St. Louis, MO - Every April, 30 baseball teams begin the season hoping to win the World Series.
Even before May 1, the harsh demands of a 162-game schedule have begun to cull the herd. By July, a few more pretenders have been identified. At the end of September, the playoff field has been narrowed to its elite eight.
Eight out of 30 is about 27% of the field and to actually be one of those eight is a mighty accomplishment.
The Toronto Blue Jays, for example, have not made the final eight in the last 18 seasons and over that time, they have not been the worst team, not by a longshot. In nine of those 18 seasons they finished at .500 or better. But, a playoff team? Not once.
And from just making the final eight to winning the World Series is another massive step.
With all those odds stacked against any given team, however talented, let's ponder the state of the Texas Rangers as they baste in their own agonizing fate.
In successive seasons, they have made it to the World Series and lost. That's hardly a failure, given the enormity of the effort needed just to get there. Were the Buffalo Bills failures for losing four successive Super Bowls?
But this 2011 seven-game World Series loss by the Rangers is going to leave a big, angry scar. A year ago, the Rangers lost a five-game World Series and spent the winter basking in the afterglow of all those firsts: first playoff win, first ALCS win, first World Series.
Not this time. Instead of 'Claw and Antlers' T-shirts, representing the Rangers version of heart and hustle, this year's fashion statement will be 'One Strike Away. Twice.'
That memory will be burned into their psyches, as if it already isn't.
Game 6 of this World Series is being called, in some quarters, the greatest game ever played. We're not going that far, though it was entertaining beyond belief with so many sudden plot shifts. The Cardinals trailed at five different points in the game and still won.
The stain that will stay with Texas until they someday get their chance to make it right is that they were twice one pitch away from being champions and twice they let it slip away.
That is the long and the short of it for the 2011 Texas Rangers. Predictably enough, they left so much of themselves on the field Thursday night that Friday's seventh game was an exercise in futility.
"We probably needed an extra day to come back from that game," reliever Mike Adams said. "It was so emotionally draining. I was so tired, and I threw three pitches. There's a lot more to it than just the physical part of it.
"Playoff baseball is nothing like regular-season baseball. It's so much more intense. Every pitch means so much. One inning in the post-season is the equivalent of four or five innings in the regular season."
The baseball community is in agreement that the Texas Rangers have reached an elite level as an organization and the general feeling is that they will remain at that level for the foreseeable future. They have all the requisite elements: A solid ownership group that doesn't meddle; a smart baseball management team headed by Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels; a thriving draft and development system; excellent young core players; and the financial resources that should keep things going.
Yet they are going to have to get past this disappointment , or at least use it as motivation, the way they used last year's defeat to build for this year.
"I can't control what people are going to think," leftfielder David Murphy said. "But this group of guys knows how difficult it is to do what we've done. We like to do things that people are impressed with or proud of, but in the end that's not our main goal.
"We play for each other. We play for our teammates. We play for our coaching staff. Hopefully that will result in a championship at the end of the year. Getting here twice is pretty impressive. We're proud of it. But it hurts right now."
Overall, this was probably the best World Series in recent memory. It featured a ninth-inning turnaround in Game 2, an Albert Pujols game for the ages in Game 3 and then that absurd last four innings of Game 6. It's hard not to be let down by Game 7, which was about as entertaining as a tax audit, but the Cardinals did just what they had to do and the Rangers were powerless to stop them.
Now St. Louis has its 11th World Series title. The Rangers still have none and all of Texas has the entire winter to chew on that bone until another April comes around.
5 reasons why St. Louis won World Series
1. The Atlanta Braves
Nobody in the champagne line in the St. Louis cardinals clubhouse said: "We couldn't have done it without your colossal choke job,
Atlanta," but it's true. the braves had a lock on the NL wild-card berth but won just nine of 27 games in September, nipped at the wire by St. Louis.
2. Chris Carpenter
When Adam Wainwright was lost to surgery in spring training, carpenter stepped up in his role as staff ace and logged 237 innings. More, he became the conscience of the team and snapped everyone to attention in a 'smarten up' clubhouse address to the team in late August.
3. David Freese
At the dawn of the 2011 season, the jury was still out on Freese. He broke his hand early in the season but when he came back he made a breakthrough as a hitter. In the cards' September run, he had an .844 OPS. In the playoffs he was a beast: Five homers, 21 rbI and an OPS of 1.258
4. Jason Motte
Quiz: Which team had more regular-season blown saves than the blue Jays? Answer: Your World Series champions from St. Loo, 26-25. enter Motte, who was installed as the unofficial closer in September and responded with eight saves and then five more in the cards' 11 playoff wins.
5. Tony La Russa
Once the cardinals got on their roll in late August, the manager was the guy with the whip and the chair to keep them moving in the right direction. Love him or hate him, La russa did a masterful job of mixing and matching with an outfit that was not long on talent, Albert Pujols excluded.