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Rangers Happy Teams Have No Aces Up Sleeve

There is more to the Texas Rangers’ fast start than luck, but having some doesn’t hurt. Consider:

* The Rangers played nine games with the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles on the first three weekends of the season and did not face either of Toronto’s Cy Young Award winners, Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen, nor Baltimore all-star Mike Mussina.

* When the Rangers swept a three-game series from Detroit, they did not face Justin Thompson, the talented Tiger southpaw.

* When they won two of three from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, they did not face Wilson Alvarez.

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“Any time you miss those guys, I don’t mind,” Manager Johnny Oates said. “It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it obviously improves your chances.”

The Rangers saw last year how the luck of the pitching draw can turn on a team.

It’s doubtful that any American League team faced a greater array of quality starting pitchers. It’s doubtful that any team suffered more because of it.

They were the only team that played the maximum four games against each of the league’s top starters: Randy Johnson of the Seattle Mariners, David Cone of the New York Yankees, Clemens and Mussina.

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The Ranger record in those games: 3-13.

“We were facing the creme de la creme all the time,” Ranger second baseman Mark McLemore said. “I can’t believe we haven’t already had Clemens and Hentgen twice. I don’t want it to just even out this year. I want it to go our way completely.”

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As Jack O’Connell of the Hartford Courant noted, Joe Torre might not have been able to throw out Maury Wills when they played against each other, but he was able to get him kicked out of the Toronto dugout Monday night.

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Wills is the Blue Jay running instructor, and when he started to yell directions from the bench in the ninth inning, the Yankee manager complained to umpire Dave Phillips, who instructed Wills to leave.

The rules allow only six uniformed coaches on the bench. Wills was a seventh, and the Blue Jays had not asked the Yankees for permission to extend the rule, which is usually given.

Torre said he didn’t have a problem with Wills sitting there but didn’t like it when he began to coach.

Toronto Manager Tim Johnson said he was shocked, and General Manager Gord Ash added: “Technically, they’re right, but the thing that was surprising was how, all of a sudden, it was an issue in the ninth. But it’s a long season and our rivalry hasn’t been like it should have been. This is a nice little kick start.”

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The Boston Red Sox returned to the road in midweek after a 9-1 home stand on which they won six games in their final at-bat and Manager Jimy Williams showed no fear of using his entire bench. He used pitcher Steve Avery as a pinch-runner twice, used pitcher Tim Wakefield as a pinch-hitter--he laid down a sacrifice bunt--and had outfielder Damon Buford playing as an infielder. Mo Vaughn also supplied two game-winning hits in the ninth inning, continuing his spring campaign for a new contract.

“He has the best sense of the occasion I’ve ever seen,” catcher Scott Hatteberg said of Vaughn. “He’s Mr. Clutch.”


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