ARLINGTON — The Rangers did something really cool after they beat the Rays to advance to the American League Championship Series for the first time in their history. They waited on Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson to come around the corner, and then they sprayed them with ginger ale.
The reason is the same (neither of them drink alcohol).
The background for it is totally different (Hamilton can’t drink because of past problems with drugs and alcohol, and Wilson doesn’t drink simply because he never went down that path in the first place).
Speaking to the media before the biggest start of his life — not to mention Rangers history — on Thursday, Wilson was witty, charming and refreshing. He didn’t display any apprehensions about matching up with one of the best big-game pitchers in baseball, CC Sabathia, for Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday.
* When asked how Cliff Lee has impacted his successful transition from reliever to starter, he quipped, “Before he was here, I was actually a right-handed second baseman.”
* He joked: “I think I’m just going to get that knuckleball over the plate first pitch and see where we go from there.”
* Regarding the matchup with CC, he stated: “I don’t face him. … Yeah, his uniform is much bigger than mine, and his feet are much larger than mine, but I’m not trying to fill his shoes.”
* And he was delightfully rude when asked if it was a big deal to face the Yankees in the playoffs: “Getting to the World Series is a big deal, winning the World Series is a big deal. Everything is a big deal. That’s why you guys are all here watching us and asking us silly questions.”
Wilson (pictured above by The Associated Press) was also asked about his personal choice to live a clean life. That’s when things got serious — and interesting, and enlightening.
“My whole life, I never drank, I never used drugs or anything like that,” Wilson said. “And in this era, where so many guys are tainted and stuff, I would pee in a cup and feel good about it every time.
“I got a lot of really good advice when I was a kid, and one of them was like, ‘Hey, you know what, there are a couple of things that ruin careers, but why would you ever want to step down a path that’s going to do that to you?’ It’s like, well, I wasn’t born with as much physical talent as other guys. I can’t lay back and let that take over. I have to work for everything I’ve gotten. I’m a regular-size dude, and I can’t hit the ball 500 feet. I’m a little guy, and I’ve always equated it to a work-ethic thing, and that’s the way it’s always been.”
Wilson has had a major impact in Hamilton’s turnaround, too.
Hamilton, you might’ve heard, is supremely talented but had well-chronicled drug-and-alcohol problems coming up, the type that began in 2001, put him out of baseball for a three-year span beginning in ’03 and ended abruptly in October 2005. The Rangers’ do-everything outfielder has been sober ever since, and the clean Wilson has been helping him stay there.
“Josh and I have a very odd bond because of that,” Wilson said. “The last couple of years, him and I have gotten close because I was one of the few guys that he had the green light to hang out with, you know what I mean, because guys knew that I was zero risk in that sense. He was going to go over to my room, and we were going to play Xbox, and that’s what was going to happen. We were going to kill some aliens playing ‘Halo.'”
Tomorrow, Wilson will try to kill some Yankees playing the game he loves. If Francisco Liriano weren’t in the same league, Wilson would be an ideal Comeback Player of the Year candidate. having gone from back-end reliever to successful starter (he’s 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA in 33 starts as the No. 2 man behind Lee this season).
Now, after 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Rays in his playoff debut, he’s gearing up for the start of his life.
“Every mile I’ve run, my entire life,” he said, “and every little tubing exercise and sinker I’ve thrown playing catch is everything I’ve done to get to this point.”
— Alden Gonzalez
And check out my case for Roy Halladay outdueling Tim Lincecum on Saturday.