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Rangers Terrified By Gravity Of Situation

(San Francisco) -- For much of the season, watching the Texas Rangers was like watching kids play ball in the yard. They were cool, calm, confident, and - perhaps most importantly - they never stopped having fun, adopting such inside jokes as the claw and the antlers. But one visit to AT&T Park Wednesday morning makes it readily apparent that the Rangers aren't preparing for just another game.

Despite reports to the contrary, the mood is visibly nervous, in some corners solemn and in other corners agitated. A team meeting called by the coaching staff earlier in the morning lasted just 30 seconds when both Ron Washington and Clint Hurdle had words get stuck in their throats.

Elvis Andrus sits in front of his locker with his head down, screwing and unscrewing one of his cleats. "This is the World..." he trails off. "Everybody's watching, man."

Sitting nearby, Tommy Hunter nods in quiet accord. Ian Kinsler crawls inside of his locker and closes the door.

It's a different atmosphere than the one with which journalists became familiar during the first two rounds of the playoffs. The true stakes and significance of having advanced this far, it seems, have only recently dawned on the team's players and coaches, and many of them aren't sure how to handle the pressure.

I target ace starter Cliff Lee, who played in the World Series last fall. I'm curious as to how his prior experience is helping him deal with the stress. As I step onto the field and approach foul territory, where Lee is playing long toss with Bengie Molina, Colby Lewis shrieks and runs away, while Nelson Cruz looks on, crouching behind a tarp.

"I'll be honest," Lee remarks while catching a throw to his left. "It wasn't quite like with Philly this a year ago. Some of these guys seem a little more...skittish? It's not great in here."

He makes a return throw - a perfect strike right to Molina's chest, 120 feet away. "It's a young team. There's a lot at stake. And I think some of them think Nolan Ryan is going to kill them if they lose."

David Murphy is cautiously walking onto the field now, looking around as he steps out of the dugout. He makes eye contact with Ryan, who's standing with Chuck Greenberg in the seats nearby. As Ryan smiles, he draws an index finger across his neck. Murphy sits down on the top step and rests his head in his lap.

I turn back to Lee. "Some of them'll get past it," he says, leaping to make a catch over his head. "It is hard, though. Millions of people are watching. This is everything everyone's ever played for, and a lot of guys aren't ready to stare their goals in the face. And I mean, it's the first World Series in franchise history. This means so much, to so many."

He throws another bullet to Molina. "I guess you just hope that, at some point, guys are scared so shitless there's nothing left to shit."

Lee and the Rangers will square off against Tim Lincecum and the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series at 7:57pm ET, Wednesday night.