For many of us, it remains the greatest game in Rangers history, and its signature moment was the 1–2 breaking ball that froze A-Rod, sending him back to the visitors’ dugout and sending his Yankees home for the winter and sending 24 men sprinting toward Neftali’s mound and sending a franchise to its first World Series.
Feliz recorded the final three outs (K, 3–1, Kc) of Texas 6, New York 1, ALCS Game 6, 2010.
But the other 24 Yankees retired that night came with Colby Lewis on the hill.
Eight innings, three hits, three walks, seven strikeouts — including his three final outs (Posada, Thames, Jeter), each of whom went down swinging on three pitches in the eighth, as the unflagging roar of the crowd was approaching high tide.
The next time the 31-year-old Lewis took the ball, he went a crisp 7.2 frames in the first home World Series game in franchise history, blanking the Giants until allowing solo homers in the seventh and eighth of what would be the Rangers’ lone win in that 2010 Fall Classic.
That was nine months after Texas had given Lewis a two-year deal with an option for a third season to return stateside from Japan, at the time a nearly unheard-of commitment to a pitcher who had gone to Asia in an effort to stave off the end of his career.
That remarkable season came six years after he’d last thrown a pitch for the Rangers.
And six years, incredibly, before he would throw his final pitch for the club.
Some sports stories would fail fiction, and this is one of them.
Colby Lewis was a first-round JUCO pick in 1999 (with a high school Tommy John surgery on his ledger) who, by time he needed 2004 shoulder surgery that basically wiped out two years, had posted a 6.83 ERA over three big league seasons with a gaudy .307/.404/.513 opponents’ slash — basically an MVP-level line for the entire class of hitters who stepped in 833 times against him — and roughly six walks and six strikeouts per nine innings over 33 starts and 11 relief appearances, all with the Rangers.
Remove the name and consider every other part of that sentence. Think of any number of former premium draft picks who got to the Major Leagues, struggled mightily, and suffered a major injury — a shoulder, in fact (much more dire than an elbow). The rest of the story is fairly predictable, with some variance but probably not much.
Fill in a little epilogue to all that: One year in AAA with a new organization (plus two late-season mop-up relief appearances with the big club) . . . a spring training release by a third organization . . . one year split between AAA and the big leagues (0–2, 6.45 ERA in 37.2 middle relief innings) with a fourth organization . . . an off-season month spent with a fifth organization before requesting, at age 28, another release so he could pitch in Japan . . . which is almost always where the story ends, whether it’s after one season abroad or two or five.
Not much about any of that is super unusual in baseball. Generally describes a handful every year.
Then imagine that pitcher — after all of that — coming back stateside . . . going on to make 170 starts (including the playoffs), a full five times more than he’d made before the wild inconsistency and rotator cuff surgery and journeyman detour to Japan . . . averaging 13 wins a year in his four relatively healthy regular seasons, more than he’d logged combined in his five pre-Japan seasons . . . winning four games in the playoffs, a franchise record that still stands . . . and working his way into the top 10 for a 45-year-old franchise in all-time starts, wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, strikeout rate, walk rate, and strikeout-to-walk ratio, racking just about all of that up while getting derailed at different times by elbow surgery (2012), hip resurfacing surgery (2013), and knee surgery (2015), coming back methodically from all of it and continuing to chew up innings and help a very good team win lots of baseball games.
It just defies reason, and not only because he’s apparently the only pitcher ever to return from that type of hip procedure, and not only because nobody has ever pitched as long (21 years) after Tommy John surgery.
It defies reason because, after half a career that looked like it was going to encapsulate an entire career, Colby Lewis somehow became one of the all-time important figures to suit up for this franchise.
Lewis was nearly 37 last summer when, 14 starts into his season, he took a perfect game into a mid-June eighth inning in Oakland, improving his record to 6–0, 2.81 while holding opponents to an anemic .222/.264/.365 slash.
Compare that line to that of the first-rounder who was facing big leaguers at ages 22 through 24.
Think about where that 24-year-old’s career was headed — multiple surgeries, multiple organizations, multiple releases — before a seven-year comeback, unprecedented in so many ways, led Michael Young to say, on Valentine’s Day this week: “Hard to describe the jolt of energy we’d get on nights Colby Lewis was pitching. All heart. All guts. Winner, fighter, A+ teammate.”
Over his 11-year MLB career — which may not be over, if he’s able to land a big league deal somewhere, not out of the question as teams have starters go down to injury in camp — take a guess at how many contracts Lewis signed for more than one year.
The deal Josh Boyd pushed for to bring Lewis back from Japan.
Every season after that was a one-year deal, having to earn an opportunity for there to be a next.
He posted a 3.94 ERA in three ALDS starts (and a relief appearance) for Texas.
A 3.26 ERA in three ALCS starts.
A 2.29 ERA in three World Series starts.
And I’m convinced there would have been more of all of those had he not been injured in June 2012.
As the Opening Day starter for a club that Jon Daniels has said more than once featured the best Rangers roster of this playoff era, Lewis went down with an elbow injury just before mid-season, after which Texas looked primarily to Roy Oswalt (nine starts) and Ryan Dempster (12 starts) to replace him. They posted a 5.60 ERA in those starts.
If Lewis, a career 9–4, 3.33 pitcher in Oakland, had started Game 162 instead of Dempster, Texas wins that game and isn’t the Wild Card that eventually falls to Baltimore.
Then again, if Lewis is healthy in that second half, maybe the Rangers wouldn’t have been fighting for their lives that last series in Oakland at all.
He was an unflappable warrior-beast, a freak of medicine and nature, a playoff machine, a leader, and — as Michael Young said this week — a winner, a fighter, an A+ teammate.
A tone-setter, and a great baseball player.
I’m a little baseball-sad today.
But really happy, at the same time, that Colby Lewis had the career he had. The impossible career he had that somehow, ultimately, seemed unbreakable.
There are plenty of players it’s difficult and painful to imagine ever retiring.
That Colby Lewis became one of those, as sewn together as he is and as discouraging as the start to his career was, is extraordinary.
If there’s another run in him, maybe with St. Louis (who has just lost Alex Reyes) or maybe with Baltimore (because ex-Rangers are destined to be ex-Orioles) or maybe with some other team who might find itself in need of a starter this month or next, that might delay his entry into the Rangers Hall of Fame. But that’s coming. Very soon.
The years 2010–2016 have been the best in Texas Rangers history, and it’s not even close.
Those also happen to be the Colby Lewis years, at least as far as his Act II in Texas goes.
When he made that unprecedented comeback in 2014 from the hip resurfacing procedure, Lewis told reporters: “I’d like to thank the Texas Rangers and the organization for giving me an opportunity tonight. It wouldn’t have meant as much for me to get back out there without having this uniform on.”
I’d like to thank the Texas Rangers for giving him an opportunity, too. Especially the one in 2010, and all those that followed.
Lewis had something else to say on Tuesday, a statement he delivered to all of us through Emily Jones. In it he said: “Saying goodbye after all this time seems an impossible task. I’m filled with so many emotions. Texas has turned into our second home and the people we have met over our 10 seasons here have turned from friends to family. But goodbyes are inevitable and this is mine.”
I can’t imagine how hard that must have been to write. Or, hell, to decide.
“I am forever grateful to the Texas Rangers organization,” Lewis continued, “the best ownership and management in Major League Baseball. They helped make my baseball dreams come true.”
Well, back atcha.
I’d guess not many remember that Game 6 of the 2010 ALCS, perhaps the most emotionally rewarding game in Rangers history, was a Lewis start.
I’d guess not many remember that Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, certainly the most emotionally crushing game in Rangers history, was a Lewis start, too.
He pitched into the sixth inning that night, allowing four runs, though just two were earned. Had one play (or one other play) gone differently long after he’d exited the game, we’d all remember that the great Colby Lewis started not just one Game 6, but that other one, too.
Now that I think back on that game, I’ve managed to harsh my own mellow, and at this point it’s not possible and even less acceptable to imagine Lewis signing a contract to wear a Cardinals uniform, even though they’ve lost a crucial young starter for the year as camp opens.
Walking off the mound as he’s always done after each third out, steadily but slowly as his teammates jog past him, shifting his glove to the grip of his right hand, left index finger sweeping his brow . . . that just can’t happen with two red birds and a yellow bat on his jersey.
St. Louis just doesn’t fit the story — the improbable, uplifting, A+ story that we all got to see unfold here.
But Saint Lewis?