ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington insists he won’t have any flashbacks or cold sweats when his team gets to St. Louis.
Still, Elvis Andrus remembers how close the Rangers were to a World Series championship the last time they were there.
“Not too good for sure,” Andrus said when asked of his lasting memory of St. Louis. “Think about how close we were.”
A three-game interleague series at Busch Stadium starting today will be the Rangers’ first trip back since the 2011 World Series, when they were twice within a strike of winning the title in Game 6 and then blew an early 2-0 lead in Game 7.
“Good memories — and bad memories,” said Nelson Cruz, the AL championship MVP that year after six homers and 13 RBIs in the ALCS against Detroit. “So I’m going to keep the good ones.”
Cruz was playing right field that October night when David Freese, with two strikes and two outs, hit a tying two-run triple just beyond the reach of his glove. The tying run was scored by Lance Berkman, now with the Rangers.
After Josh Hamilton hit a two-run homer in the Texas 10th, the Cardinals got even again in the bottom of the inning after Berkman’s RBI single. World Series MVP Freese led off the bottom of the 11th with a homer.
Rangers reliever Kyle McClellan, who like Berkman was in St. Louis then but is now in his first season with Texas, said even the Cardinals were in shock after Game 6.
“Everybody, complete uniform, just standing around (in the clubhouse),” said McClellan, the St. Louis native who won 12 games that season but didn’t pitch in the World Series. “I don’t think anybody realized what we just saw.”
Texas scored two runs in the first inning of Game 7 the next night, but St. Louis tied it in the bottom half and went on to a 6-2 victory.
The Rangers and the 1986 Boston Red Sox are the only teams to get within one out of a World Series title without winning.
“I’ve had ‘What-if’ thoughts a lot,” Ian Kinsler said. “I’m sure it’s going to enter some guys’ minds, probably will enter my mind at least once. But it’s over with, so we’ve got to think three games there to win. That will be the first thing we will be thinking about.”
A year after going to their first World Series, losing to San Francisco in five games, the Rangers won their second consecutive AL pennant in 2011 to set up the matchup against St. Louis. They lost the AL’s first one-and-done wild-card game last October.
Twelve players who appeared in the 2011 World Series for Texas are still on the team. Five are pitchers, and the only one not currently on the disabled list is left-hander Derek Holland (5-4), the scheduled starter for Friday night’s series opener.
Holland’s only appearance against St. Louis two years ago was in Game 4, when he pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed only two hits a night after Albert Pujols hit three homers in a 16-7 Cardinals victory. Pujols is now in the same division as the Rangers, playing for the Los Angeles Angels, with Hamilton as a teammate.
Kinsler and Holland both like the atmosphere at Busch Stadium and look forward to playing there again. Still, it will be hard to avoid thinking about how different things could have been.
“I’m sure it probably will once we get closer to the game time and stuff, but overall, I don’t think about it,” Holland said. “Obviously, it’s going to hit people, but we’re not really going to think too much about it. There’s nothing we can do. We had a great series against them and hopefully we’ll have another great series against them this time.”
McClellan said his World Series championship ring is hidden in a safe place. He hasn’t worn it around his Rangers teammates, but said he and Berkman, the best Cardinals hitter in that World Series, “take some jabs here and there, obviously all in fun.”
With first baseman Mitch Moreland coming off the disabled list Friday and no designated hitter in the National League city, Berkman isn’t likely to see much action in his return to St. Louis, where he was limited to 32 games last season after two knee operations before becoming the primary DH in Texas.
Berkman’s new teammates hadn’t forgotten 2011 when he joined them in Arizona this spring.
“As soon as he got here, that was the first joke,” Andrus said with a smile. “OK, we still kind of hate him for that series.”