Usually by the time we start feeling fall, your Texas Rangers have long since raised the white flag. But I'll be damned, tonight in Arlington they're going to raise a championship banner.
Cue Prince, it is indeed time to party like it's 1999.
When Nelson Cruz nabbed a lazy fly ball to shallow left field Saturday afternoon, the Rangers proclaimed themselves "winners" for only the fourth time in 39 seasons of baseball. With a monumental 4-3 victory over the A's, the Rangers won the American League West and got us jazzed for a rarity in these parts: October baseball.
As a life-long Rangers' fan who attended the first game at Arlington Stadium back in 1972 (I was sitting in left-center field when Frank Howard's inaugural homer christened the seats), it's surreal to watch Texas celebrate anything more than individual achievement. No-hitters. MVPs. Home Run Derbys. Plenty of those through the years.
But a dramatic, climactic, hop-happy celebration on someone else's field? It's time.
Actually, it was way overdue.
Since '99 the Rangers have sucked. They've changed philosophical directions more than your kid's Etch-O-Sketch. From '00-'07 they managed to produce eight consecutive seasons finishing third or worse in a four-team division. Last decade they had eight losing seasons in 10 years.
It was abysmal. It was embarrassing. It ... is over.
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This year the Rangers survived their manager's cocaine admission, ugly bankruptcy proceedings climaxed by an ownership tug-of-war, a guy falling from the stands, a pitcher almost killed by a line drive and the usual ebbs and flows of a 162-game season. Truth be told, the Rangers took control of the division on June 8 in the midst of an 11-game winning streak and were never threatened.
Fittingly in this weird, wonderful year, it was a slumping hitter who got the clinching knock and a pitcher who in spring wanted to be a starter who nailed down the final out as a reliever. Despite Jorge Cantu setting a Rangers' record for most RBI-less at-bats to start a career in Texas (84) and despite having hot lefties David Murphy and Chris Davis available on the bench, gut-led manager Ron Washington stuck with Cantu in Saturday's eighth inning and he responded with a homer to left-center. Neftali Feliz then pitched the ninth for his rookie record 38th save.
They'll be plenty of time to dissect the Rangers' playoff chances and lament their 0-12 road record against possible foes Minnesota, Tampa Bay and New York. But today let's do the Claw, the Antlers and irrationally frolic in a champagne-soaked celebration of joy and gratitude.
I'm most happy for veteran Michael Young. You?