By now you've heard all the little facts and tidbits. The Rangers were the first team since the unbeatable Los Angeles Angels last July 10-12, 2009 to sweep the New York Yankees in a three game series. The Yankees hadn't been lost as many as four in row until Sunday. The Rangers equaled up the season series with the Yankees at four games apiece. In fact, the Rangers are now 4-1 against the Yankees, arguably the best team in baseball, since they were swept in New York back in mid-April. The Rangers even managed their first winning record against the Yankees in Arlington since 1996. The funny thing about all of these alluring accomplishments is they really don't matter.
It mattered more to the Yankees. They, having now lost their opener to the Tampa Rays, are now in second place in the AL East. If the season ended today, the Rangers would play those Rays in Tampa while the Yankees would open the post season at Target Field in Minnesota. From opening up at Yankee Stadium to playing the Twins on the road at a ballpark that seemingly suppresses offense and especially power is a huge, huge deal for the Yankees. The Rangers on the other hand have practically played all of their cards. They're almost certainly not going to catch the Twins for second best record amongst division winners to secure a home playoff opener. Therefore, they're waiting out the last three weeks of the season to see which of the two AL East teams step up and take that division to ultimately face them.
So, even though it mattered more for the Yankees, it still mattered for the Rangers. It's the last time these two teams will have played before October. Josh Hamilton didn't play a single moment in the series; Cliff Lee was pitching after having a start skipped after a handful of non-Cliff Lee-like starts. There was a lot the Rangers needed to prove that does not register in the standing or playoff races. A week before the Rangers were finishing off the sweep, the talk was about when it would be OK to start panicking about the AL West race, and if the AL West had been secured regardless, it was time to just assume the Rangers would just have to be satisfied solely with making the playoffs, not doing damage in October. Instead, even without their best player, the Rangers beat the best team in baseball and regained some of the luster that made us think that perhaps they could do something special this season. And while the Rangers could still be swept out of the playoffs in the ALDS a month from now, they played in a way that brought back hope that perhaps they won't be.
Another interesting thing about this series is we can now claim to have seen everything. The Rangers beat Mariano Rivera on a HBP. They can pretty much stop playing baseball now, it's all been done. Rivera is now 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA in 5 games against the Rangers this season. In 4.2 innings against the Rangers, he's given up 7 hits. The only other team that is close to hitting Rivera like that is the Blue Jays with 5 hits in 6 innings. It's a ridiculously small sample, and Rivera will likely turn it up several notches in the playoffs, but do you think the Rangers won't gain a small bit of confidence having beaten Rivera unlike any other team this season if they have to face him again in a crucial situation? If nothing else, that could be what the Rangers got most out of this series.
Or maybe what they got most was the comfort of knowing that Cliff Lee isn't broken and can pitch 8 innings against the best team in baseball and carve through them like the best pitcher in baseball. You know, the guy they traded for. He's here. And he's going to be on the mound in game one and four of the ALDS. Good luck with all that, American League.
And if the Rangers can get Josh Hamilton back healthy, good luck with all that plus a Nelson Cruz. Besides Josh Hamilton just going off on a legendary postseason run that cements his legacy with this franchise, I could see a player having a possible 1996 Juan Gonzalez-esque playoff round bring Nelson Cruz. He showed in this series with the Yankees that he's an absolute top-five in the league force when healthy. Imagining Michael Young in the playoffs, a healthy Josh Hamilton, a Big Bad Not-Dead Vlad, a healthy Nelson Cruz, a and healthy Ian Kinsler, to couple with a Julio Borbon who is starting to click and an Elvis Andrus who is coming up with meaningful hits, smart base running decisions, and walks and the thoughts of October become drool-worthy.
Drool-worthy for the new owners is the fact that the attendance for the series was the second-highest attended three-game series in franchise history. And with nine games still remaining at the Ballpark this season, the Rangers also surpassed their attendance total from last year Saturday night.
So what did we learn against New York?
Cliff Lee cares.