Rangers fans must savor every last drop
Added drama only enchances incredible flavor, intoxicating aroma of what's at stake
Fred Koenig, the one-time Rangers first base coach who now hits his fungoes in the highest league of all, taught me how to drink beer. Well, what he really taught me was how to appreciate good beer. To Fred, beer drinking, done right, was an art form.
Now I know that some of you believe that makes you at least a Picasso, if not a Michelangelo, and you have the beer belly to prove it. But quality, not quantity, is what Fred had on his mind that long ago night in Milwaukee.
I think it was his German roots talking. Fred believed that a good draft beer should arrive, cold and fresh, at the table with a full head bubbling at the top, maybe even spilling over the sides. If it didn't, he might well roll up a napkin and stir it around in his beer until the foam arose two, three inches thick. As Fred explained, that foam meant a full release of the flavors and the heady aromas of a good beer.
Couldn't help but think of Fred and some of those nights we shared on road trips years ago as I watched the Yankees hand the Rangers a 7-2 beating Wednesday night, sending the American League Championship Series back to Texas.
Now, Fred would probably say, we can fully enjoy the incredible flavor, the intoxicating aromas, of a league championship series with a World Series on the line, as it should be enjoyed.
There's also a metaphor there, I think, about the Yankees' sudden resurgence being more about bubbles and froth than real substance.
Since when do the mighty Yankees feel the need to get all hot and bothered, all excited and revved up, because their Cy Young-candidate ace managed to fend off the Texas Rangers, of all people? That may tell us more about the tenor of where this playoff series is at even more than the fact that the Rangers come home Friday night with a 3-2 lead and their ace in the hole, if needed, for Game 7.
"Alive!" screamed one New York tabloid Thursday morning.
OK, maybe on life support but alive. Yet here's the really bad news for the boys from the Bronx: The barbarians from Texas are still clamoring at the gates and they're not going away anytime soon.
Frankly, I don't even think this series is going to a Game 7. I think Colby Lewis and the Rangers shut this thing down Friday night and send the Yankees, actually semi-relieved that they didn't have to embarrassed by Cliff Lee again, slinking back to New York.
I believe this despite watching C.J. Wilson come up absolutely flat (choke?) in the biggest game of his life Wednesday night and also play a starring role in the Rangers' Three Stooges routine in the second inning.
Like manager Ron Washington often tells us, that's baseball. Nothing left to see here, folks. Move along. There's another wreck right around the corner and this time, it just might be the defending world champions trapped with the air bag smashed against their noses.
Koenig would have long ago warned the Rangers and all of us that this wouldn't be easy, that the clinching game is the toughest game to play in all of sports, but especially baseball. This is the Rangers' first time there, remember. All of this is uncharted territory.
It won't be easy Friday night to put the Yankees away, either. They have talent, they have history and even more, they have pinstriped pride. That all counts for something. The Yankees rarely give anything away. If you want their title, if you want that ticket to the World Series, you have to earn it; you have to take it. They're not likely to hand it to you on an engraved silver platter.
They know the Rangers' vulnerabilities. They will work the count, scrutinize pitches, with the diligence of a jeweler studying the finer points of a diamond. They will do their best to force Lewis' pitch count up, hoping to get to the underbelly of the Rangers' already softened bullpen sooner rather than later. No one in the Rangers' bullpen scares them beyond closer Neftali Feliz.
Lewis, I expect, will provide his usual deft and generally underrated performance. Still, don't expect him to last much more than six innings, if that long. That leaves Washington having to bridge from some point in the sixth or seventh inning to Feliz in the ninth. Lord, how this team misses a healthy, productive Frankie Francisco.
That's why it's imperative that the Rangers avoid a repeat performance of Wednesday night's fiasco, when they managed to milk just two runs out of 13 hits. The Rangers must do to Yankees starter Phil Hughes what they did the first time around when they gouged him for seven runs and 10 hits in just over four innings.
Get Lewis an early lead, allowing him to relax, and maybe he won't start nibbling at the corners, as he has had a tendency to do from time to time.
As for the rest of us, this is what Fred would say: Enjoy the moment. Savor it. Remember it.
Somebody stuck a rolled up napkin in this cold beer of a playoff series, stirred it up, and now we're getting the full taste sensation, the anticipation, the tension, the drama, the amazing high of something we've never felt before with this baseball team.
Sip it slowly. Savor the moment. Let it go to your head and open up all your senses.
Rangers fans, this one's for you.
Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.