The past weeks featured a flurry of World Series games, lead changes, hope and heartbreak. And really all of that entire week can be summed up in one pivotal game on Thursday night. Actually, the whole Rangers’ season can be.
It started off pretty well. Even though the (seemingly) 50-year-old Lance Berkman homered to put the Cardinals up early, the Rangers bounced back. After trading runs during the course of the middle innings, the Rangers broke the game open in the seventh, led by Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler and a little small-ball. At University of Dallas’ TGIT, the band tried desperately to divert fans’ attention away from TV. They ended up giving a musical accompaniment to chants of “Let’s Go Rangers!” The school, the city and most of the state held a collective breath. And in the bottom of the eighth, after a one-out solo home run, the Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs. But Mike Adams induced a harmless groundout, and the UD crowds got more excited. The Rangers needed just three outs from one of the game’s best closers, Neftali Feliz.
Flash back to early April. The Rangers were a promising team; talented, but unproven without their departed ace Cliff Lee. They had some minor bumps along the way, but after trading for some bullpen help around the All-Star break, they forged a big lead in the American League West. Things looked good. Then the Angels got hot, the gap closed, and only a run during the final weeks of the season salvaged the Rangers’ lead. They knocked off the Tampa Rays in five games, beat the Tigers in six games, and there they were in game six of the World Series.
The top of the ninth went quickly, but no one really cared. One more inning, and Texas was going to pop the champagne on a magical season. In the bottom of the ninth, Pujols doubled and Berkman walked, but Feliz recorded two outs. He even worked two strikes on David Freese. Then Freese hit a fly-ball to deep right field – so close to a home run, so close to an out. Instead, it landed for a triple, and the Cardinals had tied the game in the ninth. A Josh Hamilton two-run homer in the next inning, and the Rangers had redeemed themselves. There was no way it was going to happen twice. And then it did. With two strikes, two outs, the Cardinals again broke the hearts of the Rangers’ faithful. It was no surprise when Freese homered to push the Rangers to game seven. The season had already ended, two blown chances from winning the first title in Rangers’ history.
For next year – just like there was for game seven – the Rangers still have hope. And the Rangers will not go through the 2012 season like they went through game seven – listless and heartbroken after consecutive chances to win a championship. But for the end of October and into the winter meetings, the Rangers will be stuck with that memory of blown opportunities in game six. There’s not really a reason for them to look at the rest of the season – it’s all right there: the talent, the promise, the hope, the heartbreak … and the motivation to try a third time.