The Yankees swept that team out of the Bronx in three games, part of what would be a season-worst six-game losing streak for the Rangers.
But that team had several scuffling hitters, wasn't pitching all that well and, most significantly, didn't have Cliff Lee.
Last night, the Rangers took the field eight games clear of Oakland in the AL West, 1 1/2 games clear of the AL Central leaders, and could be a potential playoff opponent for the Yankees. The Yankees played the Rangers in the 1996, 1998 and 1999 postseasons; 1999 was the last year the Rangers qualified for the postseason.
Manager Joe Girardi, however, said it's far too early to be thinking about possible playoff opponents, given that his team entered last night with just a 1½-game lead over Tampa in the East and that the Yankees will be back here again in September.
"We want to win our division, that's first and foremost what we want to do," Girardi said. "We want to have home-field advantage. But I don't really look at it like that. To me, that's looking too far ahead."
The Rangers, whose season started under the cloud of manager Ron Washington's past cocaine use and an ownership situation that was settled only last week, entered this series third in the AL in ERA (3.78) and tied for fourth in the league in runs (552). The Yankees rank fifth in ERA (3.85) and first in runs (592).
"They're very explosive," Girardi said. "There were some hitters at that time [in April] who weren't swinging the bat very well, but they seem to be scoring runs and we know how dangerous this ballpark can be."
And how good the Rangers' pitching can be. Lefthander C.J. Wilson came into last night 10-5 with a 3.30 ERA and Lee comes in Wednesday night 10-5, 2.44. The first two pitchers to face Boston on Friday and Saturday are righthanders Tommy Hunter (9-1, 3.01) and Colby Lewis (9-8, 3.37).
"They've developed some really good young arms and they've thrown the ball well," Girardi said.
Last night kicked off a stretch of games that some Rangers viewed as a proving ground of sorts. After facing the Yankees for two games, they play the Red Sox here for three games before heading to Tampa Bay on Monday through Wednesday.
"If anything, it's a good chance to make a statement and say we've been playing good baseball all year," outfielder David Murphy said, according to The Dallas Morning News. "To do it against quality teams like that will definitely say something."
Josh Hamilton, who came in hitting .355 (first in the AL), with 24 homers and 77 RBIs, went back and forth on whether the Rangers have to prove anything.
"As a player, I don't feel like personally I have to prove anything to anybody," he said before the game. "We just focus on what we can do in our role that night to help the team win. As a team, maybe we can prove something this week, but we're not trying to prove anything; we're trying to play a good, solid game and get a win."
He understands why the perception of needing to prove something exists for the Rangers and not for the Yankees and Red Sox and, to a degree, even the Rays, who won the pennant in 2008.
"They've been in situations like this a lot more than we have," Hamilton said. "People don't expect them to have to prove anything; they expect us to have to."