I'm afraid that in just a little over a month, this will be similar to a blog title in which I talk about a John Kerry loss in the election, but in this case it is about the Rangers.
The Texas Rangers' post-season hopes came to an end tonight. And they did it fighting to the end. After two losses to Anaheim, they had put themselves in a position that one loss in any of the final 5 games would mathematically eliminate them. Trailing in the 8th inning, Buck Showalter was able to maneuver them into a lead. The relentless Angles tied them, and the Rangers battled in extra innings until the 11th, where Coco Cordero gave up a 2 run shot to perennial Ranger-killer, Troy Glaus. In the bottom of the 9th they were able to make up one run, but the deficit was too great.
They fought, just like they've done all season. I've been a Ranger fan my whole life. I've lived through the Buddy Bell, Steve Buchelle, Odebie McDowell days. I cheered the Three Amigos as Juan Gonzales, Julio Franco and Ruben Sierra hit 40 homers each in a losing season. A ballpark was built to help these lefties, and eventually Rafael Palmerio joined the frey. I was at the ballpark in '96 when the Rangers clinched their first post-season appearance against the Seattle Mariners: a game which was delayed for 45 minutes by a torrent of rain and a power outage. Not a fan left that day. I bolted out of my chair when Juando hit 2 homeruns against the Yankees in the first game of that first post-season series and John Burkett became the only Ranger pitcher to record a post-season win.
I've been a fan through all of that, and I have to say: This has been the most fun I've ever had watching a Rangers' team play.
There are so many things that stand out this season. Michael Young became one of the premier defensive shortstops in the game this season, and he added offensive numbers to boot. He anchored an infield that became the first Rangers' infield where all four players hit 20 homeruns, and he became a clubhouse leader and unofficial captain in the process.
Speaking of homeruns, Mark Texieria established himself this season. The clock is running out and he may not get to 40 home runs like it looked like was inevitable, but for a player in his first full major league season, well, the sky is the limit.
On the post game show tonight as I was driving home from work, I heard a good point. The Rangers had two rookie catchers platooning for them this season: Gerald Laird and Rod Barajas, and they don't get enough credit. Laird became the AL rookie of the month in May, and Rod Barajas was one of the people that would really slingshot this team in June with huge game winning home runs. Most importantly, they caught 30 different pitchers and 13 starters, many of home had never been caught on the major league level before this season, and they did so with aplomb, making it look almost too easy.
Kevin Mench established himself as an everyday player that you just can't take out of the lineup this season. Before this season he was just the lovable clown that you liked a lot but were never really sure if he'd make it. He made it this year, and now is a huge part of this team.
Laynce Nix. Pure power, defensive gold in centerfield, and scary as hell when he takes his helmet off. I'd say he's rapidly becoming one of my favorite players if it weren't for this next guy.
Hank Blalock. The world became aware of him in the All-Star game last season. He is the hardest worker on this team, and will be right up there in power categories for many many years.
And pitching. The problem year after year with this team has always been pitching. The bullpen flat out held this team together this year. Francisco Cordero may hit 50 saves. Unbelievable. Brian Shouse, Ron Mahay, Carlos Almanzar, and, yes, even Frankie Francisco became indispensable parts of this team.
Kenny Rogers and Ryan Drese were the story as far as starters go this year. Ryan Drese really got it together, and he showed that a pitcher can win at this ballpark without having overpowering stuff. Kenny Rogers proved that he is still a worthwhile part of this league.
There are many other stories that I'm sure I've missed. The great thing is this team is so young. They will only get better. Next year will be great, but this year has been more than I could have ever hoped for.