Rangers on the wrong side of destiny
By Kevin Downs, Sports Network
|Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli (C), pitchers C.J. Wilson (L) and Scott Feldman (R) react in the dugout during the eighth inning of play against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7 of MLB's World Series baseball championship in St. Louis, Missouri, October 28, 2011. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine
St. Louis, MO - One strike away from a World Series title.
The "what ifs" will stick with the Texas Rangers throughout an expectantly painful offseason, yet another for a franchise still looking to call itself a world champion.
When the 2011 Fall Classic is remembered, Game 7 will be an afterthought -- St. Louis' 6-2 clinching victory nothing more than a footnote to a collapse 24 hours earlier.
What will stick out is the finish to an improbable Game 6, when Texas was one strike away from finally popping the celebratory champagne on two separate occasions.
While lockers in the Rangers' clubhouse were being tarped with protective plastic for the seemingly inevitable aftermath, Neftali Feliz blew his first save since August 6, allowing a game-tying, two-run triple to David Freese in the ninth.
Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the 10th put the American League champions on the brink of their first title, only to have the Cardinals knot things again in their turn when Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman each drove in a run.
Freese, the eventual World Series MVP, launched a homer to straightaway center in the 11th to end the epic 10-9 thriller, giving the Rangers a feeling they were not only battling the National League champions, but fate as well.
"Sometimes when opportunity is in your presence, you certainly can't let it get away because sometimes it takes a while before it comes back," philosophized Rangers manager Ron Washington.
Texas, which had not lost back-to-back games since the end of August, folded in the finale. Another subpar showing by its starter pitcher -- Matt Harrison lasted only four innings -- and a 1-for-9 effort with runners in scoring position ended another bittersweet campaign.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Rangers should still be contenders again next season, especially in the AL West. Mike Napoli emerged as a cult hero with a 10-RBI performance in the World Series, Ian Kinsler hit .360 against the Cardinals and the middle-of-the-order gauntlet featuring Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz are all expected to return.
Texas' most notable potential free agent is the imminently replaceable C.J. Wilson, who was winless in six postseason appearances, and its deep farm system should replenish any pressing needs.
Still, the heartbreaking defeat will sting for the foreseeable future, and Washington lamented the missed opportunities.
"If there's one thing that happened in this World Series that I'll look back on is being so close, just having one pitch to be made and one out to be gotten, and it could have been a different story," Washington admitted.
For the Rangers, the story ended like a nightmare they won't soon forget.