I know this should be about the Yankees and Rangers but I'm going to write about Pudge Rodriguez if that's okay. After the jump there will be the usual preview information. For now, a memory of being eight years old.
I still remember the first Texas Rangers game I ever watched on TV with the intent of discovering the game. Thanks, to Baseball-Reference, I know the details. But I knew it was a summer game in 1991 against the Chicago White Sox. I was staying over at my grandparent's house and a baseball game was on in the den. Greg Lucas and Norm Hitzges called games for HSE back then. About 30-40 times per year, those games would be broadcast to the Northwest Louisiana market.
I collected baseball cards by that point and had played little leagues games. I guess I decided to see what all the fuss was about regarding the Major Leagues. Since I traded cards, I knew Nolan Ryan was a pretty big deal, so I gravitated toward the Rangers. They felt instantly like the all-important home team with the game set in Arlington. Had this particular game been on WGN, who knows? Hearing Hawk Harrelson call Frank Thomas or Sammy Sosa--other big names in card trading--and the White Sox "the good guys" might have changed everything. Instead, I found myself rooting for the Texas Rangers.
This was the game I watched. A 13 inning 3-2 loss to the White Sox in which Kevin Brown went 9 innings and allowed only a run. I imagine this game is partly responsible for my first true sports hate, the Chicago White Sox, and my fascination with long extra inning games. The White Sox scored twice in the 13th to make it 3-1 before the Rangers rallied with a run in the bottom of the inning. The game ended with Mario Diaz getting thrown out at the plate after Gary Pettis reached on a fielding error by Thomas.
All of that sounds terribly exciting even now. I was hooked by the drama. I wonder now if Diaz had made it home safely if I would be the fan that I am today. Maybe the true good guys ending up with a heartbreaking loss cemented me as a fan forever because, if they had won, perhaps I'd have been satisfied and not tuned in the next night.
The next night I did watch on WGN. It was a Nolan Ryan start against those now hated White Sox. The Rangers won 2-0. Ryan was real and alive and not just that long list of stats that I didn't really understand on the back of his Topps. He pitched a complete game 10 K shutout. He was amazing. I was enthralled by him. I had a favorite player and a gateway into understanding the greatness of the game. Nolan Ryan is why I stuck around for more. Nine days later, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez was called up to the big leagues. While Nolan Ryan is the reason I became a baseball fan, Pudge Rodriguez is why I became a Texas Rangers fan.
Pudge was instantly identifiable as something special and exciting. Even to a very untrained, brand new fan of the game, Pudge was something else. I obviously had no context for what it meant at the time, but I understood there was a buzz around Pudge. I would hear how him being in the big leagues at 19 years old was a big deal. He looked like a kid to the people that raved about him, but to an actual kid, he looked like a totem for youth in a game where most everyone else looked like an unidentifiable adult to my eyes.
I remember the same things you all remember. The paranoia for opponents anticipating throws behind runners at any base, any time. The lightning quick feet. The fist-pump. The smile. The inside-out swing. The hush before the roar of the Arlington Stadium crowd as soon as somebody was foolish enough to think they could take second base. Pudge Rodriguez was an event. He was appointment viewing. He was a spectacle. Pudge always made it special to be a Rangers fan when it often wasn't.
Before there was the greatest era of Rangers baseball that we are enjoying these days, the greatest era of Rangers baseball was the Pudge years. From the end of Arlington Stadium era, which closed the books on Nolan Ryan's playing days, until 2002, when he left to win his ring in Florida, the Rangers appeared in the postseason for their first three times during Pudge's peak. The Rangers wouldn't return to the postseason after he left until the 2010 season.
It means something that Pudge returns to Texas today. In some ways it is sad that it's to leave his playing days behind. I wrote recently about how great it would have been if Pudge could have enjoyed his prime years with a team like the Rangers have today. In all other ways, it's triumphant. This is where Pudge deserves to say his farewells. This is where Pudge deserves to be celebrated.
You'll read plenty of things over the next five years that attempts to quantify Pudge's place among the greatest to ever play the game. The vetting process will be lengthy to be sure. You'll hear of his prowess as perhaps baseball's greatest defensive catcher of all time. You'll hear of how he ended up as one of the best hitting catchers of all time. You'll hear of how he's ultimately one of the best players, at the toughest position to play, to ever play the game. But in the end, he will enter the Hall of Fame as one of the game's greats. He will do so as a Texas Ranger.
For me, personally, I feel as though Pudge and I were called up to baseball together. He will remain a totem for me as the greatest Ranger of all time and the reason I'm writing these words. Thanks, Pudge.
Monday, April 23 6:05: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Derek Holland
Tuesday, April 24 7:05: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Yu Darvish
Wednesday, April 25 7:05: (Probably) RHP Scott Feldman vs. RHP Phil Hughes
Here's a breakdown of the pitching match-ups against the vaunted New York Yankees:
- Derek Holland: 2-0, 8.85 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, .196 BABIP, 72.4% LOB, 3.14 FIP, 3.48 xFIP, 0.6 WAR
- CC Sabathia: 1-0, 10.24 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, .321 BABIP, 64.2% LOB, 3.62 FIP, 3.02 xFIP, 0.4 WAR
Advantage: A scout told Jayson Stark that Holland is better than Sabathia right now. I want to believe!
- Yu Darvish: 2-0, 7.13 K/9, 6.62 BB/9, .333 BABIP, 76.5% LOB, 3.91 FIP, 5.23 xFIP, 0.3 WAR
- Hiroki Kuroda: 1-2 6.00 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, .339 BABIP, 68.6% LOB, 4.78 FIP, 4.13 xFIP, 0.1 WAR
Advantage: It's Yu vs. Yankees, countryman vs. countryman, high xFIP vs. high FIP. I'm hoping the entire country of Japan watches Darvish's first truly spectacular start.
- Scott Feldman: First start of season - 0.2 RAR in 2.1 innings of relief
- Phil Hughes: 1-2 10.13 K/9, 4.05 BB/9, .366 BABIP, 56.7% LOB, 5.95 FIP, 4.71 xFIP, 0.0 WAR
Advantage: I believe in Feldmania over Hughes disappointment.
New York Yankees (9-6, t-1st Place AL East)
Rangers 2011 Record vs. New York: 2-7
New York's Recent Results: 2-0 rain-shortened series sweep against the Boston Red Sox
New York's Road Record: 5-3 (45-36 in 2011)
Ballpark In Arlington Park Factors (last season) (LHB/RHB): HR: 119/114 - wOBA: 103/107
SB Nation Yankees Blog: Pinstripe Alley
|Match-up: (as of 04/22)||Rangers||Yankees||Advantage|
|Batting (RAR)||26.0 (2nd)||28.5 (1st)||Yankees (?)|
|Base Running (RAR)||-0.4 (18th)||3.1 (1st)||Yankees|
|Starters (RAR)||8.6||4.9||Rangers (?)|
|Bullpen (RAR)||10.3 (2nd)||12.6 (1st)||Yankees (?)|
|Defense (UZR)||4.4 (7th)||-8.5 (30th)||Rangers|
|Overall (UZR + RAR)||48.9||40.6||Rangers|
Questions to Answer:
- What's your favorite Ivan Rodriguez memory?
- Who is your pick to lead the Yankees in dives toward an outside pitch or contorted body away from an inside pitch that is on the black to make it look like it's way off the plate so the umpire has no choice but to call it a ball lest he face the wrath of a majestic New York Yankee? (The odds are always on Derek Jeter but I've got my money on Nick Swisher.)
- Over/Under: 4.5 runs allowed by Yu Darvish in his start on Tuesday?
- On a scale from 1-10, what is your current level of Feldmania?
- Which Yankees player (besides Mariano Rivera) do you admire the most?