The Rangers acquired outfielder Chris James from the Astros last Friday, and the next day he became the eighth player to start in rightfield for Texas this season as well as the eighth player to bat leadoff. So, naturally, James hit a home run on the second pitch of the game from the Angels' Mark Langston and later belted another homer as Texas won 9-2 to pull within 3� games of the White Sox in the American League West.
That's the way it has gone this year for the Rangers: Find a spare part, plug him in and watch him produce. It's in direct contrast to the Texas teams of recent years, which had a nucleus of good players and no support group. But these strange guys from strange places are the biggest reason the Rangers are playing important games in September for the first time in their tumultuous, pennantless 22 years in Arlington. "We've got guys from Triple A, we've got guys who shouldn't even be here," says journeyman shortstop Mario Diaz, "but we've got guys who love to play."
It was remarkable that the Rangers were even in the race, considering they have used the disabled list 26 times this year, put their Opening Day lineup on the held only 11 times and started six different players at shortstop and the same number in centerfield.
Texas has played more than half the season without rightfielder Jose Canseco (elbow surgery), gotten no wins during the second half from pitcher Charlie Leibrandt (shoulder injury), gone 5-7 in games started by Nolan Ryan, suffered through an off year from ace Kevin Brown and played a daily game of roulette with the middle-infield positions.
Rookie manager Kevin Kennedy, 39, deserves a great deal of credit for not panicking in the course of having to make so many personnel moves. A former catcher who played eight years in the minor leagues without ever making it to the majors, Kennedy can relate to the bit player who battles his way to the big leagues.
He hasn't been afraid to use utilityman Doug Strange, 29, who began 1993 with more errors (26) than RBIs (20) in parts of three major league seasons. Strange played second base most of the year, in place of injured Bill Ripken, and at week's end was hitting .259 with 53 RBIs. In June the Rangers had been through five shortstops before recalling Diaz, 31, who is in his 15th professional season and has played for 12 pro teams. Through Sunday, Texas was 31-15 in games he had started at short.
It was Kennedy who put reliever Kenny Rogers into the starting rotation in spring training, though Rogers had a 6.17 ERA in 12 career starts. Now Rogers has supplanted Brown as the staff ace, winning 15 games to tie a club record for lefthanders. New pitching coach Claude Osteen advised Rogers to keep it simple and throw his fastball more. Kennedy and Osteen also put faith in righthander Roger Pavlik, whose first stint in the majors lasted for only three appearances in May 1992. Pavlik, who was still in the minors when the season started, has been an effective replacement for the oft-injured Ryan; at week's end he was 10-6 with a 3.88 ERA.
Kennedy also leaned on his veterans to police the clubhouse. Classy outfielder Gary Redus blasted precocious catcher Ivan Rodriguez earlier this year for not approaching the game with the proper intensity—a lecture that was not lost on the rest of the Rangers. Closer Tom Henke, who played for the world-champion Blue Jays last season, not only has given Texas the best relief pitching in its history (37 saves through Sunday, one short of the team record) but also has added a winning presence.
DON'T BLAME IT ON RIJO