The Big Five with … Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Before Cliff Lee signs a mega-free-agent deal this off-season, he’s got another showdown with Tim Lincecum coming in Game 5. And this time, he’ll have to bounce back after one of his worst starts of the year — and certainly the worst in his otherwise brilliant postseason career. Not to mention, facing The Big Five: 

You’ve set such a high standard for yourself that on the rare occasion when you did struggle, was it a surprise to you?

“I don’t know if it was a surprise. I know every time I go out there, I expect to be successful. So any time it’s anything less than that, you’re disappointed. You never know what’s going to happen out there. Those guys swinging the bat are pretty good, too. If you make mistakes, that’s what they get paid to hit. I was throwing a lot of balls over the plate. You can’t do that on a consistent basis and expect to be successful. They showed me that the other night.”

Was there any issue with the mound in Game 1?

“No, none. I know I kick and scratch on the mound, but I do that every time, if you’ve watched close enough. That’s part of, I guess, my in-between-pitch routine and what I do. I like to pay attention to where my foot is hitting. I try to keep (the landing spot) smooth and level and clean.”

You said after Game 1 that health wasn’t an issue for you. Have you figured out why that happened? Was it a mechanical thing, or something else you need to change?

“Anything I say is an excuse, and I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. I threw balls down the middle of the plate, and they hit them. I’ve got to do a better job of locating pitches. The reason why, and all that stuff, regardless of what I say, it sounds like an excuse, so I’d rather not say anything.”

Has your opinion of the Giants hitters changed at all since the series began?

“They’ve got a lot of quality hitters; there’s no doubt about it. In the last press conference, I was saying how good their pitching staff was, and it made it seem like their hitters aren’t as good — and that’s not the case. They proved it in San Francisco for sure. They scored, what was it, 20-something runs in two games? They’re pitch-able, but like I say, if you make mistakes and miss over the plate, and they’re 2-0, 3-1 (in the count), bad things are going to happen.”

You’ve been with the Rangers for just more than four months. What’s your take on your time here?

“It’s been a great experience; they’re great teammates. I knew the offense was unbelievable before I got here because I’ve had to face them in the past, and it hasn’t been a whole lot of fun. I knew we were going to score runs, no question about that.

“It’s definitely one unit working together. There are a lot of individually talented players, but we really do pull for each other, and if someone doesn’t get it done, the next guy is there to do it. That’s the recipe for a winning team, and that’s why we are where we’re at.”

Editor’s note: Tony DeMarco is a contributor to NBCSports.com who has been covering the big leagues since 1987. He’ll interview a guest during each day of the World Series for HardballTalk.com.

Mike Trout has no interest in being a superstar

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At The Ringer, Michael Baumann published a terrific feature on Angels outfielder Mike Trout. Trout, 25, is a two-time American League MVP Award-winner and the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner. He’s already the greatest position player of his generation and is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Recently, I ruffled a few feathers here by calling Trout boring. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick said as much last year. And the simple truth is that, for reasons Baumann explains, he is boring by choice. Trout wants to be a role model for kids. His agent Craig Landis said, “I have Little League and high school coaches come up to me all the time and tell me that they tell their kids, ‘This is how you do it. Period. In all aspects. This is your role model.'” Trout is the only active big league client Landis has. If he wanted to, Trout could have super-agent Scott Boras on bended knee begging for him to sign.

Trout is friendly to everyone and doesn’t come close to controversy when he speaks to the media. The most controversial thing Trout has said, Baumann recalls, is that his go-to order at Wawa is chicken noodle soup. For the uninitiated, Wawa is a popular gas station-slash-convenience store in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey as well as Maryland, Virginia, and Florida. Wawa is known for its coffee and its hoagies, even starting “Hoagiefest” almost a decade ago offering discounts on hoagies to its patrons. To go to Wawa just to get chicken noodle soup is akin to sacrilege — just ask any Wawa devotee. There are lots of them.

Trout does not bark at other players for playing the game differently, more emotionally. He himself doesn’t celebrate wildly when he does something great on the field, which happens to be quite often. He has taken what is, for a player of his stature, the bare minimum in endorsement deals.

It is a shame for Major League Baseball, and for its fans, that Trout has no interest in becoming a superstar. As you’ve no doubt read here, baseball has had trouble reaching younger audiences. The only sports with a lower percentage of kids 17 years of age or younger watching are golf and NASCAR. 17 percent of those aged 18-34 watch baseball, a far cry from the NBA’s 32 percent and the NHL’s 28 percent. When I was a kid, Ken Griffey, Jr. was arguably the most popular athlete among my peers. We imitated his batting stance when we played backyard baseball and stepped into the batter’s box in Little League. MLB marketed him like no baseball player had ever been marketed before, bringing him into our households on a regular basis. Griffey was in countless commercials, put his face on video games, and was a pop culture personality. Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a kid who cares who Mike Trout is — or even Bryce Harper or Clayton Kershaw, for that matter — because they’re watching basketball, football, YouTube, Twitch and numerous other venues of entertainment. And MLB hasn’t made much of an effort to capture their attention.

Major League Baseball should be beating down our doors attempting to show us Trout’s otherworldly talent. Unfortunately, Trout has no interest in becoming the face of the sport the way Griffey did.

Rougned Odor received two horses as part of his contract extension with Rangers

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Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor reached an agreement with the Rangers on a six-year, $49.5 million contract extension. It was announced on Saturday and finalized on Thursday. The contract is pretty typical — a signing bonus, escalating salaries each year — except for one thing: Odor received two elite horses as well, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports.

Here are those horses, per Jared Sandler of 1053 The Fan:

Players do sometimes get perks as part of their contracts. Usually it’s mundane stuff like extra game tickets for family and friends, use of a suite, limo rides, or plane tickets. Sometimes they can get rather specific. For example, in 2005, Troy Glaus got $250,000 per year in “personal business expenses” from the Diamondbacks, which was for his wife’s equestrian training. Hall of Famer George Brett got a 10 percent stake in an apartment complex in Memphis when he signed an extension with the Royals in the mid-1980’s. But as far as my research was able to go, no one received any horses, so that’s new.

Of course, the Rangers certainly think Odor is worth the perks. Last season, Odor hit .271/.296/.502 with 33 home runs, 88 RBI, 89 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 632 plate appearances. And at just 23 years old, he has plenty of room to improve.