Warning/disclaimer: this is pretty sappy/corny, but I’ve had several people ask me, in the last several days, what last night at the Ballpark in Arlington was like. I haven’t really had an answer other than, “awesome, unbelievable.” After letting the thought that the Rangers are really going to the World Series sink in, I think I know why last night was so unbelievable.
For my almost 21 years on this earth, the Rangers have been something of a joke. No matter what happened, how great the proverbial June winning streak was, I and all Ranger fans waited for the inevitable post-All Star break collapse. It didn’t matter that they would hit 200-plus home runs a year, because the pitching staff would give up that many too.
Names like Juan Gonzalez, Pudge, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Sammy Sosa, Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira came and went with a lot of stats and fireworks and few meaningful wins. Yes, three division titles should count for something. But when those three teams combine for one postseason victory, they aren’t quite as sweet.
Once again, after a long June winning streak this year, the Rangers went into the All-Star break limping after a four-game sweep at the hands of the mighty Baltimore Orioles. And the, “here we go again” head rolls began across Texas and the Metroplex.
I thought they were teetering on the brink again also. But then we went to Fenway.
For my summer vacation, my mom took me to see the Rangers take three out of four from the Sox. Maybe the ultimate sign this season would be different came in the second game of the series when Benji Molina, the slowest man in baseball, legged out a triple on a rain-soaked Fenway field to complete the most unlikely cycle in baseball history.
I had a feeling after seeing them play in Boston there might not be a collapse this year. Still, I can’t begin to say I expected a run like this.
I went online like everyone else to buy my tickets for the ALDS. And sat in stunned disbelief as they threw away two winnable games, in games three and four of the series. Then I watched on pins and needles as Cliff Lee saved everyone in game 5. I again had tickets for games one and two of the ALCS, and again watched in disbelief as the Ranger bullpen did their best imitation of the Titanic. But, as they’ve done all year, they battled back in game two to make a series of it.
Two butt-kickings in New York made me think this might actually happen. After game three, five friends and I bought tickets for game six of the ALCS.
All day Friday, I tried to keep my expectations low, probably because of how many times the Rangers had let me down in the last 20 seasons. After all, this was the mighty Yankees. But after Vladdy’s double and Nelly’s HR in the fifth, it started to occur to me the collapse wasn’t coming. For the next four innings, a lot of memories flooded my memory bank from games I’d seen at that Ballpark:
1- My dad took me to see the first game ever played at the ballpark in 1994. True to form, they lost.
2- My mom surprising me with two tickets to see my favorite player in the 2nd grade, Ken Griffey Jr, hit two triples and rob a HR in his MVP season of 1997, as the Mariners contributed to that September’s collapse.
3- Catching a HR off the bat of Michael Young my freshman year of high school in the left field bleachers. Again though, the Rangers lost.
4- Walkoff HR’s- Josh Hamilton’s HR in 2008 to beat the Angels. Marlon Byrd walkoff grand slam to beat the Yankees in 2008. Rod Barajas walkoff to beat the Yankees in 2004.
5- Family friend Mel Hailey and my then youth minister Buddy Mills taking me to opening day in 2006. The first opening day after my parents divorced.
6- Going to every game on mother’s day the past 4 years with my mom and sister, in probably our favorite family tradition.
Those are just a few examples, but I couldn’t help but think of the dozens of other not-so-memorable games I had attended and the hundreds of others I’d watched on TV.
So, for the last 12 outs last night, I couldn’t believe how far the Rangers had come. Watching 50,000-plus fans going nuts on the verge of a World Series birth was a far cry from the funeral processions of past seasons.
Still, there are 108 more outs to get before the Rangers are World Champs.
How unbelievable is that?