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 For Texas, the Moment Slipped Away, Twice

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Join date : 2011-10-23

PostSubject: For Texas, the Moment Slipped Away, Twice   Sun Oct 30, 2011 5:01 pm

There has never been an easy narrative about the Texas Rangers. For most of the last half-century, the franchise has played its games and anonymously slipped off the stage, never coming close enough to glory to be romanticized.

When Neftali Feliz took the mound at Busch Stadium on Thursday night, with a two-run lead in Game 6 of the World Series, that was destined to change. Either the Rangers would win their first championship and establish an identity as winners, or they would join the ranks of the tortured, with a failure that could haunt for decades.

They did not win, and yet they did not merely lose. The Rangers invented a new form of agony. They blew five leads in Game 6, a World Series record. In two innings, Texas came one strike away from a title and lost the lead. It happened in the ninth inning and again in the 10th.

The St. Louis Cardinals took the crown Friday with a 6-2 victory in Game 7. But they truly wrenched the crown from the Rangers’ grip the night before, with a 10-9 thriller in 11 innings that will sear the memory of everyone who cares about the team.

No one on the Rangers’ roster has played for a World Series winner. They were close enough Thursday night in Game 6 to imagine the moment, twice. And both times the moment disappeared.

“There were a few times last night where we were close, and I peeked into our dugout,” the Rangers’ David Murphy said after hitting a fly to left fielder Allen Craig for the final out in Game 7. “Guys were getting on the front rail, getting excited. I took a step back for a second here and there, when I thought that the next pitch was going be the final out, tried to take it all in a few times. You could almost visualize the trophy.

“But it didn’t happen. That’s the bottom line. That’s why you have to execute till the very last out is made.”

Murphy was part of the Rangers team that lost in five games to the San Francisco Giants in last year’s World Series. After dropping the first two games to the Giants, the Rangers won once at home and then lost the last two, never holding a lead. They hit .190 as a team, and allowed almost six runs a game.

This World Series was so competitive, Murphy said, that he did not expect losing to hurt as much. But it does, he said, and it was hard to find a teammate who disagreed.

“It’s going to motivate guys, it really is,” said Josh Hamilton, who homered in the 10th inning of Game 6 to briefly give the Rangers another lead. “We got closer this year, had a better series, a better run at it than we had last year. We came up a little short again, but you know what? We made some progress. Take a little time, but don’t forget about how this felt.”

Even so, Hamilton said, it was easy to recognize how exciting this World Series was. It was probably one of the five best of the last 25 years. Besides a suspenseful seventh game, it lacked nothing.

There were two one-run games at the start, and three homers from Albert Pujols in Game 3. There was shutdown pitching by the Rangers’ Derek Holland in Game 4, and a series worth of bullpen and base-running gaffes to dissect from Game 5. Then came Game 6.

Feliz came in to protect a 7-5 lead. He had converted 17 consecutive save chances, and had not blown a two-run lead since June 22. With one out, Feliz faced Pujols. Apart from his historic Game 3, Pujols was 1 for 19 in this World Series. But this was his one hit, a double to left-center with his team two outs from elimination. Then Feliz walked Lance Berkman, and struck out Craig on a nifty backup slider.

Facing David Freese with a 1-2 count, Feliz fired a 98-mile-an-hour fastball on the outside corner. After Game 7 — his first time addressing reporters since blowing Game 6 — Feliz said he had made a good pitch.

“That’s a pitch I use a lot, very often, when I’m trying to close the games,” he said through an interpreter. “I put it where I want it, and he made good contact.”

Freese lashed the ball to deep right field. Nelson Cruz chased for it — tentatively, it seemed — before the ball cleared his head for a two-run, game-tying triple. Cruz said after Game 6 that he wished he had been positioned closer to the wall, and his teammate Michael Young rued the play, sarcastically, after Game 7.

“This is already a championship-caliber team,” Young said. “What are you going to do to make it better? Make Nelly two feet taller to catch that ball?”

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