Rangers repeat leaves Texas buzzing over baseball

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas – You know what they don't talk much about anymore at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington?

Football.

Well, let's just say they don't go on and on about it. Too much.

A World Series appearance after most of a dry half-century, that clears a place for baseball in your soul.

Two? In a row?

For better or worse, that kind of makes you a baseball town.

So on a Saturday night in mid-October, with the Texas Rangers playing in front of another notable and local two-termer (George W. Bush), baseball muscled maybe two more Sundays into football season, with a big ol' shindig of fireworks and Lone Stars.

Just like last year.

Up against the prospect of a winner-take-all Game 7 the next night, the Rangers finished the battle-worn Detroit Tigers in a Game 6 that was less ballgame than mercy killing.

The final score was 15-5. It wasn't quite that close.

The better team won.

From the longest, hottest summer most folks could recall here, the better team won. From what was once, and for the longest time, a baseball wasteland, the better team won.

Michael Young(notes), who in spring training was a long shot to catch even one ball in a Rangers uniform, caught the last one of the American League season, setting off a celebration that began with Neftali Feliz(notes) and Mike Napoli(notes) near the mound, and ended with 23 others.

Nelson Cruz(notes), whose bat was so silent in September and the division series he was relegated to the seventh place in their order, set league championship series records with six home runs and 13 RBIs. He was the series MVP.

Josh Hamilton(notes), who retook his life and then his baseball, stood amid the empty ginger ale bottles – the now-annual nod to his sobriety. He grinned at the scene around him, at the guys who'd been vanquished last World Series and vowed to return. He excused himself.

"Y'all let me go," he said to reporters. "I gotta be with my teammates."

Rising up around him, clad in red and tearful pride, more than 50,000 baseball fans crooned "Cru-u-u-u-z" for their MVP, and roared at the championship trophy held aloft by Nolan Ryan, and waved signs for the new guy Adrian Beltre(notes) and the veteran Young.

ALCS Game 6
ALCS Game 6

[Photos: ALCS Game 6 slideshow]

From close to nothing, they didn't simply build something out here in Texas, but something that sustains. Cliff Lee(notes) was their ace, and now he's gone, and they're here again. The bullpen wasn't going to hold up, and then it became their strength. Young was going to be traded – demanded it, actually – and he doubled twice in the third inning of Game 6, drove in two runs with each of them, and then plucked the game ball out of the still-warm Texas night.

Going on a year ago, they lost the World Series in five games to the San Francisco Giants, but they were not beaten.

In early November, Young stood before them and urged, "Enjoy your winter, but don't turn it off mentally."

"And behold," manager Ron Washington said late Saturday night, "here we are with another opportunity."

Behold, yes. The Rangers are back.

"That's what it's all about," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We've got to win one more big series before we talk about what we set out to be. That's our goal. It's hard to win. It's hard to win once, and hard to keep going."

It's harder still to walk away.

The Tigers had carried every foul tip and wild swing and bad hop into the trainer's room, then onto the field. They'd limped on and limped off for six games, most of them grueling, two of them settled in extra innings.

"I've managed a team that won a World Series," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said later. "And I don't think I've ever been prouder of a team than I am of this team. And I mean that sincerely. They gave everything they had."

It had been two nights since the offspring of Dave Dombrowski had emerged from the president and general manager's suite and Comerica Park in a full-throated, boogie-down rendition of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive."

They were, if only barely. Against what many believed to be the best ballclub in the league, the Tigers persevered. They won Game 5, drove the series back to Texas, then scored the first two runs of Game 6. Magglio Ordonez(notes) was inactive. Delmon Young(notes) began the series inactive. Victor Martinez(notes) had injured himself hitting a home run and catcher Alex Avila(notes) became a living foul-tip magnet. And yet they threatened to push the series into a Game 7.

What happened after that was devastating.

The Rangers batted 14 men against four Tigers pitchers in the third inning. They scored nine runs. And the end-to-end offense for a team that led baseball in batting average had come along, in time to carry them all back into the World Series.

"We talked about it in the clubhouse," Ian Kinsler(notes) said. "It was time for us to put up a huge offensive performance. And Michael was in the middle of it."

By the time they'd counted it all up, the Rangers had put up 17 hits, and torn through six Tigers pitchers, and overcame the team that wouldn't die.

So, after having never won a playoff series – not in 11 seasons in Washington D.C., and not for the next 38 seasons in Texas – the Rangers have qualified for another World Series, back-to-back.

It's been a decade since the New York Yankees did that. Nearly a hundred years since the Boston Red Sox did that. Two years since the Philadelphia Phillies did that.

But those are baseball towns.

Just like this one.

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