It was fun to be at a conference in north Texas last Friday and Saturday, when the Texas Rangers were involved in the last two games of the 2011 World Series. That they were in the Series at all was a bit surprising; six or seven weeks ago most people thought that the Red Sox and Phillies would be playing in the Fall Classic. But the Sox collapsed in September on an epic scale, and the Phillies discovered in the league playoffs that even a brilliant pitching staff can’t win with an inconsistent offense.
For the Rangers it was the second series in a row, and this time it looked like they’d win it. The Cardinals seemed to be something of post-season impostors, with a ragged starting rotation and unorthodox use of their bullpen. But in Tony LaRussa they had a world-class manager. Texas had a potent offense and a pitching staff heralded by Washington Post baseball guru Tom Boswell as being unexpectedly brilliant, if slightly nervous.
My conference was the Community College Humanities Association semi-annual national conference, held in Fort Worth. For those not familiar with the former Republic of Texas (Texans are still proud of their penchant for independence, as well as most other aspects of themselves), Fort Worth and Dallas form a kind of urban megaplex “where the West begins,” having sprawled over the prairie and into one another over the last 40 or 50 years. Arlington, where the Rangers play, is between and just south of the two bigger places. The whole region had been passionately involved in the Rangers’ fortunes this year, though any such passion pales in comparison to that felt for the Dallas Cowboys and a few assorted college football teams.
On Thursday, when the conference opened, we’d arisen at 5:30 to make our flight, driven to the airport, endured the Airport Experience, flown in tourist class for 2½ hours, hopped a shuttle to the Hilton, registered for our room and the conference, spent a pre-conference afternoon touring two fine art museums, and attended an opening reception. We’d also lost an hour by crossing into the Central time zone, so when mid-evening arrived we were tired. By the time game six of the Series was halfway through, I had become very sleepy. As the middle of the seventh inning rolled around the Rangers were up 7-4, and the Cardinals’ line score read 4 runs, three hits, three errors. Neither team had distinguished itself; the game lacked the display of skill and command that might be expected of league champions. With a sappy, hyper-patriotic rendition of “God Bless America” replacing the simple virtues of the seventh-inning stretch, I decided I’d seen enough and went to sleep.
That proves what sort of prophet I am. Lo and behold, in the morning I discovered that the Rangers were not World Champions just yet. I checked around on the media and by word of mouth, and quite a story emerged. Shortly after I went to sleep, as Boswell, later wrote, the game really began. David Freese, Redbirds’ third sacker, more than made up for his comical dropped popup error by getting two season-saving hits, a game-tying two-out, two-strike, two-run triple in the 9th (a hit a slicker right fielder might have caught, or at least gotten a glove on) and a no-doubt clout of a game winning homer to deep center field in the 11th. Between his two marvelous at bats each team had scored two runs in the 10th, the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton belting a two-run homer, and the Cards tying it on a ground-out RBI and a two-strike, two-out single by Lance Berkman.
As I absorbed this news an eerie feeling crept over me. Wait a second here. The AL visitors, up 3-2 in games, take the lead in the seventh, but the home team ties it late and it goes to extra innings. Then the AL team scores two in the tenth, not one, but two, a safe margin for any team with a decent closer. They have the NL squad down to its last strike multiple times, but they can’t hold the lead, and the delirious crowd roars as the home team ties the Series. I have heard this story before. I have lived this nightmare. It’s 1986, the AL visitors are the Red Sox, the NL home team is the Mets. It is the worst night of my sports-fan life. I am shattered at the end, having waited for many of the 68 years (at that point) since the Sox previously won the Series. My kids say I was angry. I remember more feeling empty, hopeless, helpless, having seen victory so close, and watching it ebb away. I remember thinking that the Sox had been given their chance and they bobbled it. Yes, the Series was simply tied. All was not lost. But the profound inevitability was that they would not, could not, win the seventh game. And they did not. They led 3-0, but the final score was 5-8.
And so it was with the Rangers. In the seventh game they had two runs across before the second out of the game was recorded. But they did not score again. In fact, they allowed the Cards to break open a one-run game in the fifth with two runs on no hits, walking three and plunking two, including one HBP RBI. Such ignominy. But the outcome proves again that when you’re within one strike of the World Series title, you’d better get that last one right then. Texas Rangers fans were pretty quiet on Saturday morning at the conference. To their credit, unlike the good citizens of Vancouver, BC, they did not try to burn down their own city in frustration. I hope they will not have to wait until 2058 for a World Series victory.
The good news for us all–Cards fans, Rangers fans, and those of us with no dog in that hunt–is that pitchers and catchers report about February 20th.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.