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Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Midseason trades pay off big in Game 1

By Jeff Caplan


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Bengie Molina wasn’t thrilled to be traded to Texas.

“At first I didn’t feel so well because I had a lot of friends on the other side and I took care of those pitchers and they took care of me good,” the native of Puerto Rico said of his former and playoff-bound San Francisco Giants teammates. “But then once I came here, you’ve got to turn the page. You’ve got to say they didn’t want you and these guys, they really want you. So I took it very nice.”

The Rangers would call their acquisition of Molina on July 1 very nice indeed. As they would the deal that delivered the right-handed bat they lacked in Jeff Francoeur to face lefties like Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price.

And, what might Molina say about the July 9 trade that brought the Rangers Cliff Lee, the most sought-after lefty in the game?

Very, very nice.

All three midseason acquisitions played significant roles in Wednesday’s 5-1 Game 1 road win over the Tampa Bay Rays to kick off their American League Division Series. Francoeur, batting seventh, and Molina, ninth, drove in the Rangers’ first two runs in the second inning off the hard-throwing Price, making life a little easier for Lee, who pitched his way out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the first inning.

Francoeur creamed a Price fastball to dead center and banged it off the wall, just above the 404-foot marker. For Francoeur, the final of several midseason deals, it was continuation of a solid month in Texas and a re-dedication, he said, with the aid of hitting coach Clint Hurdle, of “hunting fastballs.”

Ironically, the Rangers dealt infielder Joaquin Arias to the New York Mets for Francoeur two weeks after Arias was the defensive goat in Lee’s last outing in Tampa, a late-inning, 6-4 defeat.

“When you come to a new team you want to contribute,” said Francoeur, who is expected to be out of the Game 2 lineup in favor of left-handed hitting Julio Borbon. "It felt great, to this whole fact that I hit that and then Bengie knocks me in. You could kind of tell the whole mood of the dugout went to relax mode, kind of like, ‘All right, this is fun, this is baseball, this is a normal thing.' That bottom of the first/top of the second was huge, and after that we kind of rolled.”

Two batters later, Molina came through, fighting off a pitch to right field for his first of three hits on the day. In the fourth inning, he ruined Price’s bid for a quick inning with a two-out solo shot that landed a few rows back beyond the left-field wall for a 3-0 lead.

"Those are guys that have been through the wars before," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We have a team of developing guys that put a lot together this year and they just set the tone right away. That relaxed our guys a heck of a lot."

The 36-year-old Molina, whose batting numbers had dropped off in San Francisco, is expected to watch Matt Treanor catch C.J. Wilson in Thursday’s Game 2.

“I just got lucky today,” Molina said. “I guess I saw pitches up in the zone and I got hits.”

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels wouldn’t call it luck, nor would anyone argue with the midseason personnel boost he provided the club despite the rocky bankruptcy and ownership issues.

New general managing partner Chuck Greenberg watched his team take batting practice prior to Game 1 and he reminded those around him that this Rangers team won 90 games despite its Opening Day catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, spending most of the season in the minors. He is now with another organization. The club’s Opening Day first baseman didn’t make the playoff roster as it goes with first basemen Nos. 3 and 4 on the season in Game 1 starter Jorge Cantu, another midseason acquisition, and
rookie Mitch Moreland, who is expected to start Game 2.

The team’s assumed top two starters (Rich Harden and Scott Feldman) are also mere witnesses to this series. Instead, the Rangers in Game 1 rolled out Lee, now 5-0 in his postseason career, and will follow in Thursday’s Game 2 with Wilson, a 15-game winner and former career reliever. The confident lefty had to convince Daniels and president Nolan Ryan to give him a shot as a starter.

It all came together like a well-written script under the Tropicana Field dome in Game 1 of this best-of-5 series.

“It sure beats the hell out of the alternative,” Daniels said in the postgame clubhouse. “It’s a good start. It’s just one game though.”