ARLINGTON, Texas - Nelson Cruz rocketed a drive deep into the Texas night, and soon it was time for the Rangers to really go wild - and straight to their first trip to the World Series.
The celebration was a half-century in the making.
“The World Series is coming to Texas,” said Michael Young, the longest-tenured Ranger in his 10th season. “These fans have waited longer than we have. I know how bad we wanted it, and they must have wanted it more.”
Texas clinched its first pennant with a 6-1 victory over the defending World Series champion New York Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night for the biggest victory in the franchise’s 50 seasons.
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Vladimir Guerrero, going to baseball’s biggest stage for the first time in his 15 major league seasons, drove in three runs before scoring on Cruz’s homer in the fifth that sent a rollicking crowd of 51,404 into a red frenzy.
When Alex Rodriguez took a called third strike to end the game, fireworks exploded in the sky high above, confetti filled the air, and the Rangers embraced each other near the mound.
“Totally worth the wait, totally,” Young said.
Having A-Rod standing at the plate for the game-ending out and beating the Yankees made it even more satisfying for fans deep in the heart of Texas.
The Yankees, with their 27 World Series titles and 40 pennants, had knocked Texas out of the playoffs in each of the club’s three previous appearances.
And Rodriguez was one the largest unsecured creditors owed money by the Rangers in a messy bankruptcy case this summer before a group led by Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg bought the team from Tom Hicks in an auction. A-Rod was owned about $25 million in deferred compensation for his three seasons (2001-03) when Texas finished last in the AL West each time.
The Rangers, who had never won a postseason series or a home playoff game before this year, dispatched the $200 million-plus Bronx Bombers with little drama – especially after that four-run outburst in the fifth snapped a 1-all tie.
“We didn’t accomplish what we set out to. And as I told my guys, this hurts,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I’ve been through it as a player. I’ve been through it as a coach and now I’ve been through it as a manager. It’s not a lot of fun watching other teams celebrate. They beat us. They outhit us, they outpitched us, outplayed us and they beat us.”
Colby Lewis dominated over eight innings for his second win of the series, and Josh Hamilton earned the ALCS MVP award. And in a state where most sports fans gear up for fall weekends by watching high school football, the Rangers gave a new meaning to Friday Night Lights.
Rangers icon Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who is the team president, embraced his wife in the front row before going on the field to join the club.
“Our fans have waited a long time, this organization has waited a long time,” Ryan said. “This team coming out of spring training was on a mission.”
Hamilton, who homered four times in the series, admitted he shed a tear in center field right before the final out.
“We are here as a group. This group is here because they don’t know how to fail,” Hamilton said.
Moments after closer Neftali Feliz fanned Rodriguez for the final out, a flag proclaiming the Texas as the AL champion flapped above the ballpark. The Rangers celebrated on the field with ginger ale in deference to Hamilton’s well-documented substance abuse problems.