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October 8, 2010

8:15 p.m.

            You might imagine that our flight home from Florida last night was pretty nice. Everyone was so happy after winning the first two games on the road. Tampa Bay is a good team. We did not take them lightly, and we still don’t. But our guys responded to the postseason pressure as if they’ve been doing this their whole lives.

            I’ve been to the postseason a few times in my career, so I was ready to step in and give some advice if I saw guys getting nervous, but everyone was completely cool. Before Wednesday’s Game 1, Ron Washington and a few of the coaches talked in the clubhouse to the team. They said we had nothing to worry about because we were well prepared and had worked hard to get here and to just play the game.

            And that’s what we did. Or at least pretty much. I was surprised to find myself feeling a little anxious right before going out on the field but once Cliff Lee’s pitches started popping into my glove, I was locked in. The butterflies went away and it was “Here we go.”

            First games in a series are always kind of like a study – you’re studying the other team and they’re studying you. You want to see how they’re going to pitch you, how they’re going to set the fielders. You want to see what their pitcher has working for him.

            In my first at-bat, I got a fastball straightaway and was able to line it over first base for an RBI. The next time I came up, he threw me a fastball and I fouled it off. I had a feeling he was going to throw another fastball inside. That’s what I got. I hit it over the left-field wall.

            It felt great to round the bases right then. You never know how you’re going to perform when the chips are down, so I was very happy to be able to come through and help the team and give my pitcher a cushion. You can just see how pitchers relax once they have a few runs on the scoreboard. You can see it in their eyes. You see the confidence go up. Cliff Lee had it all going for him Wednesday after a giving up a couple hits in the first inning. He was amazing.

            In the clubhouse afterward, you could sense that everyone was just feeling, “OK, we can do this.”

            I went to dinner that night with my wife and her parents to a seafood restaurant on the water in Clearwater.

            Then C.J. Wilson comes out Thursday and throws another great game, mixing up his pitches and doing his thing.  We flew home needing to win just one game to clinch. Pretty good feeling.

            Today we had batting practice and infield practice. Jamie took her parents to see Dealey Plaza while I was at the park. I’m watching the Phillies-Reds game now and will try to see the Giants-Braves. It was fun to catch the last four innings of Tim Lincecum’s great pitching performance last night. I’m so happy for him.

            I’ll be back behind the plate tomorrow for Game 3. We never, never count any team out. We’re taking nothing for granted. We are not letting our guard down. But I have to say, it will be great to play at home in front of our great fans.

            See you out there!

What I Know Now About the Rangers

I’m about to head to lunch with Jamie and my three daughters on our day off. I heard about a place that serves Puerto Rican food that we want to try out. This afternoon we’ll unpack the last of the boxes that just arrived from San Francisco. We already feel settled and at home here. In fact, we’re loving it. The place we rented is so close to the ballpark and to restaurants and stores. And everyone has been so nice. The fans are unbelievable. All the players told me that the Rangers have great fans, and they’re right. It’s amazing how often the players here talk about how much they appreciate the fans. They’re so supportive and are always right there with us, no matter what’s happening.

Now that I’ve gotten to know the players on the Rangers I’m even more impressed than I was at the beginning. The feeling here inside the clubhouse is not what people might think. Just because we have a 71/2-game lead nobody’s taking anything for granted. These guys play their hearts out to win every single game. That’s what I love about this team. All they want every day is to win. That’s how you make it to the end. That’s how you make it to the World Series. They’re determined to do everything in their power to win. And of course, that’s what I live for — figuring out how to win against that opponent on that particular day.

When we get beat, as we did Wednesday, it’s, “OK, let’s get out there tomorrow and work even harder.”

 A big part of what makes this team special is Ron Washington. He’s all about business and about winning. He’s about working hard in practice and about taking care of his players. He knows the summer heat can take its toll, so he’s careful about giving guys days off so everybody will be fresh to keep playing into the post-season.

As for me, yes, I wish I was hitting better. I don’t feel like I’m having horrible at-bats but nothing’s falling in. My coaches and teammates make sure I know that even with my struggles AT the plate, I help the team BEHIND the plate. I always believe that my most important job is calling a good game and helping the pitchers get the most out of their abilities. Hitting is second.

BUT . . . it sure was fun to go for the cycle. I didn’t write about that in my first post so I’ll do it now.

My first at-bat I was just trying to get in my rhythm. I hit a change-up the middle for a single.

The second at-bat, I figured he wasn’t going to throw me any more change-ups, so I sat on a fastball and hit it over the right-fielder’s head for a double.

My third at-bat, there were two outs with the bases loaded and the score tied at 3. I wanted just to get a hit. But after I saw a couple of pitches – and fell behind in the count 1-2 – I had a better idea of how he was going to work me. The more pitches you see, the more comfortable you get. I knew he was going to throw me a slider. I told myself to stay back, get my timing. And sure enough, he threw a slider and I hit it into the first row of the center field bleachers.

So in the dugout, I’m not thinking about getting a triple but everyone’s telling me that if I hit it into the gap in my next at-bat to just keep running no matter what. I had hit only five triples my entire career. I wasn’t hopeful. But in my fourth at-bat I hit the ball to dead center. I saw the fielder jump and I thought he was going to catch it. The ball hit his glove and bounced off into the perfect spot. I said to myself, “I ain’t stoppin’ for nothin’! This might be your only chance at this!”

NOBODY thought I’d get that triple. I think Jamie, who was watching the game back in the Bay Area, is the only one who thought I could do it. And she told me later she had to leave the room when I came to the plate. She says that every time she really wants something for me it doesn’t happen if she’s watching. Our phones went crazy. I had about 55 text messages waiting for me after the game, some from my old teammates in San Francisco.

I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life.

I know before the season is over, there will be more amazing moments. That’s how this team is.

Thanks for the kind words and comments. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll try to answer them in my next post.

See you at the park!