If you had told me six months ago — no, if you had told me six weeks ago! — that the Texas Rangers would go to the World Series and lose it in five games, I would have taken it with great glee. That our baseball team looked completely lost at the plate and totally overwhelmed in the field for most of this championship round does not diminish in any way what they’ve accomplished during this glorious season.
They won their division for only the fourth time in franchise history. They won a playoff series for the first time ever. They won the American League pennant for the first time ever, beating the hated Yankees in the process. They won over hundreds of thousands of fans who fell in love with this team’s winning attitude and laid-back approach and persistent style.
They exorcised all kinds of Rangers demons: can’t win in the Texas heat, good pitchers don’t want to play here, can’t win a playoff series, can’t beat the Yankees, can’t manufacture runs, can’t compete in a Cowboys market.
And let’s not ever forget how completely improbable this whole thing was. During spring training, the manager admitted to using cocaine in the middle of last season. He probably should have been fired on the spot. Scott Feldman was this team’s opening day starter. Jared Saltalamacchia was the starting catcher. C. J. Wilson was in the bullpen. Justin Smoak was the unproven guy at first base. Vladimir Guerrero was washed up; nobody wanted him. Josh Hamilton was coming off a horrible, injury-plagued season. The closer was a rookie. Frank Francisco was lost before the All-Star break. Kinsler and Cruz and Hamilton spent weeks on the DL. Colby Lewis pitched the past two years in Japan. The team declared bankruptcy! They were borrowing money from MLB just to make payroll. Mark Cuban almost wound up owning the team. On July 8, it was announced that the Yankees had sealed a deal with the Mariners to acquire Cliff Lee.
But it happened. These Rangers believed in their manager and they believed in one another. They supported one another. They kept an even keel, a right perspective on everything. They never dwelled too long on the highs or the lows. They kept coming from behind to win ballgames. They beat the Red Sox and Yankees in astonishing fashion. They got Mariano Rivera’s number. And they went to the World Series.
Yes, we could spend a lot of time on trying to figure out where this thing went foul over the past week against the Giants. We could talk about the Rangers maybe putting all of their World Series eggs into one Cliff Lee basket and then, when they watched Lee getting rocked in that opener, being too shocked — paralyzed — to recover. We could point to the weight of expectations, the pressure of being the World Series favorites, as too much for this young team to handle. We could speculate that perhaps beating the Yankees in the ALCS became the end-all accomplishment for this team. Maybe they celebrated too much. Maybe they thought if they could dispatch the Yankees in such matter-of-fact ease, the Giants would be a piece of cake. Maybe. We could speculate to all kinds of things.
But I’ll choose to remember this Rangers season for how incredibly unforseen and glorious it was. I’ll forever remember this Red October when everybody I saw was wearing a Rangers shirt and/or a Rangers cap, a lot of people for the first time ever. Getting caught up in those ALCS moments when the Rangers were stealing bases and taking the extra bag and banging doubles off the tops of the walls. Greeting the crossing guards at the kids’ schools with antlers and claws. This was the year Valerie and Carley actually cared. This was the year we witnessed and even participated in real possibility.
I think watching the Giants celebrate the championship on their own field was good for these Rangers. I think they could actually visualize themselves, on that same field, celebrating in that same way. I think the past month has proven that it’s really possible. I think the past week has forged a resolve to do whatever it takes to make it happen.