ARLINGTON, Tex. — The baseball world may have paused Saturday night at 10:40 Central time to gaze upon Rangers Ballpark, where in the middle of the diamond the Texas Rangers celebrated their arrival as the sport’s newest superpower. They are smarter, better and soon to be richer than just about any rival. The moment that cemented their coming reign came as they seized their second straight American League pennant, their second straight trip to the World Series.
The Rangers unleashed the full fury of their powerful lineup in a 15-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers, which included a merciless, nine-run assault in the third inning. They concluded a classic AL Championship Series before a crowd 51,508 with a blowout victory over the valiant Tigers, who pushed the series to six games despite a roster devastated by injuries. In the end, the Tigers met the same fate as the rest of the league — they were no match for the talent assembled in North Texas.
After the final out Saturday night — Brandon Inge’s popup behind first base — Pat Green’s “I Like Texas” blared over the loudspeakers and confetti floated from the top of the stadium. Players flipped their gloves in the air and pulled on T-shirts proclaiming themselves AL champions. Manager Ron Washington stood on a podium and, for the second straight October, accepted the American League championship trophy and hoisted it into the air.
The moment allowed for reflection to last fall, when the Rangers ended their season with a loss to the San Francisco Giants. General Manager Jon Daniels walked through the sullen clubhouse as players sat and digested the loss.
“I had a sense that it was instantaneous,” Daniels said Saturday night, standing on the pitching mound afterward. “They had shifted their focus to next year.”
“Last year, we were so excited and didn’t really know what we were capable of doing when we got to the Series,” team President Nolan Ryan said. “This year, the guys were more focused and more determined. They came away a little disappointed they didn’t. I think that was the driving force to the season we had.”
Their final victory was their most emphatic. After the teams played to a virtual draw for five games, with two of Texas’s three victories coming in extra innings, the Rangers gave no quarter in Game 6. They tacked on runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh, tested the arms of the Tigers’ outfield, used their best relievers and never gave Detroit’s bullpen a break.
“I’m sure some people are going to make fun of us now because of the way this game ended, so that hurts a little bit,” Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said. “I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope that people don’t make light of the Tigers, because it really was a tremendous series.”
The entire Rangers lineup thumped the Tigers’ staff, no one more than cleanup hitter Michael Young, the longest-tenured Rangers player. He ripped a pair of two-RBI doubles in the second inning and smashed a solo homer to dead center in the seventh, giving him five RBI.
Nelson Cruz provided a fitting end to the historic performance that earned him the series MVP award, smashing a two-run homer in the seventh to go with a double and a walk. Cruz became the first player to hit six home runs in one postseason series, and his 13 RBI also set a new postseason record. In 2008, at 27, Cruz played the majority of his season at Class AAA. He has become an integral piece of a World Series team.
“Not many guys go down to the minor leagues at 27 years old and are open to making a change,” Daniels said. “But he did that.”
Game 6 felt like the first five at the start, tension high in both dugouts, every pitch a possible turning point. Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta launched opposite-field home runs in the first and second innings, respectively, off Derek Holland, giving the Tigers a 2-0 lead and early bead on forcing a Game 7.
Tigers starter Max Scherzer rolled through the first two innings with some occasional command issues, but he escaped a two-on, two-out jam in the second and then retired Ian Kinsler with a groundout to start the third. The Tigers had control. What occurred next, the citizens of Detroit will try for years to wipe from their memory.
Scherzer walked Elvis Andrus with one out, and by the time the Tigers recorded their next out, three pitchers had emerged from the bullpen and their season had all but ended. The big hits and untimely walks kept coming. Young tied the score with a two-run double. Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli drew consecutive walks. Lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth entered to pitch to David Murphy and allowed a two-run, bases loaded single. Rick Porcello came on next and pitched to five batters, and Young smacked another two-RBI double. At one point, the Rangers sent nine straight men to the plate without making an out.
The final damage: six hits, four walks, one error, nine runs, four pitchers used, 50 pitches thrown, 14 batters, one World Series ticket punched.
“It was amazing,” Napoli said. “We just kept moving the line.”
When the Rangers made the first World Series in franchise history last season they were gate-crashers. This year, even after they lost 2010 ace Cliff Lee in free agency, they will probably be favorites. They thrived because of a dominant bullpen and smart acquisitions, like the offseason trade for Napoli and signing of Beltre. They’re back, and they aren’t going anywhere in the years to come.
The Rangers’ wayward existence for the 31 / 2 decades after the Washington Senators moved here has yielded to the relentless competence and intelligent creativity of a new regime. Led by Ryan and Daniels, the Rangers have built a savvy front office, a stocked farm system and a stacked young core.
The Rangers control the 2012 rights of every key member of their team aside from No. 1 starter C.J. Wilson, whom they could replace by converting the fireballing, 23-year-old closer Neftali Feliz into a starter. Only Young, Beltre and starting pitcher Colby Lewis are older than 30.
The Rangers’ payroll sat at roughly $92 million this season, a figure that will only grow in years to come. The team signed a $1.6 billion television deal with Fox Sports that will start in 2015, a financial windfall that will make its revenue competitive with any team. The Rangers can still be beat, but they have given themselves every advantage.
Last year, the Rangers ran into the hot pitching of the San Francisco Giants and lost in five games. They viewed the season with a mix of accomplishment and disappointment. When the World Series begins Wednesday in St. Louis or Milwaukee, these Rangers will have their sights set higher, with the rest of baseball looking up at them.
“We haven’t finished what we set out to do,” Ryan said.