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By Bob Hurst

When the Texas Rangers played their first game at Arlington Stadium in 1972 after moving from Washington D.C., only 20,105 fans showed up to watch. The Rangers were playing in a converted minor league ball park that was expanded to 35,694 seats the year before to accommodate the major league brand.

The fans were polite in the early years, innocently cheering their team on as if they were watching a Texas League game. And with the closeness of the stands to the field, fans could hear almost everything the players said.

That was in stark contrast to last Friday night, when the Rangers beat the New York Yankees 6-1 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington before a frenzied crowd of 51,404. That clinched the first American League pennant for the Rangers, a little more than a week after they had won their first-ever postseason series, in the divisional series over Tampa Bay.

A lot has changed for the Rangers since the early days, but winning baseball games is a fairly recent occurrence.

In the first four years of the franchise, the Washington Senators lost 100-plus games in  each season. In the first two years in Texas in 1972-73, the Rangers went 54-100 and 57-105. In their 50-year history, the Rangers have had only 17 winning seasons against 33 losing ones.

Even in the strike-shortened 1994 season, the Rangers led the bad AL West Division with a 52-62 record when the players walked out.

Before this season, Texas had made only three postseason appearances, in 1996, 1998 and 1999. Each time, the Yankees beat them in the divisional series, winning nine of 10 games overall.

It’s been a long road for the Rangers to get to the place that they’re at now, and all that’s missing is a World Series ring. But the San Francisco Giants will have a say in that. They’re aiming for their first World Series championship in four tries since the franchise has been located in the Bay Area.

Series facts:

  • Texas’ appearance in the World Series makes it the fourth time in six years that a team is playing in the World Series for the first time. Tampa Bay (2008), Colorado (2007) and Houston (2005) were the other teams to do so, but each came out on the losing end.
  • The Giants haven’t won the World Series since beating the Cleveland Indians in 1954, when the team played in New York. Four years later, the franchise moved to San Francisco.
  • Home field advantage in the World Series belongs to San Francisco because the NL won the All-Star Game in July.
  • After the first two games in San Francisco, the series moves to Texas for three games on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, if necessary. If needed, Games 6 and 7 will be played at the Giants ballpark on Wednesday Nov. 3 and Thursday Nov. 4.
  • All games will be televised on FOX.

StatsWatch: Prior to the start of the World Series, here is how the Giants and Rangers did in the divisional and league championship series combined.

Giants: .231 average, 30 runs, 6 HRs,15 SB; 2.47 ERA, 65 hits, 102 Ks, 28 BBs in 91 IP.

Rangers: .281 average, 59 runs, 17 HRs; 3 SB; 2.76 ERA, 75 hits, 107 Ks, 37 BBs in 98 IP.

Lee’s wife was harassed: The wife of Texas Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee says that Yankees fans threw cups of beer, shouted obscenities and spat in the direction of the visitors section at Yankee Stadium during an ALCS game in New York.

“The fans did not do good things in my heart,” Kristen Lee told USA Today. “When people are staring at you, and saying horrible things, it’s hard not to take it personal.”

Will the incident hurt the Yankees chances of landing Lee when he becomes a free agent in the off-season?

“The story is not an issue to us,” said Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker, to “Her experience in New York is certainly a non-issue. She enjoys New York as much as anyone enjoys New York.”

Diamond Notes: The Arizona Diamondbacks have added Alan Trammell as their bench coach and Don Baylor as hitting coach. Trammell was a teammate of current Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson when both played for the Detroit Tigers. He spent the past four seasons as bench coach for the Chicago Cubs. Baylor also is a former major league player and manager…Jim Riggleman will return as the manager of the Washington Nationals next season. Riggleman became the interim manager in 2009, replacing Manny Acta, and was given a two-year contract before this season. The Nationals finished in last place in the NL East for the third straight year, but won 10 more games (69) than last season.

Copyright © 2010  Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.

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By Bob Hurst

Josh Johnson joined an elite group on Sunday.

The Florida Marlins pitcher allowed one run, a homer to Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford, in a 4-1 win, giving him eight straight games of giving up one run or less. That tied him with four others who have done it in a single season since 1900, while two have done it more times.

Johnson (8-2, 1.80 ERA) struck out nine with no walks while allowing six hits in eight innings.

“He’s one of the best pitchers in either league,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

In the top of the eighth inning on Sunday, Johnson got Evan Longoria to pop up for the third out with runners on first and third.

“J.J., that’s why he’s your No. 1 guy,” Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s the ace.”

Johnson’s ERA during his streak is 0.62. Since returning from Tommy John elbow surgery in July 2008, he is 30-8 with a 2.95 ERA.

On Sunday, Johnson threw 117 pitches, 87 for strikes.

“I knew the bullpen got taxed (Saturday night),” Johnson said. “I wanted to throw the least amount of pitches. “A couple of guys said, ‘Let’s go quick today.’ When you start finding a rhythm, things start to click.”

Bob Gibson had the most consecutive starts of allowing one run or less with 11 in 1968. Jack Coombs had 10 in 1910.

Dodgers fall in Manny’s return to Boston: Manny Ramirez didn’t flop in his first trip back to Boston since being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago. But the Dodgers did, losing all three games at Fenway Park last weekend.

Ramirez went 5-for-12 in the series, with a homer and RBI, a walk, stolen base and three runs scored. He was greeted warmly by the Red Sox, but received a mix of boos and cheers from the fans.

“Manny did so many good things the longer he played here,” said Boston’s David Ortiz, who hit one of three Red Sox home runs in Friday’s 10-6 win. “All he did was put up numbers.”

Ramirez had a hit in the opener, and two hits in each of the final two games.

“He seemed fine,” Dodgers manager Joe Torre said after Friday’s game. “He didn’t seem edgy at all. He did all the things he’d normally do. He kidded about it a couple of times during the week, but nothing that indicated to me that he wasn’t looking forward to it.”

And for the fans who booed Ramirez?

“I certainly hope they understand how much Manny meant to this club, and they won two World Series with him,” Torre said.

Strasburg an All-Star? Washington Nationals rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg has only three major league starts under his belt, but he is pitching like an All-Star.

Strasburg is 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. He is projected to get four more starts before the July 13 All-Star Game in Anaheim.

“He has to earn it, so we will wait and see,” said Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who will be involved in selecting the National League’s pitching staff, to be announced on July 4. “If he keeps pitching like he has, I’m sure his name is going to come up. But you also don’t want to leave anyone off who deserves it.”

StatsWatch: There are 23 starting pitchers with an Earned Run Average under 3.00. That compares to just 11 at the end of last season. Here are the top 10 starters with the lowest ERA in the major leagues this season (at least 69.2 innings pitched):

Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies, 1.15

Jaime Garcia, Cardinals, 1.59

Josh Johnson, Marlins, 1.80

Matt Cain, Giants, 2.16

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals, 2.23

Tim Hudson, Braves, 2.34

Roy Halladay, Phillies, 2.43

David Price, Rays, 2.45

Doug Fister, Mariners, 2.45

Clay Buchholz, Red Sox, 2.47

Diamond Notes: Interleague competition has been tough on the Dodgers so far. They were 2-7 going into this week’s series against the Angels, with their only wins coming against Detroit. They will face the Yankees at Dodger Stadium this weekend. The Dodgers interleague opponents (Tigers, Angels, Red Sox and Yankees) had a combined record of 163-118 at the start of this week…Stuart Sternberg, owner of the Tampa Bay Rays, wants to explore potential sites for a new stadium throughout the Tampa Bay area. “Baseball will not work long term in downtown St. Petersburg,” Sternberg said. Although the team’s lease at Tropicana Field does not expire until 2027, Sternberg wants the club to be playing elsewhere by then. The Rays rank 23rd in the majors in home attendance, averaging 22,301 per game, despite having baseball’s best record for much of the season…Toronto cut third baseman Edwin Encarnacion less than a year after acquiring him from Cincinnati. Encarnacion hit .200 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs. The Reds received third baseman Scott Rolen in the trade. Rolen is batting .299 with 15 homers, 46 RBIs.

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By Bob Hurst

After his first two starts in the majors, Stephen Strasburg appears to be everything he was built up to be.

The Washington Nationals right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA in his first week in the big leagues. Strasburg, the Nationals and baseball’s No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, has 22 strikeouts to go with five walks while allowing six hits and three runs in 12.1 innings pitched.

In Sunday’s game at Cleveland, Strasburg gave up a leadoff home run to Travis Hafner, but allowed just one more hit, and walked the first five batters of his career in a 9-4 win over the Indians.

It’s been a whirlwind start to a promising career for the 21-year-old, fanning 14 batters in his debut at home against Pittsburgh, and following up with another strong outing on the road. But Strasburg is trying to keep level-headed about it.

“Just another week,” Strasburg said after Sunday’s win.

The only thing that seemed to bother the young pitcher on Sunday was the mound at Progressive Field. It had to be repaired twice due to loose dirt in the front of it. The second time, Strasburg slipped on his left foot during a delivery that resulted in a sixth-inning walk. He kicked the troublesome spot on the mound before the home plate umpire summoned the grounds crew for a patch-up job.

“Things like that are part of the game,” Strasburg said. “I wish I could have handled it a little bit better. But it’s good to experience this now. If it happens again, I’ll make the right adjustment.

“When it comes to something like that, you could slip one time and roll an ankle,” Strasburg said. “The umpires were concerned about it, and they stepped up and got it right.”

Strasburg’s debut has been one of the most-hyped and widely-anticipated in major league history. The lowly Indians drew 32,876 fans for the game, their second-largest crowd this season.

Strasburg, who throws consistently in the 90-mph range, struck out 19 batters in his first two starts before walking his first batter. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he’s second to Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto (22 K’s before his first walk) in that department.

Lilly misses no-hitter: Chicago Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly went into the ninth inning with a no-hitter against the crosstown rival Chicago White Sox on Sunday night, only to have it broken up by former Cub Juan Pierre.

With a light rain falling, Lilly threw a slider to Pierre, who lined it into center field with no outs. Lilly left the game, but his one-hitter was left intact when Carlos Marmol shut down the White Sox for a 1-0 win.

The Chicago Blackhawks were honored in a pregame ceremony before the game, parading the Stanley Cup around the field.

“There was so much energy,” Lilly said. “I can’t remember that much energy…I guess it would be the 2001 World Series (with the Yankees). It was awesome, really, really, special.”

White Sox starter Gavin Floyd also had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning before Alfonso Soriano broke it up with a double. Chad Tracy followed with a single to make it 1-0.

The last time opposing pitchers went into the seventh inning with no-hitters was in 1997 with Florida’s Kevin Brown and San Francisco’s William VanLandingham.

StatsWatch: Players who have hit a grand slam on the first pitch they saw in the majors —

Kevin Kouzmanoff, for Cleveland against Texas on Sept. 2, 2006.

Daniel Nava, for Boston against Philadelphia on June 12, 2010.

Quotable: “It’s funny. They really hadn’t seen me play in the last two years.” — Boston‘s Daniel Nava, on his parents watching his big-league debut at Fenway Park on Sunday.

Diamond Notes: Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones told the Associated Press that he was meeting with team officials this week to discuss his future and that he is considering retirement. Jones, 38, is hitting .228 with three homers and 22 RBIs this season. He won the National League MVP Award in 1998 and the league’s batting title in 2008. Jones has battled injuries in recent seasons, and his production dipped in 2009…The Arizona Diamondbacks traded outfielder Conor Jackson to the Oakland A’s for closer Sam Demel on Tuesday. Jackson was batting .238 with a home run and 11 RBIs in 42 games for the Diamondbacks this season. Demel was 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA and six saves for Triple-A Sacramento.

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By Bob Hurst

Although Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig probably won’t change the call, the court of public opinion gives Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

Galarraga is the Detroit Tigers pitcher who threw a perfect game no-hitter last Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians, on replay at least. First base umpire Jim Joyce ruled baserunner Jason Donald safe on the play, but later admitted he blew the call after watching the replay.

The next day, Selig praised the sportsmanship displayed by Joyce and Galarraga, but an MLB spokesman said that the commissioner would not reverse the call.

Selig’s office in New York received many calls from fans expressing their displeasure, and were given an e-mail address to voice their opinion. ran a poll the day after the game, and at one point, 76 percent (106,297 votes) voted that Selig should overrule the call on the play.

In a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted last Thursday, 64 percent said that MLB should overturn Joyce’s call.

“Given (Wednesday’s) call and other recent events, I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features,” Selig said last week.

But veteran baseball manager Tony La Russa said that he’d give Galarraga a perfect game.

“If I was Mr. Selig, in the best interest of the game, the guy’s got it and I’d give him his perfect game.”

But on Monday, Selig didn’t sound too interested in changing the call.

“In this job, precedence is very important,” Selig said. “A lot of people don’t really understand that. But it is important. I’ve had clubs call me and say, ‘What about that game I lost, why didn’t you think about doing that?’ And they were serious.

“Of course, you open Pandora’s Box (by reversing a call). You may think you haven’t, but you have. I meant what I said in the statement, I’m just going to take a look at everything. In the end, I’ll make the decision. I am a traditionalist, but I also want to do what I think is best for the sport.”

Harper is top pick: The Washington Nationals have found gold again in the draft.

Just a year after selecting pitcher Stephen Strasburg as the major leagues first overall pick, the Washington Nationals chose 17-year-old slugger Bryce Harper as the No. 1 choice in Monday’s draft.

“It’s what I’ve wanted since I was 7 years old,” Harper said.

What a bonus for the Nationals, one of the majors worst teams over the past two seasons.

“It’s all coming together,” Nationals president Stan Kasten said. “We think by the end of the year we will have turned the corner. We will be a competitive team, largely on the strength of player development and scouting.

Harper, a catcher at the College of Southern Nevada, is a power hitter who will be groomed as an outfielder in the Nationals organization.

“We’re going to take the rigor and the pressures of learning the position, the difficult position of catcher, away from him,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “(We’ll) really let him concentrate on the offensive part of the game.”

Harper, who was featured in a Sports Illustrated article while still in high school, hit .443 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in his first season in college.

“Anywhere they need me, I’ll play,” Harper said. “I just want to make it and we’ll see what happens when I get there.”

The Nationals now have their work cut out for them in trying to sign Harper, who will seek a record contract through agent Scott Boras. They have until Aug. 16 to sign Harper, who has said that he might return to Southern Nevada if negotiations break down.

StatsWatch: Here are the top strikeout pitchers in the majors (through Monday) —

Tim Lincecum, Giants, 89

Dan Haren, Diamondbacks, 88

Ricky Romero, Blue Jays, 86

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals, 85

Jered Weaver, Angels, 83

Quotable: “Just in case you guys were wondering, I did not get any more gray today.” — Baltimore Orioles manager Juan Samuel, after his first major league win on Sunday, ending the team’s 10-game losing streak.

Diamond Notes: Tampa Bay pitcher Matt Garza won for the first time in a month as the Rays beat Texas 9-5 on Sunday…Royals pitcher Brian Bannister has won a career-high five straight starts…Carlos Silva (8-0) allowed four hits with five strikeouts and one walk in a 6-1 win over the Pirates on Monday. Silva is the first Cubs starter to go 8-0 since Ken Holtzman went 9-0 in 1967.

Copyright © 2010  Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.

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By Bob Hurst

There’s more than one thing that’s steaming in “Hotlanta” these days. Atlanta’s baseball team — the Braves — finished the month of May off with a flourish, going 16-4 after starting the season 13-18.

After Monday’s win over Philadelphia, the Braves had made up 7 1/2 games in the standings to take over first place in the NL East by a half-game over the Phillies.

“There’s a lot of baseball left, but we have made a great recovery,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox. “We bent a little bit, but we never broke.”

Chipper Jones, who went into Tuesday’s game with eight hits in his last 16 at-bats with seven RBIs, homered along with Troy Glaus in Atlanta’s 9-3 win.

Rookie Jason Heyward, who leads the team with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs, had a two-run triple in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Pittsburgh, and Jones’ run-scoring single in the eighth inning snapped the tie. It was the Braves ninth win in their last at-bat.

“It keeps on giving us confidence in those late innings that somebody’s going to step up and do it,” Jones said.

The Braves have improved behind Martin Prado, hitting .323; Glaus (37 RBIs); Tim Hudson (5-1, 2.24 ERA); Tommy Hanson (5-3, 3.78 ERA, and Derek Lowe (seven wins). Atlanta, which ranks 10th in runs and 10th in ERA in the majors, averaged 6.3 runs per game during the 20-game stretch, and seven runs per game during its six-game winning streak, through Monday.

Weird and wacky: The Los Angeles Dodgers have had an interesting week.

First it was the lights going out at Wrigley Field in a game last week. Then it was a walk-off balk in Monday night’s win over Arizona.

In last Wednesday’s game in Chicago, a bank of lights behind home plate went out in the top of the fourth inning, just as the Dodgers’ Blake DeWitt was facing a 3-1 pitch from Tom Gorzelanny. The pitch was called ball four.

But as DeWitt ran down the line, the rest of the lights went dark. An electrical fire in the neighborhood caused the power outage. The game was delayed for 18 minutes before power was restored.

“I had never seen that before,” DeWitt said. “It was about mid-pitch. It’s not a real good feeling either, because I completely took my eye off the ball and the pitcher. It was pretty odd.”

Dodgers manager Joe Torre experienced something similar during his playing career.

“I got in the batter’s box one time in Montreal and as the pitcher was winding up the lights went out,” Torre said. “I was diving for cover. I had a hotel room on the 13th floor on that trip too, so it was a little frightening.”

The Dodgers went on to win Wednesday’s game 8-5.

This week, Monday’s game provided another strange situation.

Diamondbacks reliever Esmerling Vasquez balked, allowing Casey Blake to score the winning run from third base.

“I just took a couple of steps to see if I could startle him a little bit,” Blake said. “Most of the time, it doesn’t work. But sometimes it does.”

Blake threw Vasquez’s motion off by faking a run home.

“I saw what he did,” Arizona manager A.J. Hinch said. “He flinched, both his legs buckled, and he balked. It was pretty plain and simple, so I didn’t talk to anybody.”

It was the first walk-off balk in the majors since Colorado’s Taylor Buchholz did it against Atlanta in 2008.

In Monday’s game, the Dodgers tied it 4-4 on a two-run error by Diamondbacks’ second baseman Kelly Johnson. It was Johnson who was balked home by Buchholz in the game two years ago.

Ramirez in the outfield: Manny Ramirez’s reputation as a poor outfielder continued last week in Chicago. Ramirez appeared to loaf after three balls hit to the outfield in the first two games of the Dodgers series against the Cubs.

“He’s had these leg issues,” Torre said. “He’s not moving as he had before. He said it was his fault on that ball that hit the wall. He thought it was going out of the ballpark and he stopped running after it.”

Ho-hum, another perfect game: Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay threw a perfect game on Saturday, retiring all 27 batters he faced in a 1-0 win at Florida. It was the second perfect game in May, with Oakland’s Dallas Braden doing it on May 9 against Tampa Bay.

It was the 20th perfect game in major league history. Mark Buehrle pitched one for the Chicago White Sox against Tampa Bay last season, making it three such gems in less than a year.

StatsWatch: Detroit starter Max Scherzer had 14 strikeouts on Sunday against Oakland. He fanned the entire A’s starting lineup. Here were his victims:

Daric Barton, 3 K’s

Ryan Sweeney, 2 K’s

Mark Ellis, 2 K’s

Gabe Gross, 2 K’s

Jack Cust, 1 K

Landon Powell, 1 K

Cliff Pennington, 1 K

Rajai Davis, 1 K

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 1 K

Copyright © 2010  Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.

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