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Quirky off field, Wilson confident on it for Texas

Quirky off field, Wilson confident on it for Texas

Quirky off field, Wilson confident on it for Texas
ARLINGTON -- It would surely make for good fodder, analyzing the disparities between the C.J. Wilson of 2010 and the C.J. Wilson of 2011 -- the former Cliff Lee's shadow, the newer version a headline-making All-Star who is slated to be the Rangers' American League Division Series Game 1 starter Friday against the Rays.

The human race is naturally drawn to stories of transcending journeys. And Wilson, perhaps, still makes for a nice one, considering his rise from bullpen mainstay to rotation ace. Moreover, he has become all the more polarizing given his numerous off-field interests -- count photography and race-car driving among them -- and strong social media presence on Twitter, which he deems his "news feed."

He's a mix of cocky and confident, a gimmicky persona who is a self-proclaimed "relatively G-rated personality off the field" and affirmed believer of a straight-edge lifestyle. And other than doses of Formula One racing and Shark Week, he doesn't consume much TV.

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"Now that 'Lost' is over, I have nothing to watch," he said.

But despite the oddities and the diversions -- which actually play into his ability to execute focus while holding a baseball -- that have turned him into a talked-about name, Wilson is seemingly unchanged in a year's time. When asked to consider the differences in his starter, Texas manager Ron Washington didn't pause.

"I don't think C.J. changed his way of doing things," Washington said. "He never lacked confidence. He's always believed in himself. He's always believed in his teammates. And failure is not something he expects. And so what you saw up here is the same thing I saw in C.J. last year. Except for last year he was our second dog instead of our No. 1 dog."

That tag gives him first crack at a Tampa Bay team oozing with confidence after its historic late run toward the postseason that culminated in Wednesday's come-from-behind victory against the Yankees.

But never mind that momentum. Wilson has some of his own. Always does.

Everything the Rangers lefty does, both on and off the field, is deliberate. He's a creature of habit, just like Lee, whose everyday doings were captured by a fascinated Wilson during the Rangers' 2010 playoff run that fell just three wins shy of a World Series championship. Lee has since been wearing a Phillies uniform, but Wilson is still wearing his ways.

"Every time you go out there, you try to win," said Wilson, who will oppose fellow lefty Matt Moore in Game 1. "You are trying to throw a shutout just like you would in the regular season, so it is the same kind of thing. The only thing is I got a lot of advice last year from people that have been there and I hadn't been there. Now that I have been there, I know what to expect. Obviously this is a little different than the regular season, but other than that, it's not like they have a different lineup.

"I have all my notes and the video and that stuff to go through, and I feel prepared."

Why shouldn't he? Wilson has the credentials to match up with any team's No. 1 starter after a career-best season that saw him post a 16-7 record with a 2.94 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 223 1/3 innings spanning 34 starts.

The 30-year-old performed well against Tampa Bay's lineup this season, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and .147 opponents' batting average in three starts. Through 21 2/3 innings, he fanned 24 and walked eight.

"He has been really good against us," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "He's not as deft on lefties this year as he had been last year, but he is still semi-deft on lefties."

The lefty also has something the Rays don't: the comfort of pitching on familiar turf in Arlington.

"I don't really care as long as we are at home," Wilson said. "It doesn't matter to me. Obviously, I pitched against all the teams so far this year and I had some good success against Tampa, so I'm going to look to continue that."

Wilson made four starts in the playoffs last year and was 1-2 with a 3.70 ERA, his lone win coming as the Game 2 starter in the ALDS against the Rays -- a 6 1/3 scoreless-innings performance. He then fell victim to an eighth-inning Yankees comeback in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series but bounced back to allow just two runs in six innings in Game 2 of the World Series, only to leave the game with a blister in an eventual 9-0 Giants victory.

"Health-wise, last year I was scuffling when I had the blister problem all year and was really hoping that I'd get enough time between starts to heal up," he said. "But now I have more of a routine for that as well, so I don't think there is anything physically holding me back like there was last year."

Routine. It's served his work ethic well from both a physical and mental standpoint, offering him comfort when he takes to the mound carrying around a rather simple approach.

"Obviously, I am not out there reinventing molecular biology on the field," he said. "I am throwing strikes. That's the main focus."

Wilson is never satisfied. He's a believer in himself, and he now has the Rangers believing along with him.

"Going down the stretch, C.J. has been our lead horse from the beginning," Washington said. "And he hasn't disappointed. And I don't expect him to disappoint [Friday]. I just expect him to do as always I ask my pitchers to do -- keep us in the ballgame.

"He's our guy that we are depending on to get us on the right footing to get started. And we believe in him, and we think it's going to happen."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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