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Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers ALDS preview: Myths, mysteries of Rangers

What's behind the 'claw' and 'antlers'?

Move over Rally Monkey. The Rangers' Claw and Antlers gestures are the hottest craze in the AL West. It started this season when players decided to make deer antler symbols with their hands in the dugout to celebrate a speedy play by a teammate (such as a steal, double or triple), or to curl their fingers in the shape of a claw to do a phantom high-five for a good play. But it has become huge among their fans, who flash the symbols during games and bought T-shirts like those worn by the team (claw on the front, deer head on the back with hands for antlers). There was even a Claw and Antlers parade for fans along the warning track before the Rangers' last regular-season game. Outfielder Josh Hamilton boasts the head of a 10-point buck mounted over his locker in the clubhouse. The team said the ritual — started by infielder Esteban German — is for camaraderie and congratulating teammates. "It started in here and all of a sudden, it's taking on a life of its own," third baseman Michael Young said.

How much impact can an injured outfielder Josh Hamilton have?

Hamilton might earn American League MVP honors for his incredible season (.359, 32 HRs, 100 RBIs), but he has been slowed by two cracked ribs. He went 2-for-11 in three games over the weekend, his first action in nearly a month. Manager Ron Washington said, "When Hamilton is performing, everyone else feeds off it." But it's hard to know how effective the former top prospect of the Rays will be after only three games of rehab.

How did the Rangers manage to acquire left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee while spending most of the season in bankruptcy?

With former owner Tom Hicks' group financially strapped, owing about $75 million to creditors that included former players such as Alex Rodriguez, the Rangers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May to help spur a sale. It wasn't until August that a group led by Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan won a bidding war over Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for the team. Amid the financial uncertainty, the Rangers were able to acquire Lee, infielders Cristian Guzman and Jorge Cantu and catcher Bengie Molina in July trades; they did so by dealing 10 prospects and not taking on any salary for next season.

Why Vladimir Guerrero brings more than just his bat

Guerrero, 35, in his first year as a Ranger, has delivered a big boost to the lineup as well as his teammates' stomachs. Like he did while with the Angels, Guerrero regularly brings teammates Dominican dishes made by his mother, Altagracia Alvino, to eat before home games. "It's the best, man," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "It's mostly rice, beans, pork, chicken. It's amazing. It's been a blessing. That's been one of the keys for us."

What does Elvis Andrus write in the dirt?

Rangers shortstop Andrus says he's not big on superstitions, but there's one thing he makes sure to do before every game: When he takes the field for the first inning, he writes the name of his late father, Emilio, on the infield dirt. Emilio died when Andrus was 7 years old. "It means a lot," Andrus said. "Right before the game, I always talk to him and he gives me strength, gives me power. If I don't do it, I don't feel good, so I have to do it every time." Andrus, 22, of Venezuela also learned English in an interesting way: by listening to country music, specifically Rascal Flatts, downloading lyrics on his computer and following along. "That's why I started liking country music," he said. "It's the easiest music to understand, it's slow."

And some myths …

Cliff Lee carried them to the AL West title

Yes, Lee gave the Rangers an ace to lead their rotation, and he's one of the best in the game. But since joining Texas in July, he's 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 15 starts, partly due to a lower-back injury.

Closer Neftali Feliz can't be cracked

Feliz, the team's hard-throwing rookie phenom, has been spectacular, setting a major-league rookie record with 40 saves in 43 chances, with TBS analyst Ron Darling comparing him to a young Mariano Rivera. But he's vulnerable when he gets his fastball up in the strike zone.

The team is one-dimensional

Sure, they have a potent lineup, ranking fourth in the AL in runs scored, but their pitching staff is no slouch, also ranking fourth in the league in ERA (3.93).

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers ALDS preview: Myths, mysteries of Rangers 10/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 4:39pm]

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