ARLINGTON -- Whether it is his Game 1 matchup against CC Sabathia or his place in his own team's pecking order behind Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson is very much the overlooked left-hander in this American League Championship Series.But that doesn't make him any less interesting. In fact, the story of the man who will start things off for the Rangers in their quest to knock off the mighty Yankees is fascinating on several levels. For starters, Wilson did a pretty good Cliff Lee impersonation in his AL Division Series start against the Tampa Bay Rays, reeling off 6 1/3 shutout innings in a Game 2 victory. Then there is the fact that Wilson had been used exclusively as a reliever in the four seasons that preceded this one. And in his first full season as a Major League starter, all he did was win 15 games, post a 3.35 ERA and log 204 innings. "That's highly impressive to be able to do that," said Lee. "To get to 200 innings, and to throw that many innings when you haven't thrown close to that in a long time, that's hard to do, and a lot of credit to his work ethic and how he takes care of his body to be able to do that."
There will come a day this winter when Wilson soaks in how much he has evolved in a highly rewarding 2010 and the keys that went into it. But as he gears up for the power-packed Yankees and a Friday matchup with one of the best in the game in Sabathia, that moment is not now."It's been hard to really answer that, to be honest with you, because we are still playing baseball," Wilson said. "At the end of the season, when someone has been crowned the world champion, and a couple of days after that, I'm sitting on the couch, you know, jogging somewhere, then maybe I'll reflect on it. But right now, I'm just focused [on] what is at hand. I'm happy with where the team is at right now. But at least every guy in the locker room now feels like we have eight more wins that we are trying to get." And aside from his obvious pitching talent which has resulted in a breakout season, Wilson's multi-faceted personality is another compelling component of his story as he gets ready to pitch the biggest game of his life to date. Wilson doesn't drink or smoke, but he sure loves to talk, whether it is with a teammate or to his 27,000-plus followers on Twitter. The lifestyle is one that came purely by choice. "Realistically, I've been straightedge since I was, I don't know, high school or something like that," Wilson said. "My whole life, I never drank, I never used drugs or anything like that. I know that I have not done anything other than work hard and read a lot of books to get where I'm at -- and in that, I think, it's very important for kids to look up to. I've had a lot of chances to interact with kids in the community, as a local guy here for the last seven years in Texas and also back home in California. Everything for me has to do with the fact that I have that in the background and that to rely on." Because of Rangers superstar Josh Hamilton's background -- which includes past battles with drugs and alcohol -- Wilson has been someone who has given him a comfort zone. Together, they celebrated with soda after the Game 5 clincher over the Rays. "C.J. is a different breed of person," said Hamilton. "Straight edged, no drugs, no alcohol or anything like that. He's such a people person. He likes to talk. I'm not a big talker, so I'm a good listener. So it's kind of like a good relationship there. Spending time with him, he's someone I can go to, I can hang out with and know I'm going to be in a safe environment." Wilson has enjoyed the companionship. "The last couple of years, him and I have gotten close because I was one of the few guys that he had the green light to hang out with, you know what I mean, because guys knew that I was a zero risk in that sense," Wilson said. "He was going to come over to my room and we were going to play Xbox, and that is what was going to happen, we were going to kill some aliens playing Halo." Though the stage is new for Wilson, it is not the least bit uncomfortable. He is comfortable in his own skin, and enjoys a good laugh. Roughly 10 minutes before his news conference, he tweeted from his @str8edgeracer account: About to do press..."Um yes, you with the glasses, what is your question?" And when the first question did come, Wilson was ready for it. How much has he benefited from spending the last couple of months in the same rotation as Lee? "Well, actually, before he was here, I was actually a right-handed second baseman," quipped Wilson, giving the media a moment of collective laughter. It was quintessential Wilson, in that he was giving a friendly reminder that he was actually a pretty good pitcher before Lee arrived -- but also more than willing to offer some insight into how much he actually has learned from his new teammate. "Cliff has been great," said Wilson. "The thing with Cliff is that he keeps his process the same, no matter what is going on around him. And that's something that, as I've gotten more comfortable in my role as a starting pitcher, I've had to thicken those walls in my bubble to keep everything else out and stay in my little zone, and stay with what is making me successful. And that's the thing he and I talk about all the time." Five weeks shy of his 30th birthday, Wilson is about to pitch in the type of games he fantasized about as a kid growing up in Southern California. "When you're a little kid and you're in your backyard, you're taking ... dry swings or pretending that when you're in the mirror ... that you're somebody or whatever, you put yourself in this position," Wilson said. "You put yourself in Game 1, Game 7, Championship Series, World Series, stuff like that. That's what you work for. Every mile I've run, my entire life, and every little tubing exercise and sinker I've thrown playing catch, is everything I've done to get to this point. That's great, but we still have more games after Game 1." While Wilson obviously isn't afraid to show his boyhood enthusiasm, it will be replaced by tenacity once he takes the mound. "After the [clinching] win the other night, he was already talking about his start against the Yankees," said Hamilton. "That's just where his focus is and where he wants to be. He wants to be in that spotlight. He wants to be against the team to beat. So I'm looking forward to it and very excited for him." In three starts against the Yankees this year, Wilson was 0-1 with a 5.65 ERA. Those lumps could wind up being invaluable entering this series. "The thing that hurt me in all three of the starts was just the high pitch count from walks and stuff like that, falling behind in the count," said Wilson. "I think I'm just going to get that knuckleball over the plate first pitch and see where we go from there." That was another Wilson quip. The knuckleball and the screwball, he says, are the only pitches he's never thrown in a Major League game. He will get his arsenal ready for the Yankees, knowing it will take a top effort to beat Sabathia. "Yeah, his uniform is much bigger than mine and his feet are much larger than mine, but I'm not trying to fill his shoes," Wilson said. "Our offense can put up runs against any team that we play. I've matched up against [Jon] Lester this year, Mark Buehrle, CC, [Jered] Weaver, like all of the guys that are the best guys in the league. "I got to pitch against all those guys, because it's the Major Leagues and that's where all of the good guys are. It's just part of it. You are not going to get to the playoffs and play last-place teams. CC is a pretty good pitcher. I'm just hoping for a couple of runs to work with, that's all." Clearly, the former closer has made the Rangers' decision-makers look good for moving him back to the role of starting pitcher, which he hadn't done with any regularity since 2005, when he was in the Minors. "I thought he had four pitches, and they are good pitches," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said. "They're just not borderline pitches. I felt like he could give us the innings you want from a starter. We felt he was a well-conditioned pitcher, that we could get both innings and consistency out of him." They've gotten both those things, and more. And now the stage is Wilson's for Game 1 on Friday night.