Posted on September 28, 2012 at 7:42 PM
Friday, Sep 28 at 7:49 PM
When the 2012 season began, the Rangers' biggest projected threat in the AL West was the LA Angels. The inflated payroll, the addition of a big name slugger and a solid pitcher in the offseason seemed to spell trouble for the boys in Arlington.
With a win tonight, the Rangers can clip the Angels wings, ending any shot they had at the postseason and dropping their own divisional magic number. What was once something so rare to Texas baseball fans has become the standard over the last three seasons: the playoffs.
We were treated to the electricity of mid-October baseball for the first time in 1996. Ironic as it may prove to be, that same feeling continued over a three year period. Then the drought began to rival the one featured in The Grapes of Wrath. I hung in there with the home team during that grueling decade. I watched road trips with 1-12 finishes, saw the Rangers end several seasons in last place in the division and sighed when we finished the 2003 season with 91 losses. It was tough to be a Ranger fan then but now a different kind of anxiety has set in.
The Rangers must win the 2012 World Series for any of their recent success to matter.
I felt pain and an indescribable agony, even turned off my phone, after Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. I didn’t speak a word the entire Saturday following Game 7. So close -- and it was jerked away in such gut wrenching fashion. Two World Series appearances, and both times they fell short. The magic of the 2010 and 2011 seasons has been replaced by a sense of urgency. Another AL West division title is not enough. Even a sweep in the ALDS or the ALCS will not satisfy or ease the pressure.
What do most folks remember about the Buffalo Bills of the early 90’s? Not that they won four consecutive AFC titles. No, it’s that the Bills were the losers in four consecutive Super Bowls. This phenomenally talented Rangers squad cannot let that be their legacy. The Rangers sent eight players to the All-Star Game. In August, Adrian Beltre hit for the cycle just one night after a three homerun spectacle. Josh Hamilton leads the majors in home runs with 43. Matt Harrison’s 18 wins only trails Tampa Bay’s David Price and LA’s Jered Weaver for the most in the American League. Ian Kinsler is third in the AL with 102 runs. Harrison and Yu Darvish both post respectable ERA’s at 3.26 and 3.90 respectively.
I talked with Ranger fans who felt empowered when the team went 17-6 in April. They cringed in May at a 14-14 record, felt vindicated at a 19-8 record in June and despaired with July’s dismal 9-14 record. Talk radio and television network analysts in North Texas all shared the fans' grumblings. What was happening to the mighty Texas Rangers? Unmet expectations result in reactions and behaviors that are often negative, and the expectation now of these Texas Rangers is that they should always win. August brought a rebound for the team and a 19-10 record. The urgency faded a bit but did not subside.
The expectation to win is rational; the expectation that the Rangers will always score 10 runs in a game or finish each month with April's dominance is not. But it is warranted. After all, the talent of the team on paper and on the field would indicate better results in the past three months. But the standings show the Rangers have the best record in a difficult American League. The team is right where they should be in September. The problem is where will they be in October?
At the end of the fall classic, there can be no other team hoisting the World Series trophy than the Rangers in the eyes of Texas fans. The good times, the fun, it’s been nice to watch, and it fills the seats at the Ballpark. But none of that will matter if the Rangers come up short, be it in the post season or in the World Series.
Ron Washington seems to do the job of keeping public pressure off of his team, but the Rangers too feel the same sense of urgency as their fans. Mike Napoli’s Twitter profile states “We got close in 2011 but in 2012 the World Series Championship will be ours!” The Rangers know it. Management knows it. The fans know it. Anything short of the world crown in 2012 and the Rangers will be regarded in the same manner as the Bills of the 1990’s: A team with a ton of talent that just didn’t live up to its potential