ARLINGTON, Texas — If the Rangers are haunted by Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, they have a funny way of showing it. In some ways, those awful memories from that game have offered up the ultimate dose of perspective for a team that has re-established its American League supremacy this month.
An 8-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday did little to dampen the spirits from a 7-3 homestand that saw the Rangers win three consecutive series. In one room, manager Ron Washington was saying that September would “tell the story” of this year’s team. But second baseman Ian Kinsler stood in the clubhouse a few minutes later and offered a different theory.
“September is nothing to us,” said Kinsler. “Did you see the World Series last year? We were within a strike, twice, of winning the thing, so we’ve been through that, and no way we’re going to rattle just because September is coming.”
Like a lot of his teammates, Kinsler doesn’t shy away from bringing up the most heartbreaking moment in the history of Dallas-Fort Worth sports (if you ask me). He knows that if the Rangers reach the World Series again, the Game 6 questions will come from every direction.
“Hell, it could happen again,” Kinsler told me. “But in a 162-game season, you have to deal with adversity and learn from it. It’s never going to go smoothly, but that’s why you try to have as much depth as possible.”
The only team in the AL hotter than the Rangers over the past two weeks happens to play in their division. The Oakland A’s beat the hapless Cleveland Indians again Wednesday and have won 11 of their past 13 games to move within 4 ½ of the Rangers in the AL West. Still, it’s hard to view the A’s as anything more than a wild-card contender at this point. The most important thing is that a potential October monster, the Los Angeles Angels, have imploded this month and are in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.
It’s further proof that making the most noise in the offseason – or at the non-waivers trade deadline – doesn’t guarantee anything. The Rangers used a miraculous comeback to beat the Angels, 11-10, at the beginning of the month. The Angels never recovered. They are 3 ½ games back in the wild-card race and would have to leap-frog both the Rays and Tigers before trying to claim one of the two spots, currently held by the A’s and Orioles.
Not having talented teams such as the Tigers or Angels in the postseason should provide an easier path to the World Series for the Rangers. The Rays have an impressive rotation as well as a superb bullpen. But the Rangers have gone 5-0 in Tampa over the past two postseasons and have had a lot of success against the Rays’ ace, David Price.
And even with the return of C.C. Sabathia, it’s not like the New York Yankees should scare the Rangers in the postseason. The Rangers are now 23-14 against the A.L. East, which is the best record of any AL team against that division. Whether it’s the Orioles, Rays or Yankees, the Rangers would most likely be favored in a postseason series. Of course, one might recall the Rangers being favored in matchups with the Giants and Cardinals. But for now, the Rangers appear to be hitting their stride at exactly the right time.
“It took a little longer for us to get really hot,” said Michael Young. “But it’s not always smooth sailing in the big leagues. A lot of people want the perfect ‘W.’ We just want the ‘W'”.
Back-to-back trips to the World Series means the Rangers face a lot more scrutiny from fans when things don’t go smoothly. And that’s not a bad thing. There’s a feeling that this season will be a failure if the Rangers don’t break through and win the World Series. It’s something the players recognize as they begin the sprint to the postseason.
“No matter what expectations people outside this clubhouse have for us,” said Kinsler, “it can’t match what we expect from ourselves.”
And that’s why you won’t catch the Rangers fretting over the challenges of September.