Rangers won't forget 'sting' of 2010
Team understands that few clubs return to World Series
ST. LOUIS -- How does the tune go? "Love is lovelier the second time around -- just as wonderful, with both feet on the ground."
Maybe that's what the Texas Rangers should be humming this October. They're back in the World Series for the second time in as many years. And yes, they have both feet on the ground, determined to make amends for last season's Fall Classic loss to the San Francisco Giants.
And speaking of the Giants, they're off playing golf or hunting or vacationing -- doing what teams do this month when they don't make it to the World Series.
As the song states, it's a lot greater the second time around -- a Herculean task that is difficult to achieve.
When the Giants put the finishing touches on Texas last November, it was as if the Rangers exhaled. Since they were transplanted from Washington, D.C., in 1972, they'd never won a postseason series. They had finally climbed that mountain and played in their first Fall Classic.
No player or team will admit it, but often just getting to the World Series is enough. Maybe that's what happened to the Rangers.
History told me that 2010 would be it -- open and close in one (World Series). And then the Rangers failed to land Cliff Lee, the ace lefty who was a huge reason they won the American League pennant in the first place and, well, fill in the blanks.
|Braves||1991||L, 4-3||Twins||1992||L, 4-2||Blue Jays|
|A's||1988||L, 4-1||Dodgers||1989||W, 4-0||Giants|
|Dodgers||1977||L, 4-2||Yankees||1978||L, 4-2||Yankees|
|Yankees||1976||L, 4-0||Reds||1977||W, 4-2||Dodgers|
|Orioles||1969||L, 4-1||Mets||1970||W, 4-1||Reds|
|Yankees||1963||L, 4-0||Dodgers||1964||L, 4-3||Cardinals|
|Yankees||1960||L, 4-3||Pirates||1961||W, 4-1||Reds|
|Yankees||1957||L, 4-3||Milw. Braves||1958||W, 4-3||Milw. Braves|
But here they are, with the best lineup in the Major Leagues, hoping to prove that the St. Louis Cardinals' Cinderella gallop to this World Series has been something from a fantasy world.
So often, teams have difficulty repeating -- an understatement. They might push the same buttons they did during the previous season but come up empty.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel says it's essential to keep reminding the players what it took to accomplish what they did the previous year.
The late Sparky Anderson once told me after his Cincinnati Reds won back-to-back World Series championships in 1975 and '76 that they began to slide in '77. "When they realized what was happening, they started trying to hit five-run home runs and win two games every day," Anderson said. "You just can't do that. You can't turn it on and off."
The Rangers are the first AL team to win back-to-back pennants since the Yankees won four straight beginning in 1998. They're only the ninth AL franchise to make a repeat appearance in the World Series.
Not since the Phillies of 2008 and '09 has any Major League team done it.
This is the most revealing number: There have been 11 different teams in the past seven World Series, with the Phillies being the only club to make a repeat appearance.
Rangers manager Ron Washington says he never doubted that his team would remember the effort of 2010.
Easier said than done. What was the mindset as 2011 evolved?
"Well, three words: Attitude, commitment and effort," Washington said without hesitation. "On November the first, we committed ourselves to trying to get back here because we knew we had the potential in the clubhouse to do it.
"A lot of times, people say a lot of things they like to do, and they don't usually live up to it. But the character inside my clubhouse -- they lived up to it."
C.J. Wilson, who will start Wednesday night's Game 1 against the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter, put it this way: "A lot of us sat in the locker room after [the elimination] Game 5 against the Giants, and we were really upset. We were like, 'This is not how we wanted to go.' Obviously, it was a great season for us last year and this year. Nobody expected us to go all the way to be here except us. ... The sting of last year is what carried us through the offseason and helped us take it to the next level. It's [an] us-against-the-opinion thing."
Josh Hamilton said that after the Rangers got through the first two rounds in 2010, "there wasn't really as much hype in the World Series as I expected. It was a great experience, but getting back was our goal from the moment it ended last year."
Wilson believes there was probably a letdown by the time the Rangers got to the postseason and ultimately the 2010 World Series.
"The season sort of dragged on," Wilson said. "We sort of knew we were going to the playoffs. But this year, having a pennant race [for the AL West title], I feel like it was much more focus toward winning the whole way through. We have the same goal we did last year, but the experience level we have is obviously a lot better."
That word focus keeps popping up.
"I don't think you can go through a full 162-game season and then the tiers of the playoffs -- somewhere along the line, focus leaves," Wilson said. "But the thing is, you always know how to gather it back."
I disagree with that. It's not always realistic a team can lose focus and summon it back at will.
"But you have to do one thing on a consistent basis," said Washington. "That is show up every day and pitch, show up every day and catch the ball and be ready to perform according to what the game asks you to do on any certain day."
Then, the Rangers skipper said something that I believe defines this wacky season: "It's not always the best team that wins; it's the team that plays the best on that day, and we just try to be the team that plays the best on that day."
And this: "I think you've just got to go out there and play baseball, and baseball is something we play very good."
Which is why the Texas Rangers are in their second consecutive World Series and determined to make the encore more enjoyable and satisfying than the first time.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.