many times, seeing a new guy coming up for the first time, tracking the games with ESPN's game tracker, which was dial-up friendly back then, and seeing "Home Run" pop up as what was going on. Anyone remember Rob Bell, Aaron Myette or Ryan Glynn?
In 2002, the Rangers went 72-90. That was the year I expected Carl Everett and John Rocker to go nuclear and at least make some headlines to distract us from a miserable team. But no! Those two kept it civil and the team still managed to suck. Lewis that year wasn't quite as bad as Myette or Dennys Reyes, but he posted a 6.29 ERA in 34.1 innings (15 games, 4 starts). He only had two more strikeouts than walks (28 to 26). He was worse than Dave Burba.
But 2003 was even worse for both the Rangers and for Colby. Texas gave up a staggering 969 runs that year; in comparison, John Thomson looked awesome as the team's "ace" with a 4.85 ERA in 217 innings. It was Colby's first full season and he got 26 starts, yet only pitched 127 innings -- an average of less than five innings per start. But with a 7.30 ERA and 23 home runs allowed in that time, in addition to 70 walks, it was no wonder. In 8.8 percent of the innings pitched, Lewis gave up 10.7 percent of the runs and 11.4 percent of the earned runs.
Texas went 71-91 that year with a Pythagorean record of 69-93.
In the ensuing years, the Rangers made the team almost completely over, and Colby bounced around and ended up in Japan for a while before signing with the Rangers for a couple million dollars.
Fast-forward to the 2010 playoffs. The Rangers have learned the art of run prevention, having allowed 687 runs -- 282 less than 2003 -- and actually having two starting pitchers surpass 200 innings for the first time since 2006 (and that year, Vicente Padilla pitched exactly 200.0 innings). The Rangers won the AL West for the first time since 1999 and have now advanced to the first ALCS in team history and first World Series in team history. One of those two starters over 200 innings is Colby Lewis, whose 196 strikeouts are the most since Nolan Ryan was on the team. He posted an ERA of 3.72 to win 12 games (he won 10 games in his 7.30 ERA season... baseball do what it do) and, in the biggest game of his life, pitched eight innings of three-hit, one-run ball against the defending champions in the New York Yankees, who were facing elimination.
In 2002 and 2003, Colby Lewis was a symbol of the Rangers' failure. In 2010, he's the one who pitched a gem in the game that sent the Rangers to the World Series. Cliff Lee is a pitching god, Josh Hamilton is the MVP, Nelson Cruz has the Boomstick, Michael Young is the team leader and Elvis Andrus is the young star with the potential Hall of Fame future, but it's Colby Lewis who is the story of the Rangers over the last decade.
Addendum: After Rich Harden was signed to be the high-upside, frequent-DL-visitor ace and Kevin Millwood was sent to Baltimore, Lewis was brought here to replace Millwood's innings. Lewis pitched 201 innings and Millwood, despite yet another trip to the DL, pitched 190 2/3 innings. Lewis put up a 3.72 ERA and gave up 21 home runs with 196 strikeouts, while Millwood put up a 5.10 ERA and gave up 30 home runs with 132 strikeouts. Also, Millwood's farts are now stinking up the Orioles' plane instead of the Rangers' plane.