When last we left the 2011 Texas Rangers Timeline, the team was coming off an 19-6 September and had wrapped up the 2011 regular season at 96-66. The 96-66 mark beat the 1999 Rangers for best record in franchise history.
The Rangers began September with a 3 1/2 game lead in the A.L. West and survived a mid-month scare from the Angels as they whittled the division lead down to 1 1/2 games on September 10. From that date on, however, the Rangers only lost two more games until season's end and finished off Anaheim on the 23rd of September.
The Rangers won their second consecutive American League West title and finished one game back of the New York Yankees for best record in the American League. Even though a team in each league qualified for the playoffs thanks to hot finishes combined with epic collapses, the Rangers were arguably baseball's hottest team coming into postseason play.
Game 162 - September 28 - 96-66 1st Place lead 10.0 - Texas @ Anaheim:
Rangers 3, Angels 1
The Rangers' ALDS opponent would be the Tampa Bay Rays once again. The Rays were nine games back of the heralded Boston Red Sox as late as September 3. In baseball history, no team had qualified for the playoffs after trailing by nine games or more with less than a month remaining in the season. However, the Red Sox went 7-20 in September, including six losses in seven games against the Rays, and were tied with the Rays for the Wild Card by September 26.
On September 28, the final day of the season, the Rays and Red Sox were tied for the Wild Card. The Red Sox were in Baltimore to play to Orioles and held a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the 9th. In Tampa, the Rays were trailing the Yankees 7-0 going into the bottom of the 8th before rallying for six runs in the 8th and then getting a 2-strike, 2-out home run from pinch hitter Dan Johnson in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game. Johnson, hitting .108 coming into the game, had hit only one other home run on the year, on April 8, and hadn't had a hit in the big leagues since April 27.
As the Rays tied the Yankees, Jonathan Papelbon was blowing the game in Baltimore. All with two out, the Orioles got a double from Chris Davis, a double from Nolan Reimold to tie the game, and then a game-winning single from Robert Andino. Boston was done. In Tampa, in the 12th inning, to cap off one of the most amazing days in baseball history, Evan Longoria snuck a pitch over the short left field fence and propelled the Rays to a rematch of the 2010 ALDS against the Rangers.
ALDS Game 1 - September 30 - Tampa Bay @ Texas - Rays lead Series 1-0:
Rays 9, Rangers 0
In 2011, C.J. Wilson dominated the Tampa Bay Rays (17 IP, 7H, 2 ER, 14 K). The Rangers were opening the ALDS at home for the first time in franchise history. The Rangers hadn't lost a game by more than a run in half a month.
ALDS Game 2 - October 1 - Tampa Bay @ Texas - Series tied 1-1:
Rangers 8, Rays 6
In 2011, James Shields dominated the Texas Rangers (17 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 13 K). Shields hadn't lost a game in half a month. The Rangers hadn't scored a run in the postseason going into the bottom of the 4th inning. But then the NAP-O-LI! NAP-O-LI! NAP-O-LI! chant was born. Baseball is weird.
You mad, James?
ALDS Game 3 - October 3 - Texas @ Tampa Bay - Rangers lead Series 2-1:
Rangers 4, Rays 3
The Year of the Napoli!
ALDS Game 4 - October 4 - Texas @ Tampa Bay - Rangers win Series 3-1:
Rangers 4, Rays 3
Adrian Beltre smashed Cinderella's glass slipper. The Rangers finished off the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS at Tropicana Field for the second consecutive season. The Rangers are now 5-0 at Tropicana in October.
In many ways, this series reminded me of the 1996 ALDS between the Rangers and Yankees. The Rangers won the first game of that series easily on the road and were leading in the second game at Yankees Stadium before losing late. Then, in the first home playoff game in Arlington, Texas history, the Rangers got a standout performance from starter Darren Oliver before he ran out of gas and the bullpen blew the lead. In game four, the Rangers threw the kitchen sink at the Yankees but they were just too powerful.
I imagine we'll see the Rays in October a lot over the next several years. I wouldn't mind it if the Rangers were the Yankees to their late '90s Texas Rangers.
The Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees three games to two in the other Division Series. For the Rangers to return to the World Series, they would have to defeat the Comerica Curse and a Tigers team that went 6-3 against Texas in the regular season, went 20-6 in September, and had just beaten the team with the best record in the league. The Rangers lost four of those six games against the Tigers in one-run contests that were decided late in the game by the bullpen. Clearly, the revamped bullpen that the Rangers had put together in the second half of the season would need to come up big in this series.
All three of the Rangers wins against the Tigers in the regular season were won by Alexi Ogando. Ogando won each of those games as a starting pitcher for the Rangers. In the postseason, however, Ogando was being used as a late-innings reliever due to fatigue over the second half of the season and a pitching arsenal better suited for the bullpen. Many predicted that Ogando would be something of an X-factor for the Rangers in the ALCS given his success against the Tigers during the season.
ALCS Game 1 - October 8 - Detroit @ Texas - Rangers lead Series 1-0:
Rangers 3, Tigers 2
The Unbeatable Justin Verlander - 4 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 5 K
The Maligned in '11 Texas Bullpen - 4 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 8 K
Mike Gonzalez was the Willow of the bullpen!
ALCS Game 2 - October 10 - Detroit @ Texas - Rangers lead Series 2-0:
Rangers 7, Tigers 3 in 11 innings
Happy Birthday to me!
ALCS Game 3 - October 11 - Texas @ Detroit - Rangers lead Series 2-1:
Tigers 5, Rangers 2
The Curse of Comerica Continued.
ALCS Game 4 - October 12 - Texas @ Detroit - Rangers lead Series 3-1:
Rangers 7, Tigers 3 in 11 innings
Nelson Cruz doesn't believe in curses! At this point in the series, Cruz had hit a home run off of Justin Verlander which was ultimately the game winning run, hit the tying solo shot in the 7th inning of Game 2 before making baseball history by hitting the first walk-off grand slam in postseason play, and in Game 4, Cruz threw out Miguel Cabrera in the 8th inning of a tied game. Then, just to show off, Cruz hit a three run home run in the 11th to put the Rangers first road playoff win in Detroit to bed.
The Rangers did what they needed to do. They won once in Detroit to give themselves two chances to beat the Tigers at home to win the series. Of course, the Rangers could finish off the Tigers in Detroit if they could beat Justin Verlander for a second time.
ALCS Game 5 - October 13 - Texas @ Detroit - Rangers lead Series 3-2:
Tigers 7, Rangers 5
Even though the Rangers shockingly won a game in Detroit to set themselves up favorably for the rest of the series, they were facing Justin Verlander at Comerica in Game 5. Verlander had been wholly mediocre in the postseason in his first three starts, including a Game 1 loss to the Rangers. But, with the Rangers history at Comerica on his side, odds were in favor of Verlander sending the series back to Arlington.
The Rangers had Verlander on the ropes in a 2-2 game in the top of the 6th when Ian Kinsler hit into a bases loaded double play to keep the game tied. In the bottom of the inning, the Tigers got an even bigger break when a ground ball to third hit by Miguel Cabrera -- destined to be a double play for the Rangers -- bounced off of the front corner of the bag and ended up in the left field corner for a go-ahead run scoring double. After that, the wheels came off and the story became how Verlander had propelled the Tigers back into the series.
ALCS Game 6 - October 15 - Detroit @ Texas - Rangers win Series 4-2:
Rangers 15, Tigers 5
Texas returns to the World Series! The Rangers were down 2-0, and facing a potential Game 7 against Doug Fister, when in the bottom of the 3rd inning, they made magic happen:
- I. Kinsler grounded out to third
- E. Andrus walked
- J. Hamilton singled to shallow left, E. Andrus to second
- M. Young doubled to shallow left, E. Andrus and J. Hamilton scored
- A. Beltre singled to center, M. Young scored
- M. Napoli walked, A. Beltre to second
- N. Cruz walked, A. Beltre to third, M. Napoli to second
- D. Schlereth relieved M. Scherzer
- D. Murphy singled to shallow center, A. Beltre and M. Napoli scored, N. Cruz to second
- C. Gentry hit for E. Chavez
- R. Porcello relieved D. Schlereth
- C. Gentry reached on fielder's choice, N. Cruz to third, D. Murphy to second
- I. Kinsler singled to left, N. Cruz and D. Murphy scored, C. Gentry to second, C. Gentry to third, I. Kinsler to second on left fielder D. Young's fielding error
- E. Andrus grounded into fielder's choice, C. Gentry out at home, I. Kinsler to third
- J. Hamilton intentionally walked
- M. Young doubled to shallow right, I. Kinsler and E. Andrus scored, J. Hamilton to third
- R. Perry relieved R. Porcello
- A. Beltre flied out to left
9 runs, 6 hits, 1 errors
Detroit 2, Texas 9
Alexi Ogando won his second game of the series and finished with 7 2/3 innings, 3 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 10 K in the ALCS. Ogando was spectacular in his role as bridge from Rangers starter to Mike Adams/Neftali Feliz in every game the Rangers won in the series. In many series, he might have been the MVP. However...
Nelson Cruz finished the ALCS with a .364 average and broke the record for most home runs (6) and RBI (13) in a single series. He became the only player to hit two extra inning home runs in a series. He is the only player to hit six or more home runs in two postseasons, and he did it in back-to-back seasons. Cruz had become the Rangers' Mr. October.
The St. Louis Cardinals stunned the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS three games to two and then beat their division rival Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS four games to two to qualify for the 18th World Series in franchise history. Coming into the playoffs, the Cardinals were as much of a "Cinderella story" as the Tampa Bay Rays. However, the Rays seemed to be the more heavily reported story and the team most proclaimed as the "Team of Destiny."
With the Cardinals facing a Phillies team with the best record in baseball and the "Four Aces," St. Louis was considered something of an afterthought regardless of their equally amazing run to qualify for the playoffs. Everyone was wrong about which team to call the Team of Destiny. Cinderella didn't reside in Tampa Bay.
The Atlanta Braves held a 10.5 game lead on the Cardinals on August 24th. With 16 games left to play, the Cardinals had cut the lead to 4.5 games but still only had a 7.7% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus playoff odds. With a week to go in the season, the Cardinals still trailed the Braves by 2 games with only six left to play. By the time the final series remained, the Cardinals had brought the Braves' lead down to a single game.
The Cardinals won a series against the Houston Astros while the Braves were swept at home by the Phillies which gave the National League Wild Card to the Cardinals. Interestingly enough, the Phillies beating the Braves essentially meant the Phillies chose their future postseason failure fate by allowing the Cardinals into the playoffs. The Cardinals went 23-9 over the final 32 games of the season to erase that 10.5 game deficit. They went 18-8 in the month of September while the Braves went 9-18 to finish the comeback. St. Louis finished the season 90-72.
World Series Game 1 - October 19 - Texas @ St. Louis - Cardinals lead Series 1-0:
Cardinals 3, Rangers 2
When C.J. Wilson lost the All-Star Game, you could see it coming. The Rangers were going to go back to the World Series and they were going to have play on the road with horrible National League rules. NL Baseball sucks. And so, the Rangers lost Game 1 of the World Series. Again.
World Series Game 2 - October 20 - Texas @ St. Louis - Series tied 1-1:
Rangers 2, Cardinals 1
The Rangers went into the 9th inning of Game 2 of the World Series having scored their only runs off of a Mike Napoli two run home run in Game 1. National League baseball still sucks.
With the Rangers three outs away from trailing the Cardinals 2-0 in the World Series the Cardinals went to closer Jason Motte. Motte had only given up one baserunner in the entire postseason when Ian Kinsler lead off the 9th with a single. Kinsler dared to challenge the elite arm of Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina and stole second. With the bunt off, Elvis Andrus singled to center and then advanced to second on a poor throw from center fielder Jon Jay that glanced off of Albert Pujols' glove.
Two sac flies from Josh Hamilton and Michael Young later, and the Rangers had pulled off a 9th inning comeback win to draw the World Series even at one game apiece. And that was cool. But hey, look at this thing that Elvis Andrus did:
World Series Game 3 - October 22 - St. Louis @ Texas - Cardinals lead Series 2-1:
Cardinals 16, Rangers 7
Runs allowed in the two World Series games I've seen the Rangers play in person: 27. That's an average of 13.5 Runs Allowed Per Fittz Attended Game. Runs allowed in the 10 other games the Rangers have played in the World Series: 39. That's an average of 3.9 Runs Allowed Per Non-Fittz Attended Game. Sigh.
World Series Game 4 - October 23 - St. Louis @ Texas - Series tied 2-2:
Rangers 4, Cardinals 0
No matter what, we'll always have Derek Holland's Game 4.
World Series Game 5 - October 24 - St. Louis @ Texas - Rangers lead Series 3-2:
Rangers 4, Cardinals 2
The day Texas Rangers fans won a World Series game.
World Series Game 6 - October 27 - Texas @ St. Louis - Series tied 3-3:
Cardinals 10, Rangers 9 in 11 innings
World Series Game 7 - October 28 - Texas @ St. Louis - REDACTED:
No, the Rangers didn't actually win the World Series. And yes, it still hurts. But the Rangers did play in one of the best World Series ever. Because our team didn't win it is possible, and even probable, that we, as Rangers fans, will never truly be able to enjoy the gravitas of that fact.
But it remains true, regardless. When I think of the 1991 World Series, I think of it as a classic between the Braves and Twins, not so much that it was a World Series that Minnesota won. Likewise, when I think of the 1997 World Series, I think of it as an all-time great Series between the Marlins and Indians. I don't really think of the 1997 champion Florida Marlins.
That's not to take anything away from Minnesota, Florida, or St. Louis. They won. They will forever be the champions. But, eventually, when a World Series becomes an classic, it transcends who ultimately won. When a World Series transforms into a defining memory, it becomes an immortal battle in the minds of baseball fans forever. It's a shame they only play seven.
Perhaps someday that final score can be revealed without heartache and we can enjoy the fact that the Rangers played in a true Fall Classic. Perhaps it won't be possible until the Rangers do finally get that final strike in October. But someday, in addition to remembering the good times from a great baseball team, perhaps we'll remember the World Series for what it was: A special baseball moment in time.
For a Rangers franchise that has had so few special moments, we have now witnessed two consecutive American League Pennants and have seen the Texas Rangers lead in a excellent World Series. Even 14 months ago, that would have seemed preposterous. And yet, here we are. The 2011 Texas Rangers will mean more to us than a couple of games in a filthy National League city.
I still do think about those final games in St. Louis, probably every hour. It's not pleasant. But that's not what this is all about. Back before the postseason began, Adam wrote a post imploring us to Enjoy Every Sandwich. And that's what this exercise in remembering the 2011 Texas Rangers has been about. These Rangers didn't win 'em all. These Rangers didn't win it all. But these Rangers were the best team in the history of this franchise and it was delicious.
This was the best sandwich we've ever had and, ultimately, everything about it was enjoyable even though they got a few crumbs in the bed there at the end. We're still brushing them off but, before we know it, we'll be hungry again.