ST. LOUIS – Above the tumult of the losing clubhouse – duffel bags being loaded onto hand trucks, cameramen jostling for position, thumping bass from the public address system intruding from the outside – a freakish sound arose. And another.
Every 30 seconds, it jarred the room, scraped across the neck hairs of two dozen ballplayers, and tore at their silent, dignified farewell. Over and over, Velcro being ripped from its mooring.
The Texas Rangers, losers of the 107th World Series, along with the 106th before it, stood at their lockers. The night before, twice they'd come a pitch away from putting down the St. Louis Cardinals, and 24 hours later they'd still not executed that pitch.
Their bullpen had gone sideways again. Their bats had gone quiet. They'd lost consecutive games for the first time in two months. And the answers caught in their throats somewhere between pride in being here and disgust with the result and their proximity to another party of the year.
They'd gone down finally and rather mildly by a score of 6-2 on Friday night, amid another mess of pitching imprecision and sour glances at an umpire.
As they pondered such hardball injustices, the racket came again from over their heads, from the top frame of their locker. The room seemed to mourn with them, each time a clubbie tore away a name placard.
One by one, they were taken away from this World Series.
Josh Hamilton(notes) screeched, and was carried out. Adrian Beltre(notes) bellowed, and was stacked atop Hamilton. Michael Young(notes) cried out, as did Mike Napoli(notes), and Nelson Cruz(notes) and Ian Kinsler(notes) and Neftali Feliz(notes), and they were carted off under a clubbie's arm.
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This, finally, was how the Rangers left this World Series, unwilling to go without a game and ultimately futile fight, resisting the last and symbolic gesture of a man on simple cleanup duty. Soon, there would be nothing here that spoke of the Rangers and their season, how they'd been pushed to a seventh game, and then were beaten.
Nothing but beer cups, hip-hop music echoing across Clark Street, the shrill cry of another Ranger name coming down, and a bus waiting to take them to the airport.
"The magnifying glass we're under here exposes even the smallest flaw in your game," their ace C.J. Wilson(notes) said. "The little bit of failure we experienced at the end of the season, it is severe."
So they'll leave it, just like that, any regret doused in the regard they had for each other, the beast that is the seven-month baseball season, and the notion they played every inch and every inning of it. A year ago, they played to the final series. In this one, they played to the final pitch. The result was the same. They became the first franchise to appear in consecutive World Series since the Philadelphia Phillies of 2008 and 2009, the first to lose consecutive World Series since the Atlanta Braves of two decades ago.
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They rattled that around in their heads, the achievement against the flight home, the pennants against the hollowness. None of it really added up.
Feliz, the closer who'd never blown a postseason save, imploded in the ninth inning of Game 6. The bullpen, which had carried the pitching staff for two rounds, went inept, particularly in the final two games of the World Series. Handed 8 2/3 innings, a dozen men over two nights allowed 14 hits (including two home runs), walked eight batters, hit two, gave up eight runs and blew two leads, either of which would have given the franchise its first championship.
Alexi Ogando(notes) became erratic. Scott Feldman(notes) became inefficient. Wilson, the starter called upon in relief, hit a batter with the bases loaded. Manager Ron Washington pointed, and destruction arrived in the form of ball one and ball two, then a thick pitch in the middle.
The Rangers did a lot of things wrong over two days, when doing one of them right may have won them a championship. But nothing was as glaring as the pitching in the middle innings and beyond.
"I don't have the answer," Washington said, "because I wish they would have continued to be dominant. I wish I did have the answer. I don't. You know, those are the guys that got us here, and those guys were in a position to take us further and didn't get it done. And that's it."
Perhaps it was all the innings, from a full season, a full postseason, and a waning starting rotation. Perhaps the moments, for a youngish group, became too big. Team president Nolan Ryan talked before the game of the staff's learning curve, how it had to pitch these games before it pitched them well.
General manager Jon Daniels expressed similar sentiments. He stood before his red-eyed and pregnant wife and shrugged. He'd rebuilt parts of the bullpen since last October, near the deadline acquiring three back-end guys. One – Mike Adams(notes) – allowed five hits and two walks in two innings in the Series. Another – Mike Gonzalez – had a 6.00 ERA in the Series. And another – Koji Uehara(notes) – was removed from the roster after the American League Championship Series.
"Yeah," Daniels said, "we gave up too many runs. You guys saw it. It literally changed from one week to the next. Our bullpen won us the LCS."
Asked about the many innings the relievers carried, Daniels nodded and said, "You're aware of it. At that point, what are you going to do about it?"
Ogando, in particular, was puzzling. After spending almost the entire regular season in the starting rotation, the Rangers eased off him in September. In October, he became a reliever, and in 10 1/3 electric innings of the division and league championship series, allowed one run and had 12 strikeouts against two walks.
Whatever happened in the hours leading to the World Series most afflicted him. He gave up a game-changing hit to Allen Craig(notes) in the opener, gave up another like it in Game 2, and did not recover. By Friday night, he'd pitched 2 2/3 innings of the World Series and allowed 14 baserunners.
Daniels said Ogando was not injured, not, he said, "that I'm aware of."
"He arguably was the MVP of the first couple rounds," he said. "He wasn't the only one, though. We're far from pointing fingers at him."
By the end, whatever happened to Ogando was going around. The Rangers trailed, but only by 3-2, in the fifth inning of Game 7. Feldman was summoned to keep it there. After getting an out, he walked Craig, hit Albert Pujols(notes) with a two-strike pitch and got Lance Berkman(notes) on a comebacker for the second out. Washington ordered David Freese(notes) intentionally walked, which loaded the bases for Yadier Molina(notes).
Feldman walked Molina on a full count. The Cardinals led, 4-2. Wilson replaced Feldman and his first pitch hit Rafael Furcal(notes), forcing in another run. The Cardinals led, 5-2, having extended their lead on three walks and two hit batsmen.
That's a gift. Five gifts.
Perhaps they'd become unnerved. Perhaps they just wore out. Washington had few left he could trust, and too many innings to cover.
Feliz said he'd begun the day thinking of the two-run lead he'd given back the night before. He didn't get the ball again.
"When I woke up," he said, "that was what came to me, to get another chance. I asked God for another chance."
Instead, the ball was passed around, and kept returning without answers. Without outs.
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That's how they left, too, ruing the wins they may have left out there.
The night before, after the Cardinals had beaten the Rangers over 11 of the most remarkable innings ever played, outfielder David Murphy(notes) walked out piggy-backing one of his daughters. She was sweet and happy and a little confused.
Over his shoulder, he forced a smile at her. She read it perfectly.
"It's all right, Daddy," she said, "cuz you're gonna win tomorrow, right?"
"That's right, honey," he said.
She put her head on his shoulder.
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They were so sure of this. They'd paid their dues last October and November. This, they knew, was for them. They'd win this one, take it back to Texas, put some antlers and big tires on it and drive it around for a few months.
And then there was just the sound of the clubbie, tearing their names from their lockers, not even waiting until they'd packed up and cleared out. They were carried away and stuffed in a box, every one of them, until there were no names anymore. Until there were no Rangers left.
"You know, you play the game," Hamilton said. "Sometimes it goes your way. Sometimes it doesn't. But, you know what? It's over."
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