As the Texas Rangers on Friday night at the Coliseum became the first American League team this season to clinch a postseason berth, the last man to manage them to the World Series watched the final out from the third-base coaching box wearing a green A’s jersey.
Under Ron Washington, the Rangers reached the World Series in 2010 and 2011 and lost both times, the latter in agonizing fashion. Twice one strike away from the championship in Game 6, Texas watched the St. Louis Cardinals pull off an improbable comeback and go on to win Game 7. The memory, Washington said, is one that “you never lose.”
Texas subsequently had two early-round playoff exits and, in 2014, a last-place finish; it was the season Washington resigned as manager. But in this year’s Rangers, with an imposing lineup and glut of veterans, Washington said he sees a team built to give Texas its best chance yet at exorcising what demons remain from 2011.
“I think they’re better stocked,” Washington said before Friday’s game. “They’ve got a tremendous bullpen, guys that can come in and get an out without the ball being put in play – you like that. They’ve got a lot more experience with (Adrian) Beltre and Elvis (Andrus) and (Carlos) Beltran.
“And then they’ve got the youth that don’t seem to have a pulse – they just go out there and play, and play very well. They’ve got speed. They’ve got all the elements it takes to do it. But they’ve got to do it,” he said.
Somewhat quietly – among a run-scoring juggernaut in Boston, a tight wild-card race and the tentative hope that this is Cleveland’s sporting year – it is the Rangers going down the stretch as the A.L.’s best team.
Their credentials include the third-highest-scoring offense in the league (behind Boston and Cleveland), and the majors’ best record entering Friday in one-run games (36-11) and against above-.500 teams (62-32) – two areas that project well into the postseason, when the atmosphere is taut and the competition high.
Coming off a loss to Toronto in last year’s division series – they led Game 5 by a run in the seventh inning before Jose Bautista’s memorable home run and bat flip – Texas took the league’s best record into the All-Star break and bolstered its roster by adding veterans Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy at the trade deadline.
“They’re one of the top teams in baseball,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I’m sure their aspirations are to go as far as they possibly can, and rightly so.”
Only a handful of players from the Rangers’ back-to-back World Series teams are still around. One of them, pitcher Derek Holland, said those who remain form a core that, under manager Jeff Banister, has helped foster a tight-knit feeling in the clubhouse over the past two seasons.
“There’s a lot of confidence on this team,” Holland said. “Just the way we interact with each other and feed off each other’s vibes and stuff is huge. We feel like we do have a strong team, and compared to the other teams that I was with, this is probably the better team among those three.
“But we’ve still got to do so something. Just because we may look good on paper doesn’t mean anything. We’ve still got to go out there and get our job done.”
Holland said that for him, the memory of 2011 is “there.”
“You’re never going to get rid of memories like that,” he said, noting that there’s one way to lessen the sting of recollection.
“We definitely need to win the World Series,” Holland said. “That’s what we want to do; that’s the goal. We want to do it not only for ourselves but for our fans. They’ve been there for us, and they’ve been through it all, the good and the bad. They’ve stuck through it, and I feel like we just need to deliver.”
The Rangers held two-run leads in the ninth and 10th innings of Game 6 in the 2011 World Series but lost to the Cardinals in one of the most gripping Series games in recent memory.
“I think about it all the time,” Washington said, “and I tear up. Because I was that close to bringing a World Series to that community, to the organization, to the players that did what they needed to do from the time we hit spring training in February until we were playing in the last game of the World Series. You feel for all of them.”
Washington said he does not think a team that comes so close and falls short must return to that stage to truly move on. He said “every year is different” and pointed out that the Rangers returned to the postseason in 2012, albeit losing in the wild-card game.
Texas took its first step toward a deeper run via a 3-0 win Friday night, securing a playoff spot when Oakland’s Yonder Alonso hit into a game-ending fielder’s choice. As players sprayed champagne inside a plastic-tarped clubhouse, general manager Jon Daniels, shirt saturated, ducked out for an interview and was asked about near misses.
“Twenty-eleven was tough at the time,” Daniels said. “But this is a different group – a different group of players, different staff. Same desire, though. Same desire. And we’ve got an opportunity ahead of us. We’re going to do our best to make the most out of it.”