ARLINGTON – The evolution of C.J. Wilson as a starter – abetted
by the presence of Cliff Lee – continues at an almost unprecedented
“Before he came here,” Wilson said of the
Ranger ace’s impact on his
development, “I was a right-handed second baseman.”
We get it, C.J.
Wilson knows that Lee has been good for him, but he wants you to
know he wasn’t exactly Chan Ho Park, either.
He’s the best story of a historic
Ranger season, and now he finds
himself right where he wants: front and center, leading off the
ALCS against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia.
Everybody’s listening, and why not? How many former relievers
throw 200 innings while debuting as a starter? How many had the
nerve to push so hard for a shot in the first place?
How many end up the most consistent starter on an ALCS team?
Of course, if you ask Wilson, he isn’t surprised by any of the
Asked about matching up against Sabathia, baseball’s best
left-hander, he says, “I’m just hoping for a couple of runs to work
Give him three, apparently, and it’s overkill.
He can’t help himself in front of an audience. Once upon a time,
he had to throw bricks from his blog to get any attention. The
topic didn’t matter. He’s a vocal adherent of something called the
“Straight Edge lifestyle” – no drugs, no alcohol, no promiscuous
sex. Throw in “no dancing,” and we called them “Southern Baptists.”
He also talks politics, which most of us were taught to avoid in
polite society. Often he has juxtaposed his varied interests
against the more primal instincts of his teammates, who haven’t
always enjoyed the comparisons.
But when a guy puts together the kind of season Wilson has had,
teammates can be very forgiving.
“He’s a pretty smart guy,” said Tommy Hunter, who more closely
resembles the typical clubhouse profile.
“He knows his game plan, and he knows what he wants to do.”
What Wilson would really like to do is strike out everyone in
his path. He calls it a holdover from his days as a reliever. When
asked early on if he tried to imitate Lee, a fellow left-hander, he
countered that he was much more of a power pitcher. Lee, for one,
“Stuff-wise,” Lee said, “he’s as good as anyone.”
If Wilson still has fields to conquer, then, it’s a tendency to
nibble. He led the league in walks with 93, a clear violation of
the pitch-to-contact philosophy preached by Mike Maddux.
But he’s getting closer. His first 19 starts, he averaged more
than five walks per nine innings. His last 15 of the regular
season, he was at 3.4.
What accounted for the difference? Could have been a big
Lee’s impact on the pitching staff since arriving in July has
been well-documented. But despite differences in style, no one
benefited more than Wilson.
In their frequent conversations, Lee’s message is as consistent
as his attack of the strike zone.
“He doesn’t get hit very much,” Lee said. “But he walks a lot of
people. He’s doing it less now, and I don’t know if that’s because
of me or not. But any time you’re walking ’em, you’re doing ’em a
favor. That’s what I tell him.
“When he’s not walking guys, they’re going to have a lot tougher
The advice is good, but don’t rule out the impact of a little
sibling rivalry, either. After Lee gave up just five hits and a run
in seven innings of Game 1 in the ALDS against the Rays, Wilson
came back the next day with two hits and no runs in 6 1/3.
Now, after a 5-1 gem in the ALDS finale that has cemented him as
the best postseason pitcher of this generation, Lee has upped the
From here on out in a season of unparalleled developments, the
stage only gets bigger. Fortunately for Wilson, his ego can
accommodate it. No use thinking small now.