Print and Go Back ESPN.com: MLB Playoffs 2011 [Print without images]

Monday, October 24, 2011
Fifth time the charm for C.J. Wilson?

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

ARLINGTON. Texas -- Rangers starter C.J. Wilson has the looks and smooth delivery of an "Ocean's 11'' headliner capable of being George Clooney's wingman at Lake Como. A film major in college, Wilson can discuss art house movies and comment on such subjects as the superior sound editing of "Black Swan." He speaks Spanish sufficiently to conduct radio interviews in the language. He is a co-owner of a professional car racing team. He is an avid traveler who toured South Africa last year.

He probably could be the backup in "The Most Interesting Man in the World'" beer commercials. He understands infield chatter in 18 languages, including the original ancient Sanskrit.

Wilson also is coming off an All-Star (16-7, 2.94 ERA) season. And he is left-handed.

CJ Wilson
What's wrong with C.J. Wilson? The 16-game winner hasn't pitched like an ace this postseason.

In other words, Wilson has everything he needs on a résumé to justify his spot as this winter's most coveted free-agent pitcher, a pitcher who might command contract offers of $80 million or more. Except for one thing. Despite four starts, Wilson has yet to throw a game this postseason that stamps him as the "Who Cares About My Bloody Sock, Just Give Me The Damn Ball'' type of pitcher who can be the difference maker for a team.

And Monday night in Game 5 of the World Series, Wilson has his final chance to demonstrate that he can be That Guy when he matches up against St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter with the series tied 2-2. History shows that whichever team wins Game 5 under these circumstances goes on to win the series about two-thirds of the time. So Wilson can give his team a huge leg up toward the Rangers' first world championship in what could be his final start for Texas.

"I haven't really thought about that,'' Wilson said when asked about the game potentially being his last with the Rangers. "I'm just thinking about the team and where we're at and being in the World Series because, obviously, there's no extra series after this. There's no Galaxy Series or Universe Series.''

Carpenter and the Cardinals beat Wilson their previous matchup in Game 1. That was the fourth start this postseason in which Wilson had a chance to put his team ahead in a series. He hasn't won any of the four. The closest he came was Game 1 of the ALCS, when he left with a 3-2 lead after 4 2/3 so-so innings due to two rain delays. He had probably his worst outing in Game 5 of the ALCS, when he allowed six runs and also gave up the cycle -- a single, double, triple and home run, in that order -- in the sixth inning.

Overall, he is 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA. Which is not the sort of record that impresses fans in say, New York. Asked after Game 4 how he would describe his postseason, Wilson quickly replied, "Next question.''

"I'm somewhat of an optimist,'' Wilson said, when he expounded a bit more on the topic earlier in the day, "but at the same time being a realist, obviously it hasn't gone as well as I would have liked. … But there's a lot of good that's come of it in terms of personal development. I feel like I've learned a little bit more mechanically. At this point in the season, I've thrown 250 innings or something like that, so it's the refinement that you get as a starting pitcher from continually going out there and throwing.''

Wilson's biggest problems this month have been throwing too many pitches out of the strike zone and too many gopher balls in it. He's walked 14 batters (three intentional) and hit two batters in 21 1/3 innings while allowing six home runs, which both are significantly worse ratios than he had in the regular season. He walked six batters (two intentional) and allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings in Game 1 against the Cardinals. It tells you a lot about his postseason when that is probably his best outing of the month.

"It's nice to get a feel for the hitters,'' Wilson said of the Game 1 start. "When you haven't faced a team before -- and there are probably only two or three hitters on the entire roster that I had ever thrown a pitch to -- it enables me to go in with a more developed plan. You can't have too much of a plan if you've never seen the guys in action and seen how they react. Based on the reactions I saw the other day, I'm going to do certain things and also made some mechanical adjustments in the last week or two that have started to pay off.''

Carpenter, meanwhile, has had a very good postseason, highlighted by his 1-0 shutout over Roy Halladay and the Phillies in the division series clincher. He also won Game 1 of the World Series with six solid innings (two runs, five hits). Those are the sort of performances that give a pitcher a reputation, not that Carpenter thinks it's necessarily fair or accurate.

"I think what defines who you are is, one, the consistency you put in day in and day out as a professional, and two, how you go about your business on and off the field. That defines who you are,'' he said. "Postseason is just at a different level. I think the guys that are successful might be a little more relaxed and able to deal with the distractions that I am talking about a little better because there is a lot of them. If you scuffle in the postseason, it shouldn't define what type of player you are. That could be just the series. There are times throughout the year where guys go through slumps or don't pitch well.''

That's certainly true. It's just that when that performance -- good or bad -- happens in the postseason, it gets magnified and highlighted. Come up big in the World Series or the Galaxy Series or whatever, and people will declare October your own personal month. Come up short, and they will saddle you with April or May. Or as Wilson put it, "That's what the commercial says, that legends are born in the postseason.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Follow Jim Caple on Twitter: @jimcaple