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Friday, October 22, 2010
What to watch in ALCS Game 6

By Richard Durrett


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Rangers are looking to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight while the Yankees hope to extend the series to a winner-take-all Game 7 on Saturday. Here are a few things to watch in tonight's game:

* Colby Lewis. He gave up two runs in 5 2/3 innings in Game 2, getting an important win for the Rangers after they had let Game 1 slip away in the eighth inning. It was an important bounce-back outing for Lewis, who had five walks in just five innings in a Game 3 loss to Tampa in the ALDS. That game, like this one tonight, was a clinching opportunity for the Rangers. We'll see if Lewis is up to the challenge.

* Phil Hughes. Coming into Game 2, the talk was about Hughes' scoreless streak at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. But he looked anything but comfortable, giving up seven runs on 10 hits with three walks and three strikeouts in four innings. If the Yankees are to have any chance of extending their postseason stay, Hughes must get off to a good start.

* Early runs. We talk about this every game in the postseason with the Rangers, but there's a reason for that. Texas has scored the game's first run in eight of their 10 postseason games. They didn't do it in Game 5 and that seemed to energize the Yankees and their fans. Likewise, some early runs off Hughes would keep the Rangers' faithful fully engaged. The runs could also allow Lewis to get more aggressive in the strike zone.

* Hamstring. How does Nelson Cruz's left hamstring hold up tonight? He says he's ready to go, but two of his three DL stints in 2010 were because of the left hamstring. Watch how effective he is and if it impacts him tonight.

* Elvis Andrus. He's hitting .364 in this ALCS (and .348 in the postseason) with four stolen bases. Andrus is sometimes too aggressive, but he can make things happen when he gets on base. As powerful as the Rangers lineup is, many times it's executing the hit and run or sacrifice fly or a stolen base to get a runner into scoring position that really gets the offense going. Speed on the bases can make a difference tonight.

* Derek Holland. He's pitched 5 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball in this series and could be needed to bridge the gap to the back end of the bullpen. After giving up a two-run homer to Evan Longoria in Game 4 of the ALDS, Holland has really settled down and pitched well. He's got confidence and the Rangers won't hesitate to use him if needed.

* Defense. It let the Rangers down in Game 5 (see the second inning). Texas takes pride in making throws from the outfield to the proper base, backing throws up and being smart. The team didn't do that consistently in Game 5. Watch that tonight. It could be critical in a close game.

* Michael Young. The team leader has really come to play in this ALCS after struggling in the ALDS (.150 batting average). Young is hitting .348 with four RBIs and two doubles. He's had good, long at-bats and has helped lead by example for the rest of the lineup. Big games are a stage for big players. Look for him tonight.

* MVP candidates. Look for New York's Robinson Cano and Texas' Josh Hamilton to make their marks at some point tonight. Both players, who have led their teams offensively in 2010, have had solid ALCS showings. Hamilton is hitting .316 with four homers and seven RBIs. Cano is batting .421 with four homers and five RBIs.

* Neftali Feliz. I keep bringing his name up because at some point he's going to have to come in and close out a tight game. Could that be tonight? He was able to get outs in Game 3, though it was a large Rangers lead by then. He'll need to keep his nerves in check when he gets out there in a close game.

* Crowd. The should be the loudest crowd in the history of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. It's important that the 50,000-plus stay loud throughout the game.