Monday, October 18, 2010

I guess tales of triumph do happen in real life

Tonight is game three of the 2010 ALCS. The Texas Rangers lost game one in devastating fashion, blowing a 5-0 lead. But thanks to game two starter Colby Lewis, they were able to tie the series at a game a piece heading to New York. The Rangers are in great shape now, even splitting the first two at home, with their best pitcher starting game three and the Yankees' worst pitcher starting game four. It has set up nicely for Texas, but that is not the whole story here. The better story is about the man on the mound for that crucial second game.

Colby Lewis was not spectacular on Saturday night. He did not complete six innings and walked three men. But he struck out six and only allowed two earned runs. And most importantly, he got the victory. Colby Lewis is an American League Championship Series game winning pitcher. That sentence might not sound like much except when you discover that prior to this season, Lewis had not been on a major league roster since 2007.

The start of his major league career was, to be kind, shaky. His first stint in Texas lasted from 2002 through 2004. He started only 33 total games. His most memorable season was 2003 and that had nothing to do with him pitching well. The "memorable" tag stems from the fact that Lewis finished the year 10-9, above .500, yet accumulated an ungodly 7.30 ERA and 1.83 WHIP. It is actually hard to imagine someone winning 10 games while pitching that poorly. Needless to say, 2003 was his last year starting regularly for a while. After a 2004 injury sidelined him, he didn't get back on a major league roster until 2006, this time for the Detroit Tigers.

After just a cup of coffee with the Tigers in '06, Colby Lewis moved again, to the Oakland A's for the 2007 season. Oftentimes a pitcher bounces around because he is a bit overrated, but shows potential that other teams covet. This wasn't exactly the case with Lewis. He was bouncing around because he couldn't earn himself a home.

2007 in Oakland saw Lewis pitch mostly out of the bullpen, and not well. Another bad year meant Lewis was off the A's and out of the Major Leagues following the 2007 season. No one wanted him, even for a minor league contract. Because of this, for the 2008 season, Lewis signed in Japan, with the Hiroshima Carp. I guess he simply needed a (drastic and dramatic) change of scenery. 2008 was far and away Colby's best professional season. He finished the year second in the Central League in wins, second in ERA, and first in strikeouts.

2009 would mark Lewis' second year starting in Japan and the season ended up being his second consecutive strikeout title. Two very impressive years in a professional league, even if it was not in America, was enough to give Lewis a shot at returning to the majors. The Texas Rangers signed him to a 2-year contract prior to the 2010 season.

Perhaps in Japan he was able to work on mechanics. Or perhaps he had a pitching coach that spoke to him somehow. Or maybe he just needed the threat of never getting back to the majors. Either way, 2010 actually saw Colby Lewis pitch well.

He finished this year with a pedestrian 12-13 record yet, unlike his 2003 campaign, pitched much better than his record might indicate. Posting an ERA of 3.72 and a very nice 1.18 WHIP, Colby Lewis was actually someone the Rangers counted on and trusted throughout the entire season. He pitched over 200 innings and ended with a fantastic 196 strikeouts. If not for a bad August, his end-of-year totals would look even better.

But it wasn't even about having a nice stat sheet come October. Colby Lewis had made it all the way back, and with the team he started with. From a few pitiful seasons with the Rangers in the early part of the 2000s to the minor leagues, all the way to Japan, and back to Texas, starting playoff games, Colby Lewis' baseball journey sounds like something out of a bad sports movie, rather than a real-life tale of triumph.

Just for the record, he has now pitched 10.2 post-season innings, allowing just two earned runs, while striking out 11. And he is 1-0. Not bad for a guy who was a Hiroshima Carp a year ago.

(Image taken from

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