Have you ever sports cried? I don’t mean a tiny lip quiver or watery eyes, I mean legitimate tears. I have, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
The Cleveland Indians blew a 3-1 lead to the Chicago Cubs; the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers; the Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 in the Super Bowl against the Patriots. With the recent trend of teams turning championship immortality into historic choking immortality, what better time than now to revisit the 2011 World Series? The time I sports cried.
Above all else, I am a Texas Rangers fan. I live-and-die (usually die) by Dallas Cowboys football in the fall. Dirk Nowitzki has made Dallas Mavericks basketball a must watch for me growing up. My apartment had a Dallas Stars Stanley Cup banner hanging in the living room. Yet, none of them compare to the Texas Rangers.
I remember the old days, the dark days. Thirty-something Kevin Millwood and his 5+ ERA was our best pitcher. Laynce Nix, Hank Blalock, and Mark Teixeira were the future of the franchise. The time we traded for Carlos Lee in 2006 was the first time in my life I thought we had a chance. We would finish two-games under .500 and lose the division by 13 games.
For most of my life the Rangers were lovable losers. We may have been awful, but we were at least fun to watch. From 2001-2005 the Rangers led the league in home runs four times and finished fourth in 2004, the only year they didn’t lead the league. Over that same stretch they were in the top five in runs given up every year besides 2004 and had a combined record of 384-426. They would also fail to make the playoffs over that stretch.
In fact, the Rangers failed to make the playoffs from 2000-2009. Ten seasons without a playoff appearance, 14-seasons without winning a single playoff game. Watching Michael Young consistently put up over 200 hits every season and comparing Kevin Mench to Shrek was the only thing Rangers fans had to hang onto.
The future of the franchise would forever change on July 31, 2007. The day the legend of Jon Daniels was born. All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira was sent to the Atlanta Braves for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
The trade was as much of a blockbuster as a trade could be. Teixeira was a legitimate star and made the Braves an instant World Series contender. In return the Rangers received four of the Braves best prospects. Once one of the best players on the team, Teixeira would help the Rangers more than he ever did while playing.
Elvis Andrus would debut in 2009, finishing 2nd in American League Rookie of the Year voting. Neftali Feliz debuted in 2009 but his first full season would come in 2010 when he won Rookie of the Year and set the rookie save record at the time. Left-handed Matt Harrison debuted in 2008. Taking awhile to become acclimated to pitching in the Majors, Harrison would make the All-Star team in 2011 and finish 8th in CY Young voting.
In 2009 the fruits of the Rangers rebuilding labor began to come to fruition. With one of the youngest teams in the league, the Rangers finished 12 games over .500. This marked the first time since 2004 that the Rangers would finish a season with a winning record.
This is what made 2011 so devastating. We watched a team grow up in front of our eyes. No longer were the Rangers trying to out-score teams by hitting five home runs a game. The Rangers built a team capable of covering every aspect of the game and they were good at it.
In 2010, they arrived. The Rangers won the American League West for the first time since 1999, the fourth-time in franchise history.
The World Series run in 2010 was magical. A masterful performance by Cliff Lee in game five of the ALDS helped fuel the first postseason series win in franchise history.
It was only fitting that the Rangers would take on the New York Yankees and Mark Teixeira in their first ALCS. It felt like a changing of the guard. The Yankees, coming off winning their 27th World Series against the young and dominate Texas Rangers.
After a game-six thrashing which fittingly ended in an Alex Rodriguez strikeout, the Rangers advanced to their first World Series. At the time, it felt like the first of many.
The San Fransisco Giants would win the series 4-1. A gentleman’s sweep if there ever was one. Fans were just happy to be there. It seemed as though the players felt the same. While it was heartbreaking to see the magical run end in defeat, it felt like the beginning of something much more, not the end.
While the team and the fans were just happy to make it to the World Series the year before, 2011 was different. We didn’t just want to win, we expected to win.
The Rangers performed as expected. They won the AL West for the second consecutive season and finished with the best record in franchise history. While it was great to see the team in postseason again, all would have felt lost without a ring.
The Rangers beat the Rays in three consecutive games after an embarrassing 9-0 loss in game-one of the ALDS to win the series 3-1 and advance to a second straight ALCS. The Rangers would beat the Detroit Tigers in six games led by a historic performance from Nelson Cruz. After going 49 years without a World Series appearance, the Rangers were headed to their second in as many years.
This set up a World Series match up against the St. Louis Cardinals, the hottest team in baseball. On August 24th, the Cardinals were 67-63 and trailed the Atlanta Braves in the NL Wildcard race by 10.5 games. The Cardinals went 23-9 the rest of the season and beat out the Braves for the Wildcard spot by one game.
The Rangers were considered by many to be the favorites in this series. While the Cardinals were one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Rangers had the hottest hitter in Nelson Cruz and the hottest bullpen.
October 19, 2011. Game one of the 2011 World Series. C.J. Wilson would pitch for the Rangers. Even though C.J. pitched well enough to make the 2011 All-Star team and finish 6th in CU Young voting, he struggled mightily in the postseason. The Cardinals sent out 36-year-old veteran Chris Carpenter who was rumored to be bothered by elbow pain in the postseason. The Rangers struggled to get runners on base and would drop game-one 3-2.
Game two quickly became a must win. The Rangers fell behind the Giants 2-0 in the 2010 World Series and were never able to recover. Teams that win the first two games won the series 84 percent of the time. The Rangers once again struggled to get men on base, being held scoreless through the first eight-innings. Thankfully for Texas, Colby Lewis pitched a masterful 6.2 innings and the Rangers held the Cardinals to just one run. Entering the top-of-the-ninth down 1-0, the Rangers manged to push two runs across the board. Neftali Feliz would slam the door shut in the bottom-half of the inning tying the series at a game a piece.
The Rangers would head to Arlington for game-three, where they won their only game of the 2010 series. With All-Star Matt Harrison on the mound the Cardinals and specifically Albert Pujols had a field day. Going 5-6 with three home runs and six RBI, Pujols helped lead the Cardinals to a 16-7 victory and took control of the series 2-1.
Teams who led the World Series 3-1 were 38-4 historically. Derek Holland would take the mound in game four and while he struggled to show consistency, he had the ability to dominate. Holland led the league in complete game shutouts in 2011 with four. Holland showed that potential in game four pitching a scoreless 8.1 innings of two-hit ball. The Rangers would win the game 4-0 and tie the series 2-2.
With the series ready to shift back to St. Louis for game-six, game-five felt like game-seven for the Rangers. The game did not disappoint. Tied at 2-2 in the bottom-of-the-eighth, Mike Napoli hit a two-run go-ahead double off Marc Rzepczynski in what became known as ‘Bullpen-gate’. Tony La Russa planned to use the left-handed Rzepcynski to face David Murphy. With right-handed Mike Napoli due up next, La Russa would go with right-handed Jason Motte to face Napoli. However, due to a miscommunication, rookie Lance Lynn warmed up instead of Motte. La Russa would keep Rzepcynski in the game to face Napoli and the rest is history. The Rangers won the game 4-2 taking a 3-2 lead in the series. The Rangers were one win away from being World Series champions.
A 51-year World Series drought. A ten-year playoff drought. Year after year of rebuilding. A loss in the World Series a year prior. None of it would matter if the Rangers could do what they did 96 times during the season, win.
When did the 2016 Justice League of chokers realize they lost it? The world knew the Warriors were in trouble when they let LeBron force a game-seven. The Indians were in trouble after failing to capitalize in game-five with Jake Arrieta pitching game-six and ERA champion Kyle Hendricks going in game-seven. Everyone and their mothers knew the Patriots completed the greatest comeback of all time after they won the coin toss in overtime. What about when the Rangers were two strikes away? Twice.
October 27, 2011. Game-six of the 2011 World Series. The Rangers led the series 3-2 with a chance to win the first World Series in franchise history. The night I sports cried. Let’s set the scene first.
I was 16 years old at the time. I was born only 24-hours after the 1995 MLB All-Star Game was hosted at the Ballpark in Arlington, I was born to be a Rangers fan. Most of my baby pictures feature me in a Rangers jersey and a Rangers ball-cap. One of my first memories was walking with my dad into the ballpark. After all of those years, all of those awful seasons, yet the Rangers were one-win away from being champions.
It was a chilly and rainy day in the metroplex. Perfect for what was to come. Physically, I was at school from eight-to-four. Mentally, I was elsewhere. How could I have focused on anything school related when my favorite team was 27-outs away from being World Champions?
Time never seemed to move so slow. I was the most nervous I had ever been. I was 600-miles away from Busch Stadium yet I felt as if I were playing in the game. I’ve never considered myself superstitious but something was different in 2011. I wore the same shirt to school every game day during the postseason. It didn’t matter if it was dirty or smelled like death. All that mattered was the Rangers winning.
Perhaps I should have seen the writing on the wall once I got home from school. The neighborhood’s power had gone out. Whether it was the weather or negative energy that caused the outage will never be known. Luckily, the power was back on about an hour before first pitch and I was ready to see my team finally win a World Series.
First pitch of the biggest game in Texas Rangers history was a strike from Jamie Garcia to lead-off hitter Ian Kinsler.
Kinsler would walk to start the game and would later score on a Josh Hamilton single to give the Rangers the early lead. After a masterful game-two, Colby Lewis was tasked with winning the Rangers the World Series. Lance Berkman would hit a two-run home run in the bottom half of the first-inning which set off the back-and-forth affair.
Ian Kinsler would tie the game in the top-of-the-second with a ground-rule double that scored Craig Gentry. The Rangers would shortly grab the lead in the top-of-the-fourth with an RBI single from Mike Napoli which the Cardinals answered with a run in the bottom-half-of-the-inning.
A Michael Young double in the fifth gave the Rangers another one-run lead. Alexi Ogando walked in a run in the bottom-of-the-sixth to tie the game at 4-4. The seventh-inning was when things began to get very interesting. Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz went back-to-back to start the seventh-inning. Ian Kinsler would drive in another run later in the inning giving the Rangers a 7-4 lead. They were nine-outs away from winning the World Series.
Allen Craig’s solo home run in the bottom-of-the-eighth cut the Rangers lead to two runs heading into the ninth. After a scoreless top-half, All-Star closer Neftali Feliz took the mound in the bottom-half of the ninth to win the World Series.
Taking his 84.2 save percentage to the mound, the Rangers were nine-Neftali Feliz fastballs away from being champions.
Feliz struck out Ryan Theriot to start the inning. It was beginning to set in for me. The Rangers were actually about to do this. After an Albert Pujols double and a Lance Berkman walk it was beginning to set in that I was an idiot for thinking it was over.
Perhaps it was my fault. After Allen Craig struck out for the second-out I had the Tweet typed out and ready to send. “OH MY GOD THE RANGERS HAVE ACTUALLY WON THE WORLD SERIES!” Was the Tweet. I remember it to this day.
Feliz got ahead of David Freese 1-2. We were one-strike away from winning the World Series. When Freese took an outside fastball the other way, I first thought it was a routine fly out to right field. Watching Nelson Cruz take one of the worst routes to a baseball I have ever seen still haunts me in my nightmares.
It wasn’t a game ending fly out, it was a game tying triple. I have never erased something as quick as I erased my typed out Tweet. In a fit a rage I grabbed a pillow off my couch and flung it across the room. My original Tweet was replaced by something that would get me fired if repeated.
Feliz got Yadier Molina to line-out to end the ninth with the game tied. It didn’t matter to me anymore, I was sure we were going to lose.
It was dead silent in my house. My dad tried reassuring me that we still had a chance to win. I wasn’t buying it. Call it being pessimisict. Call it being foreboding. I call it being realistic. How could a team that just rallied back from sure World Series defeat lose this game? I had given up. That was, until Josh Hamilton came up to bat in the top-of-the-tenth inning with Elvis Andrus on first base.
I’m not much of a religious man. But, when Josh Hamilton hit a go-ahead two-run home run in the tenth inning I was sure God was real. And he wanted the Texas Rangers to win.
My house turned into a mad house. Me and my dad jumped around the living room nearly creating our own two-man dogpile. At the time, it might as well have been a walkoff.
“There’s no way we do it twice!” I thought. “There’s no way be blow another two-run lead!” Silly, young and naive me. Darren Oliver trotted out in the top-of-the-tenth to try to close it out.
In a vacuum, Oliver should have been batting practice for Major League hitters. His fastball sat in the mid-to-high 80’s and his off speed was average at best. Yet, at 40-years old, he was enjoying one of the best seasons of his career.
In a vacuum he should have been batting practice. In game-six of the World Series he was batting practice. Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay both singled to start the inning. After a sacrifice-bunt by Kyle Lohse, the tying run moved to second base with one out. Here we go again.
Scott Feldman came in to replace Oliver with one-out and runners on 2nd and 3rd. Realistically, Feldman had no business pitching in a situation of this magnitude. But with Ogando, Mike Adams, and Feliz already being used the Rangers had no other right-handed options.
Feldman forced Ryan Theriot into a ground out, which scored Descalso from third but brought the Rangers within one out of winning the World Series, again. With the tying run on second and first base open, the Rangers walked Albert Pujols bringing Lance Berkman to the plate.
Feldman got ahead of the count on Berkman 1-2. Once again the Rangers were one strike away. Once again a 1-2 count with one strike needed to win the World Series would haunt Rangers fans forever.
Berkman would loop a single into center field. Jon Jay would score from second tying the game. The Rangers did the unthinkable. They were one strike away from winning the World Series twice. They blew it twice.
There was nothing thrown across the room this time. No explicit Tweets. Just silence. Stunned silence.
What was there to even say at this point. Me and dad stared blank-faced at the TV for what felt like a decade. There was no reassuring “we can still win this”, this time around. We both knew what the final outcome of the game would be.
Once again, the Rangers escaped the inning with the winning run on third base. While the game was still up for grabs, it already felt like a loss.
There would be no Josh Hamilton type heroics in the eleventh-inning. Mike Napoli singled with one-out, but was stranded on first. For the first time since the seventh-inning, the Rangers would not head into the bottom-half-of-an-inning with the lead.
Mark Lowe would take the mound in the bottom-of-the-eleventh, tasked with keeping the game tied. A 3.80 ERA in the regular season, Lowe would have an abysmal 18.00 ERA in the 2011 postseason.
The first batter he would face, David Freese. Baseball is such a romantic sport. Any player can be the hero, any player can cement themselves in history. In 2003 David Freese quit baseball completely, turning down scholarships to play in college because he felt burned out. Eight years later, he would crush the dreams of an entire city and cement himself as a World Series legend.
After falling behind in the count 3-0, Lowe would work the count to 3-2. We all know what happens next.
Freese sent a 3-2 changeup 420 feet to dead center. The Cardinals completed one of the most improbable comebacks in World Series history. David Freese was an instant Cardinals and World Series legend. The Rangers were losers.
I was in disbelief. It didn’t feel real. I was only about an hour removed from preparing to send out a Tweet 51-years in the making.
It took me about ten minutes to find the strength to drag myself to my room. It still yet to set in what just happened. While it felt like a loss, it yet to feel like a “one-strike away twice” type of loss.
This was until I laid in bed. I closed my eyes and imagined the Rangers dog-piling on the pitcher’s mound. Michael Young finally getting a ring. Josh Hamilton becoming a World Series legend. Nelson Cruz completing one of the best postseason performances ever with a World Series victory.
Once I sat up and looked at the framed picture of me and my dad at the Ballpark in Arlington when I was a three-year old, I sports cried. All the years of watching this team lose games 10-9. Watching them continuously fail at rebuilding. Then watching them finally figure it out, just to be heartbroken.
It wasn’t a ‘struggling to find air’ cry, but it was a steady stream of tears. Sure, there was a game-seven to be played the next day but we all knew what the outcome would be. Once team USA beat the Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice” there was still a Gold Medal game to be played, but everyone knew what the outcome would be. Even though there was still an overtime to be played after the Patriots came back down 28-3, everyone knew what the outcome would be. Once David Freese hit the walkoff home run everyone knew what the outcome of game-seven would be.
That’s why I took it so hard. If the Rangers lost by five runs it would have been different. But there was no coming back after losing in that fashion. For me it wasn’t just game-six that we lost. It was the World Series.
The Rangers would lose game-seven 6-2. The Cardinals would win their 11th World Series title. The Rangers would remain trophy-less.
As the years go by the loss becomes harder and harder to think about. At the time, the Rangers still looked like a perennial dynasty. They had a premier farm system and young stars like Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz.
Since 2011 the Rangers have failed to make it back to the ALCS. Feliz had a hard time staying healthy and was eventually let go by the team in 2015. Andrus’s production began to fall off of a cliff. Michael Young would retire. Both Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson would leave in free agency and join the Los Angeles Angels. Ian Kinsler would be traded to the Detroit Tigers for Prince Fielder, who is now retired. Nelson Cruz would join the Baltimore Orioles in free agency after a PED suspension. Matt Harrison was never enough to replicate his All-Star 2011 season and was eventually traded. Derek Holland struggled to stay consistent and left the team in free agency. Mike Napoli would later sign with the Boston Red Sox.
The team we saw one-strike twice from becoming immortal disbanded in front of our eyes. It still hurts to think about the game-six loss. Over the years I have began to black out the game in my loss.
There are nights when I’ll dream the Rangers won game-six. I’ll wake up joyous, remembering our championship winning season. Only to come back down to earth as a fan of the team that was one-strike away twice.
This article is closure for me. All this time avoiding game-six and the 2011 World Series. I finally have faced by biggest fear.
I sports cried on October 27th, 2011. There are times when I want to sports cry remembering it. However, the loss made me numb. I am no longer capable of feeling emotions.
So when you’re constantly being force-fed the ‘Warriors/Indians blew a 3-1 lead’ and ‘the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead’ memes, don’t let it distract you from the fact that the Rangers were one-strike away twice.