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Sure, he led the AL in walks last year, with 93. But that had less to do with wildness than meticulousness. "I aim for the extreme corner of the strike zone," he says. "If I miss it, I don't care."
What sets Wilson apart is not his catalogue of pitches—six, at last count—as much as his ability to make the ball move in different directions. "You never see hitters get comfortable with C.J.," says Thad Levine, the Rangers' assistant general manager. "Rarely does he throw two pitches in the same place back-to-back."
Wilson made the majors for good in 2005, when he had six disastrous starts (0--5, 12.05 ERA in those games) but 18 effective outings as a reliever (2.73 ERA). At first Wilson got by in the bullpen with a fastball and a curve. Midway through the 2007 season, Connor suggested adding a slider. "We were on the road in Minnesota," Connor says. "C.J. spent that afternoon polishing the pitch." That night, Wilson used the pitch three times while pitching a scoreless inning. Then he walked off the mound, smiling a private smile.
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Over the first five years of his career, Wilson filled every conceivable relief role, from mop-up man to closer, without ever fitting into the team dynamic. In an online interview with ESPN.com during the 2008 presidential primaries, he seemingly went out of his way to depict his fellow players as selfish, ignorant and politically indifferent. (For the record, Wilson supported Barack Obama.) He didn't stop there, arguing in a blog, "You have to admit the median or average guy in a baseball clubhouse does drive an SUV, drinks beer, golfs, likes college sports, chews or dips tobacco and is relatively a douche bag." Teammates—many of whom drove, drank and dipped—lambasted Wilson.
He arrived at spring training in 2009 feeling alienated from the team, the front office and fans who had booed and heckled him. "C.J. hated his situation in Texas," says a friend who requested anonymity. "He wanted out."
Still, Wilson soldiered on and had an outstanding season—2.81 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings. He had carved out a niche as a lefthanded reliever who was effective against hitters on both sides of the plate. He had even fulfilled his childhood dream: He owns several performance vehicles, including a Porsche GT 3RS, and has raced against pros in dozens of sports car events. But the following spring he pleaded with the Rangers for a new job. By the end of camp he finally got his wish and joined the rotation.
The rest is current events. Levine theorizes that once Wilson blossomed as a starter, he no longer needed negative motivation to prove his worth: "C.J. shifted from a guy who felt he had to do everything by himself to one who embraced the team concept and learned the value of strength in numbers."
The qualities in Wilson that most impress Pirozzolo are accountability and selflessness. "He's got a big heart," says the coach. He mentions the closed-door meeting that manager Ron Washington had with players last March to reveal he had tested positive for cocaine in 2009. After the skipper apologized, Wilson addressed the stunned gathering. "A team sport is like a family," he said. "When somebody makes a mistake, you have to back him. I, too, have done stuff that people haven't been cool with."