Wednesday afternoon's rainout in Detroit couldn't have come at a worse time for the Texas Rangers.

Baseball's biggest underachievers over the first half of this season, the Rangers had suddenly won nine of 12 games to improve to 32-45 and had already taken the first two in a four-game series from a Tiger club that began the week riding a seven-game winning streak and leading arguably the toughest division in either league, the AL Central.

And, while their recent hot streak still left Texas 16 games behind the Anaheim/L.A. Angels in the AL West and still "boasting" the worst record in the American League, the Rangers had at least moved just ahead of 32-46 Washington, 32-46 Houston and 30-48 Cincinnati (the three teams with the worst records in the majors) and to within striking distance of perennial losers Kansas City (33-46) and Tampa Bay (33-43) in their race to escape the mythical cellar on the junior circuit.

The sudden rush to respectability was totally unexpected for a Texas team that had the worst pitching staff in baseball over the first 10 weeks of the season and had been without slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira since June 9. Teixeira, who is probably out until after the All-Star break with a quadricep injury (and is rumored to be heading to the Los Angeles Dodgers when he's well), had rebounded from his usual slow start to become one of baseball's hottest hitters before he went down. But, even with their best player at the top of his game, the Rangers had lost 12 of 16 before Teixeira's injury.

What is even more bizarre is that — despite the hubbub over Sammy Sosa's 600th career home run last week — Texas has built its recent success on starting pitching. After an 8-1 loss to the lowly (33-43) Pittsburgh Pirates on June 13, Ranger starters had an ERA of over seven runs a game and were threatening to carve out a niche as baseball's worst starting staff ever.

Then, just one day after young Pirate ace Ian Snell silenced the Ranger bats, righthander Kameron Loe tossed eight shutout innings against the same Pittsburgh team that had feasted on Texas pitching less than 24 hours earlier. That effort was even more unexpected because Loe — 1-6 with an ERA of 7.40 coming into the game — was, incredibly, the first Texas starter all season to go past the seventh inning.

Three starts later, Loe is suddenly the Rangers' ace off subsequent victories over two of baseball's hottest clubs, the Chicago Cubs and the Tigers, and the entire staff — which, ironically, already included one of the AL's best bullpens — seems to be plugged into his recent power surge. Although Texas still has baseball's worst ERA, first-year manager Ron Washington — who never seems to get excited about anything except sunflower seeds — suddenly has a group of starters that, along with his team, is approaching respectability.

Kevin Millwood, a high-profile free agent when he was signed two seasons ago, pitched his best game of 2007 in an 11-3 win over Houston Friday, and one day later re-tread Jamey Wright — an Oklahoma native with a 67-98 record (including a 14-26 mark the past two seasons) and an ERA over 5.00 for his career and 0-1 with a 10.57 ERA in two appearances this year — pitched into the sixth inning in a 7-2 win over Astros ace Roy Oswalt.

With their victories over Detroit Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday's rainout guaranteed the Rangers will head into Boston having won four straight series, no matter how they fare against the Tigers — and former Texas ace Kenny Rogers — in the series finale this afternoon.

And the way this week — one of the strangest of this or any other baseball season — has gone so far, don't be surprised if the Rangers make the Sox see Red this weekend.

The wins by Texas Monday and Tuesday at Detroit were just routine in a three-day span that began Monday with the Cubs (who, since manager Lou Piniella was hit with a four-game suspension last month for kicking dirt on an umpire, have been one of the NL's best teams) giving up six runs in the top of the ninth inning to the Rockies before rallying for two unearned runs in the bottom of the inning to escape with a 10-9 victory.

On the same night that the Cubs shocked Colorado, Kansas City beat Anaheim (which had baseball's best record at 49-27 when the week began) to launch a shocking three-game road sweep of the Angels, and 24 hours later New York reliever Scott Proctor walked in the winning run as Baltimore handed the Yankees their sixth loss in seven games on their current road trip.

Joe Torre's club, which, before heading out on the road, had won 10 of 11 to climb (from a season-low 14.5 games back) to within eight games of old rival Boston in the AL East, made it seven losses in eight tries Wednesday night in a 4-0 loss to the Orioles — just a few hours after the Red Sox, in keeping with the theme of the week so far, had lost their third straight game at Seattle (and their eighth in a row there over the past two seasons).

Wednesday's loss at Baltimore dropped Roger Clemens — whose pro-rated contract will pay him more than $20 million this summer — to 1-3 on the season, and the future Hall of Famer (one of the six pitchers 40 years old or older who started major league games games Wednesday but the only one who lost) has to feel like he's still in Houston, where, despite one of baseball's best ERAs (2.30) last year, he was just 7-6 in 19 starts for the Astros. The Yankees scored nine runs in Clemens' first outing of 2007 (a 9-3 win over the Pirates) but have managed just three runs TOTAL and have been shut out twice in his three starts since (all losses).

Although Clemens — whose ERA ballooned to 5.32 after he gave up all four runs in less than five innings Wednesday — hasn't been a statistical success so far, he has been more of a team player than anyone expected.  Required by his unique contract to be in the dugout only on days when he starts, Clemens has been with the Yankees throughout the road trip and even pitched a rare inning of relief in a loss to the Giants Sunday.

So, while the stars are in this alignment and the baseball world is apparently turned upside down for a few days, Texas should enjoy its success. Because, as General Patton reminded us, all glory is fleeting. Sounds like ol' George — who believed in reincarnation — could have come back as a Ranger fan.

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