Still On Top Of the Heap

By Kevin Sherrington
Updated: June 8, 2009

Ron Washington

Ron Washington

DALLAS — One of the reasons we love sports is that, like last season’s Tampa Bay Rays and the ’93 nuptials of Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts, results occasionally defy logic.

For instance, consider your first-place Texas Rangers.

They returned to Arlington on Monday night for 10 games with the Blue Jays, Dodgers and Astros after splitting six games on the road with the Yankees and Red Sox.

And instead of puffing their chests, they’re still muttering to themselves about what could have been. Then again, this club rarely responds to developments predictably.

Last week, team officials put one of their best pitchers on waivers because he took target practice on Mark Teixeira.

Vicente Padilla comes back from oblivion Sunday, serene as a meadow of sheep, and promptly provides the Rangers their first series win in Fenway Park since ’97.

This was the same Boston team coming into its own going into the series, prompting Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy to pronounce the Red Sox “good” and “all is right with the universe.”

And his take on the visitors going into the weekend?

“It’s hard to take Texas seriously,” he wrote. “The Rangers are the only team in major league baseball never to win a playoff series. They will tank. Sooner or later.

“Always do.”

Unfortunately for Rangers fans, Shaughnessy is correct on at least one point. Unless you’re Dirk Nowitzki’s ex, you can’t argue with history. Texas also has plenty of time to fulfill spring projections, which were, essentially, wait ’til next year.

But there’s just one problem: The longer the Rangers win, the less they look like a fluke.

Texas has been in first place for more than a month. The last time the Rangers maintained a similar streak, in ’99, they made the playoffs.

And if that’s not a good sign, consider how they keep winning.

The club’s headliner, Josh Hamilton, has missed half as many games as he’s played. Even when healthy, he hasn’t hit. One of the club’s hottest starters, Matt Harrison, has been absent.

His replacement, Derek Holland, while performing admirably for a guy who, a year ago, was proud to be a Clinton LumberKing, hasn’t exactly been lights out.

Until the last week, Chris Davis hasn’t pulled his weight or hit it, for that matter. The nearly perfect closer, Frankie Francisco, has been unavailable for two stretches.

But even those negatives haven’t overshadowed what’s gone right.

Besides the rotation’s rise and the defense’s development, the front office is making good moves. Go figure.

The set-up man Sunday was Darren O’Day, claimed when the Mets tried to sneak him through waivers.

And last week, any club in baseball could have had Padilla for $8 million and a bus ticket.

The Rangers took a chance on losing Padilla, whether by way of another club picking him up or Padilla going south on his own. No one is ready to take his place. Holland belongs in the bullpen for now.

If the Rangers weren’t in first, it wouldn’t matter. Young pitchers need to be developed, and if it’s at the expense of a hot-headed veteran who doesn’t care if he exposes teammates to danger, so be it.

When you’re in first, though, priorities change. Texas needs Padilla. But it also needed to teach him that if he can’t control himself, he’ll pay.

Point taken. Padilla wouldn’t concede, but it was apparent Sunday, just the same. Even when home plate umpire Tim Timmons consistently missed low strikes, Padilla stayed calm, giving up just two earned runs over seven innings.

Whether he can keep it up is a valid question. The Rangers have several others, too. If Francisco’s problems linger, it could really get dicey.

But, for now, anyway, the Rangers come home from Boston a series winner for the first time in a dozen years.

And the Red Sox? They get the Yankees. Who’d have figured it might be a relief?

NOTE: Late Monday, the Texas Rangers exercised an option to bring back manager Ron Washington for the 2010 season.