And here they come down the backstretch, otherwise known as baseball in September.
If you picked the Texas Rangers to be battling the Red Sox for the wild-card race, run, do not walk, to the nearest lottery machine.
Yes, Tampa Bay is very much in that mix, but that is not a surprise. Texas?
Sox fans have not watched the Ranger scores in September for a while. They will be this year.
Nolan Ryan, the president of the Rangers and Hall of Fame pitcher, doesn’t kid around a lot when it comes to baseball, especially if the subject is pitching.
He told everyone in the organization at the end of last season that the pitch count standard of how long a starter stays in a game was passe.
He told the pitchers and all the organization’s pitching coaches that they had best prepare to go nine — and he meant it.
Last year Texas finished dead last in ERA in the AL at 5.37. Opponents hit .288 off Ranger pitching, the highest in the league.
This year the ERA is down to 4.19, fourth in the AL. Opponents are hitting only .259, also the fourth best mark.
Amazingly, the numbers are even better since the All-Star break with the ERA at 3.84, the best over that span in the AL.
The mentality of pitchers and their approach just may matter a lot.
The Rangers and Sox do not play again. Texas will play only Baltimore and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Division.
That Ray series is a three-game set starting on Sept. 25 in Texas.
There are seven games each against Oakland and the Angels left for Texas. They get Seattle six times and Cleveland three. Not the toughest schedule to finish a season.
In a sense, Texas is the Tampa Bay of 2009. The Rangers were second in the West last year but 21 games out and four games under 500.
Entering Thursday night, they are 16 over .500 and only four behind the Angels.
Ryan will be the first to say that the players have to execute, and the Rangers have done that.
Still, what they were asked to execute in terms of pitching is a return to the future because of the demands made by Ryan, a pitcher who started every game intending to finish it.
All season long major league executives have told me they’re carefully watching the impact of Ryan’s edicts on his team, deciding whether to implement the same pitching demands in their organizations.
Heading down the stretch, it’s Ryan by two lengths and Sox fans close to the rail.