We’re now a week into life without sports and obviously we’re in need of some content and some time-killing. If you’re unaware, MLB has a cavalcade of full-length broadcasts available for free on YouTube (these were what led to a ton of fan-generated evidence of Astros cheating), including but not limited to historic playoff games.
With that in mind and having no plans for anything beyond this (for now, this is boredom-driven), I watched the entire broadcast of Game 2 of the 2011 World Series, which was, at the time, the biggest win in Texas Rangers history.
The link to the game can be found here, unfortunately MLB blocks the embedding of their videos, otherwise I’d post it on here.
It’s hard to believe we’re coming up on a decade since the Rangers were winning pennants. It feels both longer and shorter of a time than that. This season will be the 10th anniversary of the Rangers’ first visit to the World Series, and while those 2010 games are on YouTube as well, the Rangers got trucked by a dynasty of a Giants team, and the one game they won was a rather boring win. We were all just happy to be there anyway. The 2011 Series is far more suited for a deep dive.
2011 saw Texas finish with their highest regular season win total in team history, going 96-66 en route to a division championship and an AL pennant. They’d take on the St. Louis Cardinals, who finished 90-72 in the regular season. Though they finished six games worse than the Rangers, St Louis would have home field advantage in the World Series due to the wonky, now-defunct All-Star Game rule.
We didn’t hate the Cardinals at this point, that’s important to remember. In fact, I had been rooting hard for them in the ALDS, where they had dismissed what was in my mind the real enemy #1 of the NL, that being Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies.
For the Cardinals, Game 2 was their 107th World Series game in franchise history. For the Rangers, the seventh.
First, some scene setting:
The Rangers had lost a close Game 1 the night before by a score of 3-2. Chris Carpenter had continued what was a sensational postseason for him and eked out CJ Wilson in a game that included the usual Cardinals dumbs**t like a two-run Lance Berkman single or a pinch-hit go-ahead RBI from Allen Craig off the bench. There was also a controversial call in the ninth inning on what should have been a foul ball off Adrian Beltre’s foot, but it was ruled un-foul and Beltre was thrown out at first. We were already seeing Cardinals Voodoo.
Which brings me to my next thought: this scene haunts me. Obviously, there are real, worrying things happening in the world right now, but in terms of baseball fandom, this is the scene of my nightmare. The Arch in the outfield grass and the pre-game clydesdales, the ominous featurette of “often it’s an unlikely hero that wins the World Series for his team…” from Fox right before first pitch, the same thought every 30 seconds of “Oh, I forgot about Allen Craig,” “Oh, I forgot about Jon Jay,” “Oh, I forgot about Daniel freaking Descalso,” all of whom would play a part in snuffing out the Rangers over the next week and a half.
But we didn’t know that yet. At the time, the Rangers were feeling confident sending Colby Lewis to the mound to square off against Cardinals’ lefty Jaime Garcia. Colby was coming off his second solid season with Texas after returning from Japan. A little home run-happy sure, I mean it’s Colby, but he was stellar on the road all season, and he was already working with the reputation of being a big-game postseason baller. At that point in his career he’d made six postseason starts and had only allowed more than two runs once.
It was a chilly, windy night in St. Louis, as it was the night before and as it would continue to be, and the weather there ended up heavily affecting the series throughout. There was talk that the cold wasn’t helping the league’s reigning MVP, Josh Hamilton, who was fighting through what at the time was called a groin strain, but a month later we learned it was a sports hernia. Hamilton was yet to homer in the postseason.
On the other end of that spectrum were Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, both of whom were absolutely sizzling throughout the entire playoffs. Cruz had hit six home runs to that point in the postseason, one of which was that iconic walk-off grand slam against the Tigers in the ALCS. Mike Napoli meanwhile was hitting .325 in the postseason, .370 since the 4th of July, and, as the broadcast would comment later in the series, was the sure-fire World Series MVP through five games.
And man, it was great to see the old friends. There was a sense of warmth seeing Colby Lewis and his dad-bod looking stone cold and ready to rock, or seeing Josh Hamilton in his prime again and remembering how imposing that dude’s profile was when he stepped in the box, or seeing Michael Young’s cocked, don’t-F-with-me batting stance for the first time in a long time. Despite how off-the-rails this series went, these were good, good Ranger times. The best.
With all that in mind, we start the broadcast, with our own CJ Nitkowski looking just a tad uncomfortable as he opens things up from the Fox desk alongside AJ Pierzynski’s N*Sync haircut. They ran an interview with Lance Berkman, who was in peak Fat Elvis form right around then, then they played a feature on Dancin’ Ron Washington, who was being launched into full meme-dom by that point.
They then, of course, threw it to the most Cardinal-riffic broadcast team in the history of baseball in Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. They did that weird thing Buck does with Aikman, too, where he said “Tim McCarver will join me in a moment” and then the camera pans back and McCarver is sitting three inches away from him. McCarver would proceed to sound 120-years-old for the next three hours as he talked about how he used to be nicknamed Jughead and how players call hitting home runs “buggy-whipping one.”
Next, Trace Adkins gave a lovely rendition of “The Star-Spangled Badonkadonk” and we were underway.
It quickly became apparent that this would, again, be a low-scoring affair, as both starting pitchers cruised through the first three innings fairly easily, with the only spot of trouble coming from a two-out Rafael Furcal double in the third before Lewis got a routine grounder to close the inning.
Texas couldn’t do anything with Jaime Garcia, who none of the Ranger batters had ever faced before. Early on, the aforementioned sizzling Nelson Cruz smoked a linedrive about a foot foul of the pole in left, and then the aforementioned sizzling Mike Napoli cranked a would-be double right at David Freese. But those were the only threats as the Rangers went nine-up, nine-down. Garcia got into a groove too, working fast and painting corners and throwing a better and better curveball as the night went on.
The Rangers’ first baserunner came via a walk by Ian Kinsler in the top of the fourth inning, and they got a tiny two-out rally going when Michael Young Michael Young’d an outer-half single to right field and moved Kinsler to third. Adrian Beltre stepped to the plate, and though he ultimately failed to drive in a run, he did give us this:
In the bottom of the fourth, Lance Berkman somehow legged out an infield single to put a runner on, and with one out, we saw what would, incredibly, be the second-best defensive play of the night from Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler.
After a 1-2-3 Rangers inning we moved to the bottom of the fifth in a still-scoreless game, with Colby Lewis spinning what was turning into a gem. With two outs, though, things start to get a little hairy, and we start to get a little nervous, because the Rangers bats are still sound asleep. First there’s a Nick Punto squibber that finds its way into right field. Then, a walk issued to pitcher Jaime Garcia to move the go-ahead run into scoring position. A mound visit from then pitching coach Mike Maddux. A magical shoulder touch. And then when Rafael Furcal puts a 1-1 pitch in play up the middle, we get the greatest play of Elvis Andrus’ career, a play I’ve already written about at length.
An uneventful inning and a half followed, a full-on pitcher’s duel having broken out as they headed to the bottom of the seventh, still scoreless. But after a strikeout to start the inning, Colby got into more baserunner trouble, and this time he didn’t make it out. David Freese extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a liner into center, then Nick Punto hit one PADMY, and with runners on first and third Ron Washington was up the dugout steps to relieve our hero. Lewis was done with 6.2 in the books, four Ks, and four hits allowed.
Enter Alexi Ogando.
That’s 2011 All-Star Alexi Ogando, in case you’d forgotten. This was the season the Rangers were trying him out as a starter, and boy did they look smart. He’d posted an ERA in the twos for the first four months of the season en route to his first and only All-Star appearance. You also may have forgotten that he started the entire year, making only two relief appearances towards the end of the season before they sent him to the ‘pen for the postseason. And he was dominant, allowing a .114 opponent’s average in 10 and a third innings to that point in the playoffs.
And then he gave up the go-ahead hit in Game 1 of the World Series and he must have thought, “Say, that was pretty neat. I’m gonna try out more of that for, I dunno, like a week or so.”
Ogando appeared in every World Series game except Game 4, but that only amounted to two and two-thirds innings over those six games, either because he couldn’t find the strikezone for his life or because the Cards were beating him over the head. He allowed 14 baserunners in those 2.2, including the go-ahead single that finally broke the score in Game 2. Again it was pinch-hitting Allen Craig, roping the second pitch Ogando threw into right field to drive in Freese and give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. This was, officially, the first appearance of Alexi Oh-God-No.
And now it was full Rangers panic, and I very much remember doing so for the next hour. Texas hadn’t done S on offense to that point in the series, and now they had to put up two runs with literal and figurative cold bats against a killer St. Louis bullpen in order to leave with a win. And if they didn’t they’d be taking a 2-0 World Series deficit back to Arlington for the second season in a row.
The top of the eighth inning was long despite the Rangers going 1-2-3, and if I may, it was rife with over-management. Tony La Russa used three pitchers to face three batters and Ron Washington pulled the ol’ pinch-hit-for-a-pinch-hitter move resulting in David Murphy being burned for the game without getting an AB.
The St. Louis half of the eighth was a nail-biting stomach-cringing tightrope act from Rangers’ trade deadline acquisition Mike Adams. He kept the Cards’ lead at one but he allowed a smash to RF by Albert Pujols that Nelson Cruz caught with his back up against the outfield wall, then a single to Berkman and a walk to Matt Holliday before another nice play by Ian Kinsler retired the third out and ended the eighth inning.
And that set the stage for the ninth.
Texas entered the top of the ninth inning down 1-0 and with their win probability around 10-12%. In for the Cardinals was Jason Motte, who’d been very salty out of the ‘pen the entire year (and who’d tie for the NL lead in saves the next season). The Rangers would bat the top of their order, but keep in mind that included a gimpy Josh Hamilton and a struggling Michael Young. Their hottest guys were hitting six and seventh.
So with temps in the forties and the St. Louis crowd on their feet and a slightly bored-looking Nolan Ryan looking on from the third base seats, Ian Kinsler stepped into the box to lead off the inning.
St Louis was playing no-doubles defense to start, and when Kinsler blooped a 2-2 pitch off the end of his bat into left field it Bermuda Triangle’d itself into the grass directly between the streaking left fielder, center fielder, and shortstop. The tying run was on base.
Elvis Andrus stepped in, and three pitches later Kinsler got a good jump and just, juuuust barely beat a Yadier Molina throw, stealing second base. The tying run was in scoring position.
Again, that’s, just....
Ump was right on it, too.
Elvis and Motte were like Dumbledore and Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic for the rest of the at-bat, just frickin’ slinging hot, World Series, top-of-the-line shit at each other, with Elvis fighting off a couple filthy 95 mph two-strike sinkers to stay alive. Then Motte left one an inch too far over the plate, and Elvis, as he’s done so often before and so often since, got his hands inside and knuckled it into right center field for a base hit. Kinsler holds up at third base, and then future slam dunk, first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols just downright bungles the cut-off throw. The ball three-hops to the catcher, allowing Elvis to scamper into second base safely.
After all the crap, with nothing doing all night, and eight goose-eggs thus far in the game, the Rangers all of a sudden have the go-ahead run in scoring position with no outs. And they wouldn’t even need another hit.
Tony La Russa came out to get Jason Motte and brought in Arthur Rhodes, who had pitched in 32 games for the Rangers that very season. He, like Bengie Molina the year before, would’ve gotten a ring either way. Gotta be the only time that’s happened in back-to-back World Series.
With what was probably a very accurate scouting report, Josh Hamilton took the first pitch he saw from Rhodes and flared it high into right, deep enough not only to score Kinsler and tie the game, but also to move Andrus to third.
Again La Russa changed pitchers, this time fetching from the bullpen….
I’d completely forgotten, and I let out an Edna Krabappelian “HA!”
Looking slimmer and more lettucey, Lance Lynn stepped in against Michael Young, who took a 3-2 pitch to around the same spot Hamilton had, and Elvis was able to score with a nice brisk jog to give Texas a 2-1 lead. It was their first lead of the series.
The Rangers were juiced up after, too. The dugout was loud, Nolan and Ruth were on their feet, and FACE trotted off the field with a stoic scowl and a single, understated clap, because FACE.
They handed that 2-1 lead over to Neftali Feliz in the bottom of the ninth. Feliz had won the Rookie of the Year in 2010 and he posted a pretty similar season in 2011. That is to say: a dominant, flame-throwing, bonafide closer. Feliz had been absolute nails in the postseason as well, with four saves and an ERA of 1.20 to that point, and even that doesn’t really tell the whole story of how good he was. He finished off every single Rangers win in the 2011 postseason, whether there was a save to be had or not.
Here’s a gutkick for ya: early in the ALCS against the Tigers, Feliz allowed a bunt single to Ramon Santiago to lead off the ninth inning. He would then face 26 consecutive batters over his next eight appearances without allowing a hit. The next one was a double by Albert Pujols in the ninth inning of Game 6.
Neftali had it… until he didn’t. Look upon his works. Despair.
But it was fun to revisit peak, ruthless, sitting-at-99 Neftali in Game 2. He allowed a leadoff walk to Yadier Molina (who was pinch run for by Gerald Laird?) before strapping down the heater, and when he did the Cardinals didn’t have a chance. He struck out Punto with a 99 mph fastball, struck out Skip Schumaker with a 98 mph fastball, then got a (this time) harmless fly to Nelson Cruz in right for the third out.
Ballgame. Series tied, 1-1. We were 18 innings into the World Series, the Rangers had been outplayed for 17 of them, but somehow we were going back to Arlington with this thing knotted up.
It was, at the time, the most significant win in franchise history, and a statement from the 2011 Texas Rangers, declaring to the Cardinals and to Rangers fans and to the baseball world (and maybe to themselves a little bit) that no, this was not going to be like 2010 against the Giants. This one would, at least, be competitive, and it did indeed become that.
And what a game of inches Game 2 was. Al Pacino was right, they’re everywhere around us. There was the Elvis glove flip that beat Jaime Garcia to the bag by a split second, Kinsler’s just-barely stolen base, Nelson Cruz catching a fly with his back flush against the outfield wall, Albert Pujols nicking Jon Jay’s cutoff throw off-line enough to allow Elvis to get to second. Hell, Beltre could’ve been a couple inches away from ending Ian Kinsler’s season with that sharp foul ball early on.
Speaking of which, sweet holy Lord, Kindrus was awesome. In general, over the five full seasons they spent as co-workers, but especially in 2011’s Game 2. Glove, bat, and legs, both were incredible with all three. Those two defensive plays up the middle were just drool-worthy, and in a game that was 1-0 going into the ninth inning, it can’t be understated the impact those plays had on the game and on the series. Peak. Kindrus.
At the time, the sports nerd and Dallasite in me couldn’t help but think of the Mavericks, who, four months prior, had lost Game 1 of the Finals, pulled off a miraculous on-the-road comeback in Game 2, and went on to win the series. Then the Rangers would lose Game 3 and win Games 4 and 5 to have me full-on positive that the two teams were existentially linked.
Thus, my most frequent thought as I watched this…. What the hell happened?
It did then, and it still does even now, seem like the Rangers were destined to win the 2011 World Series. The lineup, the bullpen, the huuuuuge highs they hit after this and two other thrilling World Series wins. Even simply, in a universal sense, how they just missed the playoffs in 2009, then announced themselves a bit prematurely in 2010, and were back to finish the job in 2011. No less than a dozen times over these nine innings did I find myself wondering, or bemoaning: how did this thing go so terribly wrong?
Thanks for reading, I hope yall enjoyed. Depending on how things things play out over the next couple of weeks I may do another one or two or nine of these. If you have any suggestions for games, Rangers or otherwise, feel free to comment below or shoot ‘em at me on twitter. Preferably ones where the Rangers win.
I believe both the NFL and the NBA have opened access to their league passes as well, for corona-related reasons, so if you’re looking to kill some time over the next couple weeks, there are literally thousands of classic games you can hit up. For the MLB games on YouTube there’s a little bit of a drop in video quality, but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed watching this game again.
Yall stay safe, and stay inside.