12/26/11 10:00 AM EST
Heartbreaking loss overshadows big season
Rangers twice within one strike from capturing Fall Classic
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
Then the Rangers took the lead in the seventh. Third baseman Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit back-to-back home runs leading off the inning. Ian Kinsler added a two-out RBI single and the Rangers led 7-4 with nine outs to go.Derek Holland, pitching in relief, retired the side in order in the seventh. But Allen Craig hit a one-out home run in the eighth to make it a two-run game. Closer Neftali Feliz came in to pitch the ninth. Ryan Theriot struck out swinging, but Albert Pujols doubled and Lance Berkman walked on four pitches. Craig struck out looking, and Feliz needed just one more out. Instead, Cardinals third baseman David Freese fell behind 1-2 in the count and then hit a long drive to deep right. Cruz went back, but not far enough and the ball sailed beyond his reach for a triple that scored two runs and tied the game. It did not stay tied for long. Elvis Andrus singled with one out in the 10th off Jason Motte, and Josh Hamilton followed with a home run to right-center to give the Rangers a 9-7 lead. Darren Oliver took over for Feliz in the 10th to face the bottom of the Cardinals' order and two left-handed hitters. But Daniel Descalso grounded a single through the right side and Jon Jay blooped a hit into shallow left, putting runners on first and second. They were bunted over by pinch-hitter Kyle Lohse, and Scott Feldman replaced Oliver. Theriot hit a weak grounder to Beltre at third, who threw to first for the second out while Descalso scored. Pujols received an intentional walk. Berkman worked the count to 2-2 and then lined a run-scoring single to center to tie the game. The game went into the 11th. The Rangers did not score in the top of the 11th and Freese won it with a walk-off home run off Mark Lowe. It was a game that will be long be remembered, but there were other highlights worth recalling. 5. Two big acquisitions The Rangers were unable to re-sign pitcher Cliff Lee, but they were able to sign Beltre to a five-year contract on Jan. 5 and acquired catcher Mike Napoli from the Blue Jays for pitcher Frank Francisco on Jan. 25. They hit 62 home runs and drove in 180 runs between them. Beltre won a Gold Glove and Napoli took over as the No. 1 catcher because of the superb way he handled the pitching staff. 4. Five All-Stars The Rangers ended up sending five players to the All-Star Game. Beltre and Hamilton were in the American League starting lineup, while C.J. Wilson and Ogando were on the pitching staff. Michael Young was selected for the seventh time in his career. Wilson ended up being the losing pitcher and the National League ended up with home-field advantage in the World Series. That didn't help the Rangers in October. 3. Rotation leads the way The Rangers' rotation finished with a record of 74-40 with a 3.65 ERA, which was the lowest for their starters since 1983. They had five starters win at least 13 games, the first AL team to do that since the '77 Orioles. Wilson and Holland led the way with 16 wins each. Lewis and Matt Harrison won 14 and Ogando, making a successful transition from the bullpen, finished with 13 victories. 2. Club record for wins The Rangers won 96 games in 2011, the most in club history. It allowed them to win the AL West for the second straight year and fifth time in club history. The Rangers set the record with six consecutive wins to end the season. They also started the year by winning nine of 10 and also had a 12-game winning streak in July, the second longest in franchise history. 1. Another pennant flies in Arlington The Rangers became the first team to repeat as AL champions since the Yankees won four straight from 1998-2001. The Rangers did so by taking down the Rays in four games in the AL Division Series and the Tigers in six games in the AL Championship Series. Cruz, who won the ALCS MVP, hit six home runs with 13 RBIS, both new records for a single postseason series.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.