Giants, Rangers meet again, play for World Series

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When the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants met the first time, it was a novelty. Now they’re set to tangle for much, much more.

Tim Lincecum and the Giants take on Cliff Lee and the Rangers in the World Series starting Wednesday night, a matchup of the teams that curiously played baseball’s first interleague game back in 1997.

It’s an improbable pairing and promises the trophy will be hoisted at Fisherman’s Wharf or in the Lone Star State for the first time. The Giants have not won the Series since moving to San Francisco in 1958. The Rangers finally made it this far in the franchise’s 50th season.

Texas pitcher C.J. Wilson quickly tweeted a challenge to Giants closer Brian Wilson: “See your beard soon mr wilson.”

“Sounds delicious,” Brian Wilson said. “We’ll be coming.”

Unlikely MVP Cody Ross and the Giants clinched their spot Saturday night when Wilson struck out Ryan Howard to escape a ninth-inning jam and beat Philadelphia 3-2 in Game 6 of the NL championship series, denying the Phillies a third straight trip to the World Series.

Josh Hamilton won the MVP award as Texas eliminated the defending champion New York Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS on Friday night.

Well before this World Series, these club helped change the baseball world. That June night in Texas more than a dozen years ago, Nolan Ryan and Willie Mays threw out the ceremonial first balls, players wore special patches on their sleeves and the bases were painted with a logo reading “First Interleague Game.”

“I remember that,” Rangers reliever Darren Oliver said this week, having thrown the first pitch in interleague history.

The atmosphere is sure to be even more charged for the opener at AT&T Park. The NL finally won an All-Star game to earn home-field advantage in the World Series, and that’s an especially good omen for the Giants — they are 9-0 against Texas in their waterfront ballpark.

Overall, Texas has lost 11 straight at San Francisco dating to 1998. The previous time the Rangers won there? Oliver outpitched Orel Hershiser at Candlestick Park.

The Giants swept visiting Texas in 2009 the last time the teams met in the regular season. They both train in Arizona and in a spring training game this year, Nelson Cruz hit a long home run and Hamilton left the game after accidentally being hit in the left hand by a pitch from Giants rookie Madison Bumgarner.

There is a more direct link between the clubs. Eager to get rookie Buster Posey behind the plate on a regular basis, the Giants traded veteran catcher Bengie Molina to Texas on July 1.

Posey blossomed into a Rookie of the Year candidate, excelling as a catcher and hitter. He homered on the final day of the regular season as the Giants clinched the NL West, then contributed throughout the postseason as they reached the World Series for the first time since Barry Bonds led them there in 2002.

Posey also was praised for his handling of a staff that includes starters Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez and major league saves leader Brian Wilson. The franchise will trying for its first World Series crown since Mays helped the New York Giants win in 1954.

The Rangers took over first place in the AL West on June 8 and stayed there the rest of the season. They beat Tampa Bay in the decisive Game 5 of the first round behind Lee, a late-season pickup, and beat the Yankees in the ALCS.

Even though World Series rookie-to-be Vladimir Guerrero and the big boppers got a lot of attention for the way they battered the Yankees, the Rangers made it to late October because of their arms.

Ryan, the team president who added the title of part-owner to his resume this season, preached a culture of pitching and exhorted his starters to go deep into games. The all-time leader in strikeouts and no-hitters led by example — asked to throw out another ceremonial first ball in the playoffs, the 63-year-old Hall of Famer cranked up for a heater that got the home crowd buzzing.