Ron Washington

Rangers’ manager Ron Washington converses with second base umpire Lance Barksdale after Adrian Beltre  was forced out of second base in the third inning in a 12-5 loss to the A’s.  

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — Josh Hamilton made one thing clear: The Texas Rangers will forget their stunning season-ending sweep at Oakland and regroup as an American League Wild Card.

So much for a third straight AL West crown. Texas needed one win against the upstart Athletics in three games, and didn’t get it.

“You guys have a hard time believing we can forget about it and move ahead,” Hamilton said. “But that’s what we get paid to do. We’ll go home, regroup and go figure out what we have to do.”

The Athletics captured the AL West with another improbable rally in a season full of them, coming back from four runs down and a 13-game division deficit to beat the two-time defending league champion Rangers 12-5 on Wednesday.

Hamilton dropped a fly ball in center field for a two-run error that put the A’s (94-68) ahead 7-5 in a six-run fourth inning. The A’s only added to Texas’ troubles the rest of the way.

“You can have all the experience as you want but when you run into a team that’s hot, experience has nothing to do with it,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said.

Texas (93-69) is headed to the new one-game, Wild Card playoff at home against Baltimore on Friday night, with the winner playing the New York Yankees in the division series.

The A’s get some time off before opening the division series in their first postseason appearance since 2006, playing Game 1 at Detroit on Saturday.

The Athletics needed a sweep and they delivered to win their first division crown in six years and 15th in all. They overcame a five-game deficit in the final nine days and took sole possession of the West’s top spot for the first time this year.

“We knew this is a beast of a team we would have to beat, and to be able to beat them three games in a row and win the division on top of it, really it’s a magical type thing,” manager Bob Melvin said.

Grant Balfour retired Michael Young on a fly to center for the final out, then raised his arms in the air as the A’s streamed out of the dugout and began bouncing up and down in the infield.

“2012 AL WEST CHAMPIONS” flashed on the scoreboard two days after the A’s clinched a playoff spot Monday and held a wild dance party in the clubhouse.

“I’m glad there’s not one tomorrow or Friday,” owner Lew Wolff said. “I can relax and go home. I’m running out of underwear.”

Players high-fived fans while taking a victory lap through the rundown Coliseum, where the outfield still has a light patch of grass from football in the venue shared by the NFL’s Raiders.

Soon, the celebratory champagne and beer made its way to the field — and players sprayed it into the stands. The A’s returned to the field almost an hour later to greet fans still gathered along the top of the dugout.

Oakland pulled off another remarkable performance in a season defined by thrilling walkoffs, rallies and whipped-cream pie celebrations by a team that was never supposed to be here.

A club that trailed Texas by 13 games on June 30. A club with a $59.5 million payroll, the lowest in baseball. General manager Billy Beane found ways to get a blue-collar franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since being swept by Detroit in the 2006 AL championship series.

Coco Crisp hit a tying two-run double in the fourth against Derek Holland (12-7) and Brandon Moss drove in three runs, including a two-run single in the four-run eighth.

Rookie winning pitcher Evan Scribner (2-0) left the mound in the sixth to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 30,067. He allowed two hits and struck out two in three scoreless innings after replacing struggling starter A.J. Griffin.

Ryan Cook, pitching for a fifth consecutive game, gave up a double to Nelson Cruz before retiring the next three Texas hitters with strikeouts of David Murphy and Mike Napoli. Catcher Derek Norris pumped his right arm as the Coliseum fans jumped to their feet.

Norris then homered leading off the bottom of the eighth for his second RBI. It was his seventh homer and Oakland’s majors-leading 112th since the All-Star break.

“Ever since Day 1 I’ve been here, it’s been, the A’s can’t compete with the payroll, can’t compete with this team or that team,” Norris said. “We’re better off if we’re down. It just gives us the extra energy.”

The A’s join the NL West champion San Francisco Giants as division champions. The Bay Area is already buzzing about a possible Bay Bridge World Series like the 1989 championship swept by Oakland, one interrupted by an earthquake.

Hamilton’s miscue while charging forward might haunt the to-be free agent if his Rangers don’t get past their Wild Card game.

“I just missed it, man,” Hamilton said.

Murphy’s two-run single highlighted a five-run third inning that put Texas in prime position.

In the fourth, Moss drew a leadoff walk and Josh Reddick followed with an RBI double. Josh Donaldson singled and Seth Smith’s base hit made it 5-3 and chased Ryan Dempster with none out and runners on first and second.

Washington turned to the lefty Holland, a starter who was tagged for four runs in the first inning of the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader with the Angels before working into the seventh.

He retired the first two batters before Crisp’s double down the right-field line.

The only other teams to come back from at least 13 games down to win the division were the 1914 Boston Braves, the 1951 New York Giants, the ‘78 Yankees and the ‘95 Seattle Mariners.

“Anything can happen in the long season,” said Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, who will start the Wild Card game. “That’s why we play 162 games. We’re going to forget about this and get ready for the next one.”

Now, Texas has all the pressure as they try to make another run deep into October.

These are the same Rangers who twice came within one strike of the franchise’s first World Series championship before losing Games 6 and 7 to the wild-card St. Louis Cardinals. It was Texas’ second near miss in as many years after losing the 2010 World Series to the Giants.

“We have to go win that playoff game,” Napoli said. “We didn’t come here to lose. They got it done and we didn’t, plain and simple. It’s going to be a tough road.”

 In one of the more dramatic World Series in baseball history, the Texas Rangers were denied their first-ever championship by the St. Louis Cardinals. The seven-game series provided both epic entertainment and frustrating despair for Rangers fans everywhere. Here’s a sample of the reactions and observations made by Daily Texan sports writers:

It was Josh Hamilton’s “Disney Moment”.

His two-run homer in the bottom of 10th put the Rangers up by two in Game 6. It was the perfect way to cap off Hamilton’s career comeback, after the former number one overall pick was away from baseball for three years because of drug issues.

But it wasn’t to be for the Hamilton or the Rangers as the Cardinals scraped their way back once again to tie the game and eventually win it on a David Freese walk-off homerun in the 11th.

The series was tied but the outcome of the seventh game was a foregone conclusion. When upsets and comebacks like these happen, the losing team is mentally and emotionally done.

The Rangers went out in Game 7 with little more than a whimper and watched another team celebrate a championship for the second straight year.

There were plenty of things to blame for the Rangers loss. Most will point to Game 6.

But it really comes down to the fact that this team could not get it done in the clutch. Whether it was Ron Washington’s questionable managing decisions, the bullpen’s blown saves, the defense’s terrible showing, or the offense’s inability to manufacture runs in crunch time, there were many things that caused the Rangers to settle for an AL championship ring again.

This will not be the Rangers’ last shot at a title. Their lineup is young, the group of starters is only going to get better, and their farm system is deep.

But the real question for is, will Texas ever be able to get over the hump?

Best case scenario they turn into the Braves of the 90’s make the playoffs every year and eventually break through. But unfortunately, comparisons are being drawn to a different 90’s power - the Buffalo Bills, who ost four straight Super Bowls.

Which comparison will prove to be more accurate? Only time will tell.
-Chris Hummer

Being from Austin, I root just as hard for the Texas Rangers as I do for the Houston Astros. Since I support what many like to call the “Last-ros,” I have seen my fair share of excruciating collapses. But Game 6 of this year’s World Series topped them all. When Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit back-to-back homeruns in that epic contest, I thought it was over. But the combination of blowing multiple two-run leads, having the Cardinals down to their final strike twice, and seeing an heroic Josh Hamilton 10th-inning 2-run bomb go to waste made for the most dramatic but most heartbreaking game I’ve ever seen. I was pulling hard for the Rangers in Game 7 but, deep down, I knew St. Louis had already won the series.
-Christian Corona

In season where the Philadelphia Phillies were predestined World Series Champions, the accomplishments the Texas Rangers achieved speaks volumes. Last season, when Cliff Lee bolted out of Arlington after a brief stint with the Rangers, many expected Texas to return to its role of little brother to the Anaheim Angels in the American League West. The Rangers silenced their critics by accruing one of the major league’s top five ERAs, proving to be more than the team can hit - it can pitch as well. While Ranger ace and free agent C.J. Wilson is probably headed to the Yankees this offseason, young pitchers like Derek Holland will fill his role, just like Wilson filled Lee’s in 2011. Fans can expect the Rangers to continue to make deep playoff runs in the future under manager Ron Washington, who gets the most out of his players.
-Hank South

For me its frustration. We needed one win in two games. In Game 6, we needed just one more out, twice, to win it all. With the level of obsession for sports in the state of Texas, one national championship isn’t enough. The Mavericks did their part but with the Cowboys bipolar on the field and the dis-Astros still in a midlife crisis, the Rangers were our only hope. To come so close to winning it all twice is just crushing. Next year, though, next year the Rangers will make it happen. Next year will be the year. Third time’s the charm, right?
-Sara Beth Purdy
 

2011 World Series

St. Louis Cardinals' David Freese hits a two-run triple off a pitch from Texas Rangers' Neftali Feliz during the ninth inning of Game 6 of baseball's World Series on Thursday in St. Louis.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — David Freese homered to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals forced the World Series to a Game 7 by rallying from two-run deficits against the Texas Rangers in the 9th and 10th on Thursday night.

Freese hit a two-run triple just over a leaping Nelson Cruz to tie the score 7-7 in the ninth inning against Neftali Feliz. Then, after Josh Hamilton put Texas ahead with a two-run homer in the 10th off Jason Motte, Ryan Theriot hit an RBI groundout in the bottom half and Lance Berkman tied it 9-9 with a single. Freese’s shot to center came off Mark Lowe.

Game 7 is Friday night.

Texas had built a 7-4 lead in the seventh when Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit consecutive home runs off Lance Lynn, and Ian Kinsler added an RBI single off Octavio Dotel.
Allen Craig’s second homer of the Series cut the gap in the eighth against Derek Holland.

In the ninth, Albert Pujols doubled with one out off Feliz and Berkman walked on four pitches.

Craig took a called third strike, and Freese fell behind in the count 1-2. He sliced an opposite-field drive, and when Cruz jumped, the crowd of 47,315 at Busch Stadium couldn’t tell at first whether he caught it.

Feliz then retired Yadier Molina on a flyout to right, sending the game to extra innings.

With Texas ahead 3-2 in the Series and one win from its first title, the Rangers also wasted 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 leads. The Cardinals made three errors in a Series game for the first time since 1943, and Rangers first baseman Michael Young made two, with each team allowing two unearned runs.
Matt Holliday was picked off in the sixth at third base by catcher Mike Napoli, thwarting the Cardinals’ attempt to go ahead, and he had to leave the game because of a bruised right pinkie.

Hamilton’s RBI single had put the Rangers ahead in the first off Jaime Garcia, Berkman’s two-run homer gave the Cardinals the lead in the bottom half and Kinsler’s run-scoring double tied it 2-all in the third.

Cruz reached when Holliday dropped a flyball leading off the fourth and came home when Napoli singled for his 10th RBI of the Series. Berkman then got to first on a throwing error by Young starting the bottom half and scored on Molina’s grounder.

Freese dropped Hamilton’s popup to third leading off the fifth, and Young lined a pitch from Fernando Salas to the gap in left-center. An error by Young on Holliday’s sixth-inning grounder was followed by three straight walks, including two by Alexi Ogando.

Colby Lewis allowed four runs — two earned — and three hits in 5 1-3 innings.

Texas got far better swings against Garcia than it did in Game 2, when he allowed three hits in six shutout innings. This time, he gave up five hits and two walks, throwing 59 pitches, and seven of the first 13 Texas batters reached base.

Just 24 of the 61 previous teams with 3-2 leads won Game 6, but 41 of those 61 teams went on to win the title. Eighteen teams trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven format bounced back for championships, including 12 that swept the last two games at home.

In an effort to provide more production behind Pujols, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa moved Berkman to cleanup and dropped slumping Holliday down to fifth.
Rangers manager Ron Washington moved the hot-hitting Napoli up one spot to seventh and had Craig Gentry hitting eighth, as he did in Game 2.

Four Cardinals Hall of Famers, wearing cardinal red sports jackets, stood at home plate before the game. Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith. And then the greatest Cardinals player, 90-year-old Stan Musial, was driven from the right-field corner to the plate in a golf cart. Wearing a red sweater and Cardinals warmup jacket, he greeted his fellow Hall of Famers and watched 2006 Series MVP David Eckstein throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Texas went ahead 10 pitches in. After starting with a called strike, Garcia walked Kinsler on four straight pitches, and Elvis Andrus’ hit-and-run single put runners at the corners. Hamilton pulled the next pitch into right field for a single and his third RBI of the Series.

Garcia recovered to strike out Young and Beltre, then got Cruz to hit into an inning-ending forceout on his 23rd pitch.
Lewis quickly gave back the lead. Skip Schumaker, moved up from eighth in the batting order to second, singled with one out in the bottom half. Pujols flied out on the next pitch. Berkman also swung at the first pitch, sending an 89 mph offering over the center-field wall.

Napoli walked leading off the second and Gentry singled him to second. Lewis bunted directly at Freese, who started a rare 5-6-4 double play. Shortstop Rafael Furcal took the throw at third for the force, then threw to second baseman Nick Punto covering first.

Kinsler followed with a ground-rule double that hopped over the left-field fence, tying the score 2-all. La Russa then had Mitchell Boggs start warming up after Garcia had thrown just 42 pitches to 10 batters,

Andrus hit an inning-ending lineout to right that Berkman slightly misjudged and caught with a jump.

Schumaker and Pujols flied out just in front of the warning track in the third. Other than his 5-for-6, three-homer, six-RBI performance in Game 3, Pujols is 1 for 17.

St. Louis, tied for fourth in the majors in errors during the regular season, started to get sloppy in the fourth. Cruz led off with a fly to short left, where Holliday called for Furcal to take it, only for the shortstop to back off. The ball then bounced off Holliday’s glove for a two-base error.

Napoli sliced a single down the right-field line, kicking up chalk from the foul line, to put Texas ahead 3-2. After Gentry struck out, Lewis bunted to Pujols, who threw to second in time for a forceout, but first base umpire Jerry Layne called the ball foul. Lewis bunted the next pitch to Salas, who threw the ball into center field. Not sure whether to slide, Napoli went in awkwardly and turned his left ankle. He stayed in, but the base was later replaced.

Salas escaped further trouble by throwing a called third strike past Kinsler and retiring Andrus on a fly to left that turned Holliday around in the wind.

Berkman led off with a grounder to Young, who bobbled it and made a throw that pulled Lewis off the base for an error on the first baseman. Holliday walked for the second time, and Furcal bounced into a forceout to second, with Andrus’ throw to first for a double play way high and bouncing off a screen near the dugout. Molina followed with a grounder to third that drove in his sixth run of the Series.

After Young’s double, Napoli was intentionally walked with two outs, and pinch-hitter David Murphy walked to load the bases. While Yorvit Torrealba was in the on-deck circle to hit, Washington left Lewis in the game, and he struck out in three pitches.

Berkman reached on an infield hit. Young then picked up Holliday’s grounder, thought about throwing to second and allowed the ball to pop free. Berkman then just beat him to the bag.

Walks to Freese and Molina forced in a run, and Napoli picked off Holliday at third, with Holliday bruising his right pinkie and leaving the game. After a wild pitch, Punto walked and Holland retired Jon Jay on a comebacker.

The grounds crew at Busch Stadium in St. Louis pulls a tarp over the playing field on Wednesday. A wet forecast prompted Major League Baseball to postpone Game 6 of the World Series.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — Game 6 of the World Series was postponed Wednesday because of a wet forecast, delaying the Texas Rangers’ bid to clinch their first championship.

Major League Baseball announced the decision about four-and-a-half hours before the Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals were set to play. At the time, no rain had fallen at Busch Stadium, but heavy precipitation was expected.

Texas leads the Series 3-2. Game 6 was rescheduled for Thursday night at 8:05 p.m. EDT. If Game 7 is necessary, it will be played Friday night.

“Because of the forecast, there was no reason to wait any longer,” said Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations.

Torre said he told managers Ron Washington of Texas and Tony La Russa of St. Louis on Tuesday that if the forecast didn’t change, baseball would postpone it early.

Rain was in “every forecast we had probably for the last three days,” Torre said at a news conference. “They were all consistent there was going to be rain during the game.”

Looking at Commissioner Bud Selig, Torre asked, “Do you want to play in rain?”

Colby Lewis had been set to start for Texas, with Jaime Garcia ready to go for the Cardinals.

If anything, the extra day may lead to more intrigue over who might pitch for St. Louis should the Series go to a Game 7 for the first time since 2002. Washington already has said Matt Harrison would start if the Series goes that far.

The forecast for Thursday was much better — clear enough with a game-time temperature in the low 50s.

Rain has hovered over the majors all year with more than 50 washouts, baseball’s highest total since 1997.

This was the first Series rainout since 2008 at Philadelphia. That year, Tampa Bay and the Phillies were tied in the sixth inning when rain and snow turned the field into a quagmire, forcing a suspension. It rained the next day too, and the game finally resumed two days later, with the Phillies taking the crown.

Because of the debate about how to handle that situation, MLB adopted a rule a few months later mandating that any postseason game stopped in progress would be resumed at the point of suspension, rather than being postponed and
started over.

Before that, the previous Series rainout came at Busch Stadium, when Game 4 between Detroit and the Cardinals was pushed back by a day.

A few hundred fans already were milling outside Busch Stadium when the Rangers-Cardinals game was called. The tarp was on the field at the time. Later, about a dozen St. Louis players came out to toss around balls in right field.

Bad weather has lingered throughout the big leagues since opening day. Even before that actually, as the Milwaukee Brewers and Reds worked out in snow flurries a day before their March 31 opener at Cincinnati.

Wicked weather intruded earlier in this postseason, too. So did the threat of storms.

A game in the AL championship series between Detroit and Texas was postponed for a day because of a dicey forecast. The players left Rangers Ballpark and went home — the rain, however, never came.

The opener of the AL playoff series between Detroit and New York was halted after one-and-a-half innings by showers that lasted all night. The game at Yankee Stadium was suspended and picked up the next day at the point when it was stopped.

The only other suspension in postseason history was that Rays-Phillies game in 2008.

Baseball began the playoffs a week earlier this year than last season, intending to have the World Series conclude before November. MLB also hoped the adjustment could help avoid a chilly finish for the championship. It was in the 40s and raw last week for Game 1.

It was in the 70s and clear at Busch Stadium on Tuesday. A perfect night to play, but it was a travel day for Texas and St. Louis. Washington was aware of the shaky forecast.

“If it’s possible we can play, of course we want to play. You don’t want to sit down. We’re here to play baseball,” he said Tuesday. “But if the forecast says that it’s going to be bad weather and we’re going to play and start and stop ... We want to make sure the conditions are correct, and if we have to wait a day, then we have to wait a day.”

Printed on Thursday, October 27, 2011 as: Wet forecast places Game 6 on hold

2011 World Series Column

The Texas Rangers just won’t go away. Derek Holland wouldn’t let them.

After Texas and St. Louis split two nail-biters, the Cardinals seemed to take control of the World Series with a convincing 16-7 win Saturday night. But Holland brought the Rangers back into the Fall Classic, shutting St. Louis out for more than eight innings to give Texas a 4-0 win and tie the series at two games apiece.

Holland turned in a masterful outing, allowing just two hits over eight and one-third innings against a team that set a postseason scoring record the previous day. The 25-year-old southpaw also held Albert Pujols in check. Pujols, who tied a World Series record with three home runs in Game 3, hit one ball out of the infield in four hitless at bats Sunday night.

St. Louis skipper Tony La Russa was off his game, too. The two-time World Series winner, known for the skillful shuffling of his pitching staff, finally had a pitching change backfire when he replaced starter Edwin Jackson with Mitchell Boggs in the sixth inning, whose first pitch landed in the left-field seats thanks to Mike Napoli.

Texas manager Ron Washington has had his share of boneheaded moves this series, including puzzling pinch-hitting decisions in Game 1 and letting reliever Alexi Ogando give up another go-ahead RBI courtesy of Allen Craig in Game 2. But he kept his team from throwing in the towel and has kept setup man Mike Adams and closer Neftali Feliz fresh, using them to get only two outs in the last two games. Now the Rangers have won more World Series games than they did last year when the Giants ousted them in five games.

Washington has also left an ailing Josh Hamilton in the lineup. Hamilton has done his best Kirk Gibson impersonation this October, struggling for most of the series but delivering a game-tying sacrifice fly in a Game 2 Rangers win and an RBI double in the first inning of Game 4 that proved to provide enough run support for the Texas pitching staff.

The series-tying victory was certainly a must-win contest for the Rangers. Even with the World Series knotted up at 2-2, the Rangers still have a tough task ahead of them with Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter slated to start Game 5 and St. Louis set to host Games 6 and 7.

With Carpenter, who has won four games and thrown two shutouts in his last five starts, St. Louis has the World Series’ best pitcher. With Pujols, who boasts a .390 postseason batting average, the Cardinals also have the best hitter.

But Holland turned in the finest performance from either dugout, regardless of position, Sunday night. He’s helped the Rangers out-Cardinal the Cardinals. The odds were against Texas after losses in Games 1 and 3, but after 119 magnificent Holland pitches, the Rangers have regained momentum and a chance to win the World Series.

2011 World Series

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Derek Holland kept Albert Pujols in the ballpark and the Texas Rangers in this World Series.

In a title matchup that’s getting more interesting with every game, Holland put the emphasis back on pitching. Given a pep talk by manager Ron Washington minutes before the game, Holland threw two-hit ball for 8 1-3 innings to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 on Sunday night and even things at 2-all.

Holland struck out seven, walked two and never was in trouble against a team that erupted for 16 runs the previous night. He came within two outs of pitching the first complete-game shutout in the World Series since Josh Beckett’s gem for Florida to clinch the 2003 title at Yankee Stadium.

“I was very focused. I knew this was a big game for us,” Holland said. “I had to step up and make sure I was prepared.”
Hobbled Josh Hamilton put Texas ahead with an RBI double in the first inning. Then Mike Napoli broke it open with a three-run homer in the sixth that set off a hearty high-five in the front row between team president Nolan Ryan and former President George W. Bush.

And just like that, for the first time since 2003, the World Series stood at two games apiece. Now the whole season is down to a best of three, with the outcome to be decided back at Busch Stadium.

Game 5 is Monday night at Rangers Ballpark. It’s a rematch of the opener, when Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter topped C.J. Wilson.

A day after Pujols produced arguably the greatest hitting show in postseason history, tying Series records with three home runs, six RBIs and five hits during the Cardinals’ romp, Holland emerged as the unlikely star.

Holland got a big cheer when he took the mound in the ninth and was still throwing 96 mph. With the crowd chanting his name, he walked Rafael Furcal and was pulled by Washington after a long talk on the mound.

“I was begging to stay out there,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll give it everything I’ve got. I can get the double play.’

“When I came off the field my arm hair was sticking up — not like I have much.”

Holland tipped his cap and waved to the fans as he walked off. His outing was the longest scoreless appearance by an AL starter in the Series since Andy Pettitte also went 8 1-3 at Atlanta in 1996.

Neftali Feliz took over and closed. He walked Allen Craig, then retired Pujols on a fly ball and struck out Matt Holliday to end it.

Pujols finished 0 for 4 and hit the ball out of the infield only once.

“I wanted him to see my ‘A’ game,” Holland said.

Said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: “Well, I would just say he worked us over. Give him credit.”

“Good pitching is always going to stop good hitting,” he said.

Holland was in tune all evening with his Napoli, his pal and catcher. Much better than the battery for the pregame ceremony — Bush tossed a wild pitch that glanced off the catcher’s mitt Ryan wore.

“I should’ve gone with the regular glove,” Ryan said with a chuckle.

The bounce-back Rangers managed to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since Aug. 23-25, a streak that’s kept them out of trouble in the postseason.

The Rangers also completed a Sunday sweep in the matchup of teams from St. Louis and the Dallas area. Earlier in the afternoon, the Cowboys beat the Rams 34-7 right across the parking lots. Hamilton and Lance Berkman served as honorary captains for the pregame coin toss, wearing their baseball uniforms.

Many fans might remember Holland from last year’s World Series. He’s the reliever who came in against San Francisco, walked his first three batters and promptly got pulled.

Maybe that guy was an impostor. Because this 25-year-old lefty with the sorry little mustache was completely poised, with pinpoint control. Perhaps it was the talk he got from Washington near the dugout shortly before taking the mound.

Washington put both hands on Holland’s shoulders and talked to him tenderly, like a dad about to send his teenage son off to college. Holland kept nodding, and Washington finished up with a playful pat to Holland’s cheek.

“He shows that he cares about all his players, and he definitely showed that when he talked to me,” Holland said.

After that, Holland was in total command in his first Series start, and improved to 3-0 lifetime in the postseason. The only hits he allowed were by Berkman: a double in the second and a single in the fifth. Holland got even later, getting Berkman to look at a strike three that left the St. Louis star discussing the call with plate umpire Ron Kulpa.

Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson kept his team close despite a wild night. He walked seven, and eventually they caught up with him.

It was 1-0 when La Russa yanked Jackson after two one-out walks in the sixth and signaled for reliever Mitchell Boggs. Napoli was up, and the sellout crowd chanted his name as he stepped into the batter’s box.

Boggs stayed in the stretch for an extra beat while Furcal ducked behind Nelson Cruz from shortstop. When Boggs finally threw a 95 mph fastball with his first pitch, Napoli whacked it.

Napoli stood at the plate for a moment as the ball sailed deep, just inside the left field line. Boggs could only contort his body, seeing the game get out of hand.

Hamilton forced the Cardinals to play catch-up for the first time in a while. St. Louis had scored first in 10 straight postseason games, one shy of the record set by Detroit during a span from 1972-84.

Elvis Andrus singled with one out in the Texas first and sped home when Hamilton doubled into the right field corner. The reigning AL MVP has been slowed by a strained groin, part of the reason he hasn’t homered in 57 at-bats this postseason.

Keys to World Series Game 2

Get more production from the heart of the lineup

The players who occupy the No. 2 through No. 4 spots in the Rangers lineup — Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young — went a combined zero-for-11 in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday. Despite the strong outing by its starting pitcher and a two-run home run from catcher Mike Napoli, Texas couldn’t overcome the poor showing from the heart of its order. The Rangers need Andrus, Hamilton and Young, who are hitting a collective .216 and have just one postseason home run between them, to step up throughout the rest of the Fall Classic.

Trust the starting pitcher

Somehow, Texas got to the World Series without its ace C.J. Wilson picking up a win in three postseason starts. He didn’t get a win his fourth but was cruising through his finest playoff performance before Rangers manager Ron Washington prematurely pulled him in the sixth inning of a 2-2 game. Wilson had just given up a one-out double to Nation League Championship Series MVP David Freese before giving way to All-Star starter-turned-reliever Alexi Ogando, who promptly allowed the go-ahead run to cross the plate. If Washington wants his team to even the series tonight, he needs to trust his starting pitcher more. Colby Lewis, whose regular season home ERA was more than two runs lower than his road ERA, takes the mound at Busch Stadium in Game 2. Lewis has been solid in two road starts so far, going 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA. Washington didn’t use setup man Mike Adams or closer Neftali Feliz, but he needs to let Lewis go at least six innings tonight.

Don’t pinch-hit for the sake of pinch-hitting

Playing in a National League ballpark means the pitchers hit for themselves. It doesn’t call for excessive pinch-hitting. Washington was badly out-managed by St. Louis skipper Tony LaRussa, who’s managing his seventh World Series. Even though David Murphy had six hits in previous 10 at-bats entering Game 1, Washington opted to pinch-hit for him. With runners on first and second, Murphy’s substitute, Craig Gentry, was called out on strikes. The next batter, Esteban German, who had not registered an at-bat since Sept. 25, struck out as well to end the inning. Octavio Dotel and Jason Motte combined to retire the next six Rangers hitters. Meanwhile, LaRussa’s pinch-hitter, Allen Craig, knocked in what proved to be the game-winning run. Washington must maneuver his hitters around much better during the rest of the series for Texas to have a chance at winning it.

Rangers manager Ron Washington throws during batting practice Thursday, in Arlington. The Rangers are scheduled to play the New York Yankees or the Detroit Tigers in the AL championship series that begin on Saturday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ARLINGTON — The Texas Rangers are back in the AL championship series and waiting for an opponent.

This is a team that didn’t win a postseason series in the franchise’s first 49 seasons before getting to the World Series last year. Now the Rangers have advanced in the playoffs two years in a row.

“We committed ourselves to a goal [last spring] and they made it to that goal, we are getting another opportunity to play to go to the World Series,” manager Ron Washington said Wednesday, a day after the Rangers wrapped up their AL division series with a 4-3 victory at Tampa Bay.

“I don’t see where it gives us any advantage,” he said. “The only thing it does, we certainly know what we have to do. I think our guys are more aware of getting to this point is not where we want to be. We want to be playing in the
World Series.”

Game 1 of the AL championship series is Saturday. For the Rangers, it will be either an ALCS rematch starting at the New York Yankees or at home against Detroit.

Texas won its first-ever playoff game 15 years ago at old Yankee Stadium before New York won three in a row to clinch that series. The Yankees swept the 1998 and 1999 series, outscoring Texas 23-2 in those six games. New York went to the World Series all three times.

Fittingly, the Rangers clinched its first World Series berth after beating the Yankees in a six-game AL championship series last October before losing in five games to San Francisco.

Texas backed up its first AL pennant by setting a franchise record with 96 wins this season. They have won three AL playoff series in a row after eliminating the Rays in four games.

“You don’t accomplish things like that unless you’ve got a lot of people with the same vision pulling hard and pulling together,” said general manager Jon Daniels, who is wrapping up his sixth season in that position. “We set out a few years ago to try to build something that would sustain over time, and we’re not there yet. But hopefully we’ll be able to look back 10 years from now and say, ‘Hey, we did something pretty special.’”

Rangers players got a day off Wednesday, their first at home since Sept. 12 when they had a break during a homestand.

“We take the rest today. ... We need it,” Washington said. “We played down the stretch. Although I gave a few guys some days off, I certainly didn’t give them as many days off or as much time off as I wanted to, but we were constantly playing at a high level because even though we won the division, we still had to play at a high level to make sure we kept the home-field advantage.”

C.J. Wilson, who lost the AL division series opener against Tampa Bay, is set to start Game 1 of the AL championship series. Washington said the rest of the rotation would be determined once the Rangers know who they are playing.
During the regular season, the Rangers struggled against both Detroit and New York.

Texas was 2-7 and outscored 62-35 by the Yankees, including a 1-5 mark in New York. CC Sabathia, the likely starter for the ALCS opener if New York advances, beat the Rangers twice this season and in Game 5 in last year’s series.

The Rangers were 3-6 against Detroit. The winning pitcher for all three Texas victories was Alexi Ogando, who is now in the bullpen instead of the rotation for the playoffs. Ogando had three scoreless appearances against the Rays.

When the Texas Rangers reached their first-ever World Series appearance last season, not having the home-field advantage took a toll on them. They dropped both games in San Francisco before losing the series in five games.

Rangers manager Ron Washington will lead the American League at this year’s All-Star game, where the American League will try to redeem themselves after having their 14-game winning streak snapped by the National League in last season’s Midsummer Classic.

2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton secured a spot in the starting lineup of the 2011 All-Star Game, which will take place in Phoenix, Ariz., on July 12. Each team’s rosters were announced Sunday, and three of Hamilton’s Texas teammates will join him in Phoenix — pitcher C.J. Wilson, third baseman Adrian Beltre and designated hitter
Michael Young. Hamilton edged out Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury for the starting spot by just 36,727 votes.

Hard-hitting right fielder Hunter Pence was the only member of the Houston Astros chosen to be on the NL’s All-Star squad.

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista. Bautista was the leading vote-getter. Bautista, who led the majors with 54 home runs last year and leads the majors this year with 26, blasted Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1994 vote record of 6,069,688 with 7,454,753 votes.

The New York Yankees led all squads with six All-Star selections, including four starters — second baseman Robinson Cano, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, shortstop Derek Jeter and center fielder Curtis Granderson. However, the Yankees ace and 11-game winner, CC Sabathia, did not make the cut. Last year’s AL- and NL-leading vote-getters, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols were also left out.

This year’s All-Star game will feature plenty of fresh faces as well, as 24 players are participating for the first time.

The Rangers are well-represented at this year’s All-Star game. If they make a return trip to the Fall Classic, home-field advantage would help. But to earn that, they’ll need a good showing at the Midsummer Classic.

MLB commentary

I have a confession to make: I’m a bandwagon Rangers fan.

Before you jump on me for my fair-weather ways, look at yourself in the mirror and tell me you aren’t the same way.

If you’re a person who has been going to the Ballpark in Arlington since you were 5 years old and sat through those 100-degree summers of losing, then props to you. The team you’ve been waiting for all these years has finally come through, and you deserve to be a part of this pennant race more than I do.

But I personally don’t see any shame in my sudden change of faith. My hometown baseball team is good. Really good. So I’m going to cheer for them.

When I was little, my dad had Rangers season tickets because he’s a baseball guru (imagine his dismay when I didn’t last through my first and only softball practice). He took me to every Rangers Opening Day game from ages 6 through 15, but that was the only game I’d attend all season.

Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to go to the ballpark and eat hotdogs and get mint chocolate chip ice cream in those awesome baseball hat bowls. I even had a “Pudge” Rodriguez jersey and hoped to catch a fly ball in my little black mitt. But I’m one of those people who doesn’t enjoy sweating in plastic seats watching a slow, three-hour baseball game just for my team to end up losing.

My whole life I’ve been an avid sports fan, but never liked baseball thanks to the Rangers.

But then a few months ago, the Rangers acquired a certain All-Star lefty — Cliff Lee — and everything changed.

“I didn’t know we were going to get him. It didn’t look as though we had a chance,” Rangers manager Ron Washington told <em>ESPN.com</em>. “When we got him, it sent a spark throughout the whole team. It meant the organization was serious about helping us win. I thought we had a good club. I thought we could make the playoffs. But when you get a guy like Cliff Lee, well, then you can start thinking big.”

The Lee trade gave me a spark, too. So on July 27th, I watched him pitch against the A’s in his fourth start as a Ranger. He struck out 13 batters and only allowed five hits and one run in nine innings as the Rangers won 3-1.

“Wait, the Rangers are good now,” I thought. “Am I a ... Rangers fan?”

The answer was yes.

So I started paying closer attention and developed a newfound love and appreciation for baseball.

Now the Rangers are in the ALCS for the first time in franchise history and I’ve got my antlers and claws up. I even went to Game 3 of the Rays series, and am currently watching Lee mow down the Yankees in his third post-season game of 10-plus strikeouts.

But it’s not just Lee that’s turned me into a fan. It’s the fact that the team sprayed Ginger Ale in the locker room after winning the ALDS so that center fielder Josh Hamilton could participate in the celebration. It’s the way the team didn’t fold in Game 2 of the ALCS after giving up a five-run lead to the Yankees the night before. It’s because every time closers Alexi Ogando or Neftali Feliz take the mound, the coolest Dominican Republic music blares on the speakers at the ballpark.

The Rangers have that underdog passion that I find so attractive in teams and despite the fact that I’ve never taken an interest in this club ... it’s World Series or bust!