Before the question of whether or not the Rangers could hold off the A's became the only thing worth thinking about, the biggest question of the Rangers season was who would be their top starter in the playoff rotation.
The answer has varied depending on the moment in the season with Colby Lewis, Yu Darvish, Ryan Dempster and even Roy Oswalt getting some mention for the job of fronting the rotation in the most crucial moments of the season. Matt Harrison's name came up in some of those discussions as well, but there always seemed to be an undercurrent of belief that the team didn't have that starter on their roster when the season got underway.
Harrison can take a very big step toward claiming that role on Thursday. While he's been the most consistent Rangers starter over the course of the season, Harrison isn't regularly referred to as the prototypical ace that a rotation needs to be successful.
That's really a stylistic thing, though. Harrison isn't an overpowering strikeout pitcher who can win games without the help of the defense behind him. That means it is a good thing that he didn't start in front of the ragged fielders on Wednesday and it also means that he doesn't fit the mental image of what a big-time pitcher is supposed to look like on the mound.
Ultimately, though, this is a results business and Harrison's results will determine whether or not he gets viewed as the kind of guy you can give the ball with confidence that he will get his team to the promised land. Thursday's results, in particular, will help define Harrison's identity going forward.
Winning on Thursday would make the Rangers' path to the division title much, much easier as it would mean that this series ended just as it began in terms of everyone's spot in the standings. Making up four games in six days isn't impossible, but it's a real longshot. A loss, however, would leave the Rangers with the prospect of a three-game series that can cost them their spot as the AL West champ to end the season.
If Harrison goes out to the mound and leads the Rangers to a win, it is much harder to keep coming up with reasons why he can't do that in the big moments to come in October. And it is much harder to keep making the argument that he can't be that frontline guy that the Rangers have been looking for all season.