Monday, October 31, 2011

One strike away

Imagine, then, being a Texas Rangers fan right now. You took the magic carpet ride all the way to the World Series, the second straight year you got there, you end up one strike away from the championship, and then, that line drive off the right field wall.

But no worries. The next inning, you have your franchise's very own Kirk Gibson moment when Josh Hamilton and his injured groin gave your team the lead again in the top of the 10th. Again, you find your team one strike from a championship. Again, the sinking feeling of a hit to the outfield. Only this time, there's no coming back.

Sure, that was only Game 6 of the World Series, but nobody expected the Rangers to bounce back to win Game 7. Teams suffering that kind of tragedy don't just bounce back easily. Look at the '86 Angels. Even though Dave Henderson's home run came in Game 5, that series was done. It took them 16 years to recover from Dave Henderson's home run. Donnie Moore never did. Look also at the team that knocked those Angels out, the '86 Red Sox. Bill Buckner's error happened in Game 6 of the World Series; they had a chance to win in Game 7, but they didn't, and Buckner's error terrorized those fans for 18 years before they finally won it all.

The Rangers have quite a bit in common with those two teams, too. That's not a good thing. Obviously, all three were one strike from ultimate victory before stunningly watching it fall away. But they all also had a chance at immediate redemption; all three took an early lead in the next game after their devastating losses. But their losses seemed preordained, and so it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise that they lost the next day.

So now the challenge begins for the Rangers. Making it to two straight World Series is impressive; two straight shows that you're a good team and not a fluke. But it will be tough from here on out. It might not be tough to return to the big stage. What will be tough is when they're in the clinching game, with the lead, needing three outs to go. That's when the memories of Game 6 will come back. The players will feel it then. And they'll wonder if they'll have what it takes.

It might take a year, or two years, or a decade, or a generation. Some day, the Rangers will get over it. But don't be surprised if it takes a while, when most, if not all, of the players from this year's team are gone, so that there's nobody left who has a memory of what happened that night in St. Louis.

I could be wrong, of course. The Rangers could regroup, bounce back next year and win the whole thing. I kind of hope they do. But I also kind of expect they won't. It's not easy to get over an emotional swing like that. David Freese did more than hit a game-tying triple and a game-winning home run in a World Series game. He might have knocked the Texas Rangers out of commission for a decade.

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