America saw the evidence, from the first pitch of Game 1 to the called third strike — on Alex Rodriguez — that secured the first pennant in franchise history.
Take away a bullpen meltdown in the opener and the Rangers were better in five of six games in this American League Championship Series. It wasn’t nearly as close as it looked.
And since the Rangers will be in your living room on Wednesday for Game 1 of the World Series, it’s important that you understand this about them: The new AL champs knew the reach of their greatness long before the corks popped.
The Yankees own 27 world titles. They are the defending champions. They have the biggest payroll in the sport. To which the Rangers said: Whatever, dude.
When did this challenger know that it had more talent than the champ? Ian Kinsler, the swashbuckling second baseman, answered with an impish grin before he spoke.
Six months and six games later, we see it, too.
“We always believe we’re the best team,” Kinsler said, with hugs and backslaps and cellphone cameras on the field all around him. “This team plays with swagger. This team plays with emotion. You see our manager jumping up and down, waving people along, flinching with every single swing and miss.
“We play with emotion. That comes through him. We can do a lot of great things on the field. We prove it over and over again.”
Yes, Ron Washington had a better series than Yankees manager Joe Girardi, but for reasons that go far beyond an ill-fated intentional walk to ALCS MVP Josh Hamilton in Game 6. Washington refused to let the Yankee mystique gust in from the bullpen and impact his players. Each Texas loss in this series was followed by a Texas victory, at a combined tally of 13-3.
And with Girardi clenching his jaw in the other dugout, there was Washington, feet jitterbugging and arm whirring at the sight of each gapper. Most managers don’t watch like a fan. Washington does, in a way that is both endearing and refreshing.
“It’s hard to ever say you’re flat-out better than the Yankees — even today,” said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, a cinch to be baseball’s executive of the year. “But I felt like our guys were as talented. We didn’t have the skins on the wall. We still don’t.
“I give Wash a lot of credit for instilling that sense of confidence. If it’s possible for a manager to somewhat even the playing field — from 27 championships to none — he did. He came out at the beginning, in our pre-series meeting, and laid it on the line: ‘Boys, forget about the pinstripes. Forget about the ghosts. Forget about that. We’re playing baseball. I have faith in you guys playing baseball against anybody.’”
In the end, talent won. There was nothing cheap or fluky about it, even if the Yankees outspent the Rangers this year by a margin of more than 2-to-1.
New York fans shouldn’t waste the winter by second-guessing Girardi or cursing Phil Hughes. Texas is going to the World Series because Texas deserved it.
The best players in this series — Hamilton for Texas, Robinson Cano for New York — effectively canceled each other out. Hamilton hit .350. Cano, despite a clunker in Game 6, checked in at .348.
The difference was depth. Texas started Colby Lewis or Tommy Hunter in three of the six games. The Rangers won every time — including the clincher. Lewis, a No. 3 starter, held the league’s most potent (regular-season) lineup to one run over eight innings.
And the lone run scored on a wild pitch that wasn’t.
“He dominated their lineup,” admired Cliff Lee, who wasn’t needed for a Game 7 after all. Lee was a hoodie-wearing spectator on Friday and will be ready for Game 1 on Wednesday night.
The finale will be remembered for the Rangers’ four-run rally in the fourth, which brought the crowd of 51,404 to a roaring crescendo and converted every last doubter. When the inning began, the score was tied. When it was over, the pennant was decided.
With two out, Girardi made the fateful decision to walk Hamilton intentionally to face Vladimir Guerrero. It was absolutely the right call. Hamilton had the much hotter bat. The strategy worked earlier in the game. But this time, Hughes hung a breaking ball. Guerrero walloped it to the wall for a 3-1 lead. “He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer for a reason,” Daniels said.
Nirvana in Texas came one batter later. Nelson Cruz, playing on a bad hamstring, unloaded on a misplaced fastball from relief pitcher David Robertson. The ball took off to left-center field and climbed over the wall. By then, it was clear: Texas was about to get a new flag.
The fans gave Cruz a curtain call, and it took him a minute to emerge from the dugout. (Remember: The Rangers haven’t done this before.)
It was a fitting way for Texas to win — a sterling start backed by the slugging that had been a franchise hallmark for so long. The Rangers revealed themselves as a complete team, one that would have reached the 100-win mark with better health during the year.
Chuck Greenberg, the team’s new managing partner, pointed out that Game 1 of the division series was the first time all season that the lineup was healthy. The results were self-evident: The Rangers averaged better than six runs per game in this series, and the Yankees had no counterpunch. The defending champs left Arlington with the knowledge that their aging core may have an even tougher time beating Texas at this time next year.
During the trophy presentation, Greenberg roused a big cheer from the fans by declaring, “Let’s do this every year!” The moment mixed giddiness with reality.
Yes, the Rangers and their fans are this excited. And yes, they are this good.