ARLINGTON -- Roughly 15 minutes after it was over late Friday night, Colby Lewis was back on top of the pitcher's mound at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. This time, he was surrounded by reporters and drenched with champagne. On the most important night of his career, the righty came through with one of the best games of his life.
If the eighth-inning chants of "Colby, Colby, Colby" didn't give it away, it was now obvious that Lewis was all the way back after a two-year stint in Japan.
The Rangers clinched Game 6 of the American League Championship Series with a 6-1 victory that dethroned the defending World Series champion Yankees, and it was largely because of Lewis.
He fired eight innings of three-hit ball while allowing just one run and striking out seven.
"It was huge," Lewis said. "We're going to the World Series. It's just really gratifying to be here on this stage."
In truth, Lewis has spent most of his career under the radar. Even this season, his regular-season numbers (12-13, 3.72 ERA) were unspectacular. But after throwing five shutout innings against the Rays in a no-decision in the Division Series, he went 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA against the Yankees in the ALCS.
"He did what he did all year," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "Under the radar but, he was the rock of the rotation. Oh my gosh did he smell the finish line tonight."
Texas is where it started for Lewis. He was the 38th overall pick by the Rangers in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. The righty made his debut with the Rangers in 2002 but was underwhelming and then injured before moving on to the Tigers in 2005-06 and then the Oakland A's in '07.
Then it was on to Japan, where Lewis had two solid seasons for the Hiroshima Carp, earning him a ticket back to Texas.
"It's just gratifying to have someone have the faith in me to come back home," said Lewis. "The Hiroshima Carp had a lot of faith in me to bring me over, and I had two good seasons over there. There were some teams here that were interested in me and to make the decision to come back here, I felt like it was a good fit. Apparently, it was."
The packed house of 51,404 certainly agreed, and they made it known with roars of appreciation.
"Right there in the eighth, when they were cheering my name, I felt like I had to step back a little bit and gather myself," Lewis said. "Other than that, I felt really good."
Last time a crowd chanted his name like that?
Lewis enjoying Happy Return
|DS 1||5||2||0||5||5||ND||TEX 3, TB 6|
|LCS 2||5.2||6||2||3||6||W||TEX 7, NYY 2|
|LCS 6||8||3||1||3||7||W||TEX 6, NYY 1|
"I had a couple of situations when I was in Japan when they were chanting Lewis-san," Lewis said. "It's just an incredible feeling to be out there and know that many people want you to do well."
It was clear early that Lewis had it going in Game 6. He faced the minimum through the first four and didn't give up a hit until the fifth.
"It's amazing what you can do physically when your focus is what it needs to be," said ALCS MVP Josh Hamilton. "His focus tonight -- he wasn't saying much. He was just going out there and getting the job done. I'm excited for him. I'm so happy for him."
Lewis was just trying to keep his focus on sheer execution instead of the magnitude of the game he was pitching in.
"I felt like I had a good fastball and it was coming out of my hand good," Lewis said. "I was throwing the curveball well the first game against them. I kind of took that into the game here and it worked out well. The slider came through late. I threw a couple of good changeups here and there and just kind of kept them off-balanced."
When the Rangers reacquired Lewis, Maddux didn't know quite what to expect.
"I didn't know him," Maddux said. "I said, 'We'll see him when we get there.' The first day in Spring Training, I fell in love with him."
"Four pitches for strikes," Maddux said. "Four pitches for strikes."
And on the night it counted most for the Rangers, Lewis commanded them all.
"He went out there tonight and gave us everything he had," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "He showed the heart, he showed the grit. And everything he had to do tonight, he got it done. And he got it done for every single guy and every single fan and every single person who has anything to do with the Texas rangers. We all did it together."
Lewis -- still on the mound in the postgame euphoria -- soaked it all in.
"It would have been great to celebrate at their place," said Lewis. "But to do it here at home, it's unbelievable."