After waiting until their 50th season to reach their World Series, the Texas Rangers are going right back.
Nelson Cruz had one more big blast, Michael Young caught the final out long after hitting a pair of doubles in one of the highest-scoring post-season innings ever and the Rangers became the American League’s first repeat champion in a decade.
The team that lost Cliff Lee in free agency and held onto Young after his off-season trade request finished off the Detroit Tigers with a 15-5 romp Saturday night to win the AL championship series in six games,
“This a great trophy, we’re real proud of it,” Young said. “But we’re looking forward to the one with all the flags on it. … Happy, but not satisfied.”
Cruz was selected ALCS MVP after his post-season-record sixth home run of the series, and he also had a record 13 RBIs. Young hit a pair of two-run doubles in a nine-run third inning that sent the Rangers on their way to becoming the AL’s first consecutive pennant winner since the New York Yankees won four in a row from 1998-01.
“We wanted to get to the World Series. But the bottom line is getting to the World Series and winning it. We feel pretty confident about ourselves,” manager Ron Washington said. “More than anything else, the commitment they made in November after San Francisco sent us home, they held true to it.”
Texas will open the World Series on Wednesday night at St. Louis or Milwaukee, seeking the first title in the history of a franchise that started play in 1961. The World Series returns deep in the heart of Texas with Game 3 next Saturday night.
Young, who also homered and had five RBIs in the finale, caught Brandon Inge’s game-ending popout in short right field and pumped a right hand into the air signalling “No. 1” while fireworks and confetti filled the sky, then ran toward the middle of the field to celebrate with his teammates.
Cruz threw both hands in the air and briefly knelt to a knee in the outfield before running to the infield for the ginger ale-spraying celebration, and a banner was unfurled high over centre field declaring the Rangers 2011 AL champions. The post-game celebration included Cruz getting the AL MVP trophy.
“It was fun to watch,” last year’s AL MVP Josh Hamilton said of Cruz. “It’s one thing to be in the stands. But when you’re down here on the field with him, you can see the intensity, see the focus. To watch him do that was incredible.”
With former U.S. President George W. Bush seated in the front row alongside Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, part of the ownership group that took over the team last year, Washington was at the edge of the dugout wildly waving his arms and shouting encouragement as the big inning unfolded.
All Tigers manager Jim Leyland could do was take off his cap and scratch his head as the Rangers kept reaching base off starter Max Scherzer and three relievers.
“He was out of whack for the most part all the way. His control was not good from the get go, really. And he had a tough time. And we just couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Leyland said. “As the game went on, obviously, it really wasn’t fair.”
A franchise that began as the expansion Washington Senators and moved to Texas in 1972 had failed to reach the World Series before losing to the Giants in five games last year. The Rangers had never even won a post-season series before last season.
“As soon as the season began, we were hungry, we were hungry to get back,” Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said.
Texas overcame a 2-0 deficit by sending 14 batters to the plate against Scherzer (0-1) and three relievers in the highest-scoring post-season inning since 2002.
Alexi Ogando (2-0) pitched two scoreless innings for his second win in the series.
While Young became only the fourth player in post-season history with two extra-base hits in the same inning — first a tying double into the left-field corner and then one down the right field line for a 9-2 lead — every batter in the Texas lineup reached base at least once in the third. By the time all the fireworks was over, the Rangers scored the most runs ever in a post-season game against the Tigers and the most in any post-season contest since the Yankees routed Boston 19-8 in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS.
Also among the sellout crowd of 51,508 was Dirk Nowitzki, MVP of the NBA finals won by the Dallas Mavericks in June.
Now the Rangers get another chance to bring another championship to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
In his 11th season in Texas, Young had played in 1,508 regular-season games before finally getting into the playoffs last year. He added a huge exclamation point to his already big night when he led off the seventh with a 416-foot homer to straightaway centre.
His five RBIs matched the Rangers post-season record, set by Cruz in Game 2.
Last winter, Young had requested a trade after the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre and acquired Mike Napoli, moves that led to Young becoming primarily a designated hitter and first baseman, a position he had never played. He had already been a starting second baseman and an all-star at shortstop and third base.
Young’s two doubles came in the highest-scoring inning in a post-season game since the Angels matched a playoff record with 10 runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 during the 2002 ALCS against Minnesota.
Texas’ big inning started when Andrus drew a one-out walk, and Josh Hamilton blooped an opposite-field single to left. After Young tied it, Beltre hit a go-ahead single under the leg of Scherzer, who was gone after consecutive walks to Napoli and Cruz.
Cruz fought back from an 0-2 count for his walk. On a checked swing on a 2-2 pitch, Scherzer and Leyland both reacted in disbelief when first base umpire Tim Welke signalled no swing. When the next pitch was ball four, Cruz flipped his bat away and quickly clapped his hands.
David Murphy hit a two-run single off Daniel Schlereth, facing his only batter in his only appearance of the series. Game 4 starter Rick Porcello took over and pinch-hitter Craig Gentry reached on a fielder’s choice as Murphy beat the throw to second. Ian Kinsler’s two-run single made it 7-2, and Young’s second double boosted the margin to 9-2.
When Ryan Perry finally induced Beltre to hit an inning-ending flyout, fans roared in anticipation of a World Series berth that wouldn’t be official for five more innings. Most wildly waved white rally towels, and another behind the Rangers dugout swayed a Texas state flag back-and-forth high in the air.
Detroit had already avoided elimination twice this post-season, winning Game 5 of the AL division series at Yankee Stadium and then extending the ALCS with a 7-5 win at home Thursday.
Derek Holland allowed solo homers to Miguel Cabrera in the first and Jhonny Peralta in the second as Detroit, seeking its first Series title since 1984, tried to force a Game 7.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a team than I am of this team,” Leyland said. “They gave everything they had.”