It was 2011 when the Rangers made the World Series for the second consecutive season. The year before they lost in five games to the San Francisco Giants, who would go on to win titles in 2012 and 2014 as well.
In 2011 the Rangers had assembled the most talented team in MLB. I’m talking peak Josh Hamilton, the best season of Mike Napoli’s career, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Elvis Andrus… I could basically comb through each spot on the 25 man roster and it would be occupied with someone good.
The starting pitching was also pretty good. The bullpen, with all of Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, was great.
General Manager Jon Daniels, the architect of the Rangers sharp ascension, essentially made the roster dummy-proof. That detail is important, since the guy who managed the team on the field — Ron Washington — was regularly regarded as one of the two- or three-worst tactical managers in MLB.
He couldn’t fuck up the lineup card because pretty much everyone in the lineup could hit. He couldn’t fuck up a call to the bullpen because pretty much everyone in the bullpen — but particularly his few most trusted guys —had nasty stuff. (Ron still found ways to screw up, but I wouldn’t blame either of the World Series losses squarely on him. Even though some do.)
So you get the point. Texas was pretty damn strong that year. They comfortably won the American League West, beat the Rays 3-1 in the Division Series, and defeated a Justin Verlander/Max Scherzer/Miguel Cabrera-led Tigers team 4-2 in the AL Championship Series. They then went on to face St. Louis in the World Series, a club that barely snuck into the playoffs as an 83-win Wild Card team. (This was the final year of the old, four-team playoff field. In 2012 they implemented the winner-take-all Wild Card format.)
I don’t think about this series very often, and I probably talk about it even less. In a Sports Fan kind of way it still hurts. And you’ll understand, surely, since in every meaningful way it was the most painful series, and more specifically Game 6, in my life watching teams play ball. Sports was never, and never will be, the same again.
Because of the silly home-field advtange rule, the one that made the All Star Game winner the host of the World Series (another item that has since been changed), the 83–win Cardinals hosted the 96-win Rangers. The two teams split those first two games in St. Louis. The series went back to Texas for games 3, 4, and 5.
I don’t remember much from Game 3 because that was the night Trey’s older brother got married, and there weren’t any TVs at the venue. I updated it on my phone, just smashing the refresh button on ESPN dot com. But it was the only game of the series that wasn’t worth watching, really. So the timing was lucky for me. Albert Pujols hit three HRs, and the Cardinals won 17-7 or some shit like that.
Down 2-1 in the series doubt started creeping in, but my spirit wasn’t broken. I knew the Rangers had the better team, and it always came back to that with me. People love can-do narratives and cute stories to explain away the cold hard boring truth, but I always roll with the talent. Feel good, feel better, tell yourself what you need to. The reality is all that matters.
The Rangers took Game 4 and Game 5, and traveled back to St. Louis with a 3-2 lead in the series. Game 6 had all the makings of Texas Rangers glory, and a first World Series for one young man from California who was as loyal and dedicated as anybody, circa 1997.
So this was it. The Rangers led 7-5 with two outs and two men on it the bottom of the 9th. This was Game 6, now. Neftali Feliz, Texas’s closer who threw 100 mph before every major league bullpen had multiple guys who pitched that hard, was on the mound.
Within one strike of immortality, Feliz threw his hardest pitch of the night, a fastball off the outside corner to the right-handed David Freese. In a quick stroke, like a guy throwing his bat out there to save his club’s season, Freese hit it opposite field, off the base of the wall in right — a play known infamously as The Ball Nelson Cruz Should Have Caught — which was good for a game-tying triple. The score was 7-7.
That by itself would have been heartbreaking enough. Freese ties the game with a triple, the next guy drives him in, hallelujah that’s all she wrote. That would have hurt.
Only, that’s not what happened. The Rangers stranded that runner, and the game went to extra innings. Texas still had a chance to win.
Miraculously, even after the punch to the gut, the Rangers retook the lead. Josh Hamilton smacked a two-run homer in the top of the next inning, and again Texas had a two-run lead.
Surely the Cardinals couldn’t come back from a two run deficit twice, right? That shit would be ridiculous.
And since I’m writing this, you know that’s exactly what happened. Again the Rangers had two outs, and again there were two strikes. This time it was Scott Feldman pitching, and it was Lance Berkman who got the hit — a single, of the broken bat variety, off of a well-placed cutter riding in on his hands. Two runners scored. The game was tied again.
That’s what happened. David Freese went on to hit a walk-off HR against Mark Lowe in the 12th. Cardinals won 10-9, and the World Series went to Game 7.
That night I was crestfallen. You can’t get any closer to the mountaintop, to winning a World Series, and the Rangers were there twice in a span of about 25 minutes. Just one more strike, that’s all they needed. Twice. And twice they were knocked down to a rung more closely resembling the middle, which at that point felt like the lowest that low could go.
At some point during the 9th inning, and again in the 10th, the game turned into a life experience. And when Texas inevitably lost, there was some sense of shell-shock. It all happened so quickly, and in retrospect it seems like a devestating movie playing in slow motion, and forever. The details of Game 6 are still so fresh and vivid to me, even six years after the fact.
Reminders, I grant you, of how good life was as a 21 year-old, that this one baseball game held such magnitude and importance to who I was and how I spent my time every year.
I texted my friend that night, the one I felt compelled with to share all these things that haunted me so, and I said there was no point to watching Game 7. The World Series was over. There was just no way the Rangers were going to win at that point.
And I got called a quitter. I was being a coward. These were my guys; this was my team; if I turned my back on them then, what kind of a fan did that make me?
The next night I found something to do. I went out. Game 7 was on, but I spent little time watching it. Maybe a couple innings, maybe a couple hitters. I don’t really remember.
The Rangers lost that 6-2, and lost the World Series 4 games to 3. So, I was right. My instincts were right.
And yet, as someone who doesn’t regret how I have gone about my business, who tries to learn from these things, I absolutely should have watched Game 7. I should have been big enough to see my guys go down, even though that’s not the outcome I wanted.
The following season, in 2012, the Rangers acquired Yu Darvish and he became a mainstay in their rotation, which is right where he was in 2017 when they traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Last night, Yu Darvish started Game 7 of the World Series for the Dodgers, and he pitched terribly. The Astros, Texas’s biggest rival, won the World Series 4 games to 3.
So, really, everything is about the Rangers. From this prism we have come full circle, from Texas losing the World Series in 2011 to acquiring Yu Darvish in 2012 to trading him in 2017 to having him, of all pitchers, on the mound as the starter when the Dodgers lost their own Game 7.
This is sad to me.
Nothing will take away the pain of the 2011 series with the Cardinals, but Darvish had the chance to make amends. Like it would have been a Ranger winning the World Series, even though he was no longer pitching for Texas.
Baseball will break your heart. The Texas Rangers will break your heart. Yu Darvish, through his successes and failures since coming to the States in 2012, will break your heart.
The only thing that is for sure, is that I love baseball more than baseball loves me. It’s an unrequited love to the fullest extent.