It took 50 years for the major league team now known as the Texas Rangers to get to the World Series.
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So, no sense thinking it was going to be a walk in the park once this franchise that got its beginning back in 1961 as the expansion Washington Senators finally advanced to baseball’s October showcase.
And it hasn’t been.
The Rangers return to Texas for their first home World Series game ever Saturday night, halfway to elimination, having lost the first two games in the best-of-seven series at San Francisco. As if the sudden October failing of Cliff Lee in Game 1 wasn’t concerning enough, a bullpen that ranked No. 2 in the American League during the regular season had another postseason malfunction in Game 2.
Suddenly, the team that knocked off AL East giants in the two previous rounds — Tampa Bay in the Division Series and the Yankees in the LCS — has been knocked down to size by THE Giants from the NL West.
"It is obviously not where we want to be,’’ said Rangers outfielder David Murphy. "I don’t think we can get down on ourselves. We have no choice but to bounce back. There’s plenty of baseball still left.’’
The Rangers are looking for hope at home.
"There’s certainly no feel like we are defeated,’’ said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "We’re heading home. They took care of us in their ballpark, now we’re headed to ours.’’
The stats, however, don’t compute in a positive sense for the Rangers, and recent history’s even more frightening.
This is the 52nd time a team’s won the first two games of a World Series. There have been 11 occasions on which the team that suffered the losses rallied to win a world championship.
"We’re not the type of team that is going to let it bother us,’’ said Murphy. "We know who we are.’’
The big picture, however, doesn’t give a true picture of the challenge facing the Rangers.
Prior to 1995, 10 of the 42 teams that trailed 2-0 in a World Series came back to win the championship (23.8%). Since 1995 however, just one of nine teams that dropped the opening pair of games won the World Series.
The only time in the last 24 years a team’s overcome losses in the first two games was in 1996, when Atlanta (with John Smoltz and Greg Maddux on the mound) went into Yankee Stadium to win Games 1 and 2, allowing a total of only one run. The Yankees, however, won the next four games, becoming only the third team to lose the first two games at home and rebound to win a title.
Surprised at the sudden inability of teams to rally?
Simple. The postseason’s become a marathon over the years.
Prior to the 1969 season, the World Series was the only event on the MLB playoff schedule. In 1969, the League Championship Series was added, and in 1995 baseball expanded its postseason to include the Division Series.
A postseason that, prior to 1969, was a maximum of seven games has been expanded to the point where, if all three rounds of October go the distance, a team could play an additional 19 games. And that’s not merely 19 more games of physical demands on players, but as many as 19 more games with the additional postseason pressures and demands — which can take its toll on a team, particularly if it falls behind early.
Five of the last seven times a team’s won the first two games, the World Series ended in a sweep, including Boston against Colorado (2007) and St. Louis (2004), the Chicago White Sox against Houston (2005), and the Yankees against Atlanta (1999) and San Diego (1998).
"We are confident about getting the win when we get back home,’’ said Washington. "The clubhouse is still upbeat. We are still confident that we can get it done.’’
Confident or whistling in the dark?
The only time in the last 16 years a team’s overcome losses in the first two games was in 1996, when Atlanta, (with John Smoltz and Greg Maddux on the mound) went into Yankee Stadium to win Games 1 and 2, allowing a total of only one run. The Yankees, however, won the next four games, becoming only the third team to lose the first two games at home and rebound to win a championship.
And the three other times in the last 32 years a team overcame losses in the first two games to become a world champion were Octobers to remember.
Bill Buckner booted his way into infamy and the Mets rallied to beat Boston in 1986. Umpire Don Denkinger’s resumé was scarred when the Royals bounced back against St. Louis in 1985. And the strike-interrupted 1981 season saw the Los Angeles Dodgers rally against the Yankees, thanks to the effort of tri-World Series MVPs Pedro Guerrero, Ron Cey and Steve Yeager.
"We’re certainly confident now that we are back home we can turn this around,’’ said Washington. "Just as they won two games in San Francisco, we can do the same thing at home. We’re still confident."
It won’t be easy.
But then nothing’s been easy for the Rangers since their inception.
Only three times prior to this year did they even get to the postseason.
They were eliminated in the Division Series all three times, against the Yankees each time, winning their first postseason game ever, in 1996, but losing the next three games that year, then getting swept in 1998 and 1999.
They overcame that challenge this time, including knocking off the Yankees in six games in the ALCS.
"We know what we are capable of doing,’’ said Washington. "We just have to do it.’’