#8 -- September 14, 1990: Juan walks it off against the Brewers
Fast forward one year to the date after Juan's first career multi-hit game. Once again, Nolan Ryan took to the hill for Texas at home, and once again, the Rangers were on their way to another 83-win season. This time, they faced the Milwaukee Brewers, who actually resided in the American League at that time.
Igor entered play with a .300+ batting average and had already belted three longballs in the month of September. Although he was certainly making a name for himself, he was still simply late-season call-up and not a regular in the lineup. This was partly because he was still just 20 years old, and partly because Ranger management preferred getting him regular at bats with AAA Oklahoma City where hit 29 homers that year.
On a warm Friday night with a legend pitching, this battle went to extras. While he wasn't taking a no-hitter that late, Nolan did enter the 6th inning with a shutout in-tact. Meanwhile on the other side, Milwaukee's Jaime Navarro had a shutout going of his own.
But with one out in the top of the 6th, another future Hall of Fame hitter took Nolan deep. Center fielder Robin Yount broke the scoreless tie with a long drive to center field. But late in the game, the Rangers played small ball and tied the score in the bottom of the 8th.
That would remain the score until the bottom of the 10th when González was due to bat 2nd. After the hitter before him struck out, Gonzalez would push Brewers reliever Chuck Crim to a 2-0 count. That third pitch would fly deep into the Arlington sky and land in the left-center field seats, clinching a 2-1 win for the Rangers and growing a throng of Texas players at home plate to mob him upon his arrival.
Believe it or not, the author of this article was at the ballpark the next night, missing the dramatic finish by one game, as well as missing getting to see Ryan pitch by one game. However, he did see that game happen on TV, so he was still quite thrilled by it.
The homer was González's fourth and final home run of the season, where he would finish batting a not-too-shabby .289 and driving in 12 runs.
#7 -- October 6, 1991: Juan walks off the season
It's kind of funny. Many Ranger fans have looked back at the early 90's teams with the all-white home unis and the Rangers script across the chest with disdain. Common comments include "reminders of bad baseball" and "there were some terrible Texas teams back then." They must be talking about the Houston Astros, because the Rangers had a stretch of three straight .500+ seasons from 1989-91 and broke .500 yet again in '93. But let's break that all down a bit further for a moment, just for the sake of creative reminiscence.
In the old playoff format, the American League and National League each consisted of two seven team divisions. Furthermore, only teams that won the division would go onto the playoffs. Despite other professional sports leagues awarding "wild card" playoff berths for years, Major League Baseball took their sweet time joining the others with it. That all changed in 1994, though. But we're not there, yet. So, let's continue looking at 1991, but we're going to pretend that the 1994 playoff format was inserted that year. Doodly doo, doodly doo, doodly doo ...
Entering the final game of the season, the Rangers and A's stood with identical records at 84-77, tied atop the newly-designed American League West Division. The winner of the game would go onto the postseason to face the winner of the brand new American League Central Division, the Minnesota Twins. Thus, the losing team would stay home to watch as the American League East champion Toronto Blue Jays faced the Chicago White Sox, who clinched the upstart American League Wild Card berth just a few days before.
(Editorial note -- Some might point out that the #1 seed would have gone to the Twins and they'd face the Sox. However, the 1994 rules stated that two teams from the same division would not meet in the first round. So, the #2 seed would then face the WC winner while the #1 took on the #3.)
So this was it. The Oakland team that had dominated the AL West for years faced missing the playoffs yet again, but this time at the hands of a franchise that had never quite made it. And of course, on the mound for Texas stood "The Express," himself, Nolan Ryan.
Oakland didn't waste much time, though. They scratched an early run in the first. It didn't take terribly long for the Rangers to respond though, as they manufactured a run of their own in the bottom of the second.
The score would remain 1-1 until the bottom of the fifth when Palmeiro would drive in Franco to put the Rangers out front. But like the Athletics' earlier lead, this one didn't last long, either. In the top of the sixth, a throwing error would gift them a run on a steal attempt. The contest remained knotted at two until the bottom of the ninth.
With two outs and a man on first, González would step to the plate with a chance to clinch the franchise's first AL West title. And after taking the first pitch, he did just that. He pounced on a 1-0 offering from Rick Honeycutt, sending the ball deep into the cheap seats, earning the 85th win of the season for Texas on his 27th deep blast that year.
Ok, so they didn't win the West that year. However, the rest of the story was true. But coming against the Oakland team that had broken so many hearts previously, it still felt that big. It felt especially big to close the season in walk-off fashion.