Thursday, October 27, 2011

Game 6: Full for now-forgotten moments of Rangers greatness

I don't even know where to begin. I'm sick to my stomach. And while the Texas Rangers, my Texas Rangers, were on the receiving end of the ultimate kick to the nuts, the most crushing part of it might be the fact that I don't know how I'll be able to muster hope for tomorrow -- actually, for later tonight.

In a 4 hour, 33 minute, back-and-forth, eyelash-away-from-a-championship game -- TWICE -- the St. Louis Cardinals forced Game 7 of the 2011 World Series by defeating Texas, 10-9 in 11 innings in Game 6 to tie the series, 3-3. But while the number of games each team has won might be tied, the Cardinals have such a big lead at this point, I don't know how Texas is supposed to recover.

The Rangers twice had the Cardinals down to their final strike, not their final out, but their final strike, and couldn't get the job done. Texas led 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning before Neftali Feliz blew his first career postseason save in eight chances. One inning later, the Rangers lost a 9-7 lead after Josh Hamilton hit was could have been a legend-cementing home run. Instead, Hamilton's go-ahead home run in the top of the 10th inning, his first of the playoffs and first since September 25, will be forgotten like Jake Delhome's TD pass to Ricky Proehl with just under two minutes left in Super Bowl XXXVIII to put the Panthers ahead of the Patriots. But no one remembers that because of what happened next.

In the case of the 2003 Panthers, Tom Brady drove New England to a Super Bowl title. In the case of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, Hamilton's blast was erased by Lance Berkman's game-tying single in the bottom of the 10th and David Freese's walkoff home run in the bottom of the 11th.

Hamilton's home run, for all intents and purposes, never happened.

Neither did the three St. Louis errors that led to a pair of unearned runs for the Rangers.

The back-to-back home runs by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz? Vanished into a footnote.

Those same solo shots to begin the top of the 7th to put Texas ahead immediately after Michael Young's defense went to hell, Alexi Ogando reverted to a 2010-version of Derek Holland, and the Cardinals tied the game 4-4 in the bottom of the 6th... those two home runs are now almost as memorable as Mike Napoli's throw to third base in the bottom of the 6th to pick off Matt Holliday and prevent any more damage.

And speaking of Napoli, his Wolverine-like healing power after snapping his ankle sliding into second base early in the game? Now an afterthought.

So many Texas Rangers chances in this game. So many opportunities.

So many great moments that could have be just a part of the magic of the franchise's first World Championship. Instead, those are merely some of the hurdles that fans in St. Louis can reminisce about for generations to come unless Texas has a shorter memory than a housemate on Jersey Shore.

(Translation: I'm not optimistic.)

(Bluntly: How is this team not entirely F'd right now?)

Skipper Ron Washington was out-managed by Tony LaRussa, which isn't shocking, but Washington was not ready to work lineup card magic in a National League ballpark. He kept Colby Lewis in the game in the top of the 5th to hit with the bases loaded and two outs. He brought in Alexi Ogando who melted down yet again in the Fall Classic before yanking him off the mound in favor of the Dutch Oven. Wash left Holland out there to allow a solo homer to Allen Craig in the 8th to pull St. Louis within two runs instead of immediately going to right-handed set up man in Mike Adams. And in extra innings, Washington and the Rangers seemed out of sorts deciding whether to keep Feldman in the game and on the mound or pinch hit for him with two outs in the top of the 11th.

By the end of the night, Mike Napoli was playing on one ankle, Nelson Cruz strained a groin, and the Texas Rangers' fans hearted suffered the ultimate bruise.

Somehow the Rangers -- a team that hasn't lost consecutive games in more than 40 days -- must continue that streak to claim the franchise's first championship.

Two strikes away. Twice.

And tomorrow, if the Rangers do win, this misery goes away almost as quickly as the legend of the Hamilton's home run in tonight's 10th inning. But if St. Louis completes the comeback, it's a game that will haunt these players, these coaches, these fans, and this Metroplex until Dirk and boys redeem themselves five years later against Wade and Heat, until...


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