By Stephen Hawkins/The Associated Press
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers did a victory lap, sharing the moment with their frenzied fans. They sprayed each other with ginger ale on the field to involve the AL championship series MVP in the celebration, and doused their manager with the contents of a water cooler.
Fireworks and confetti filled the Texas sky. A flag proclaiming the Rangers as the AL champions was raised high above the ballpark, whipping in the wind alongside more than three dozen Lone Star state flags.
And to make their first World Series berth even more satisfying, the Rangers earned it by beating the defending champion New York Yankees. The clincher was a 6-1 victory Friday night in Game 6 of the ALCS.
“Coming out of spring training, this team showed such a heart,” said Rangers icon Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who is the team president and a part-owner. “There were so many things going on, and they were just unbelievable.”
The celebration erupted when former Ranger Alex Rodriguez took a called third strike from hard-throwing rookie closer Neftali Feliz.
“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.”
The World Series begins Wednesday in either San Francisco or Philadelphia, and the first game in Texas will be next Saturday. The Giants have a 3-2 lead in the NLCS with Game 6 on Saturday night in Philly.
Texas, which 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 a four-run outburst in the fifth inning snapped a 1-all tie.
“They beat us,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “They outhit us, they outpitched us, outplayed us and they beat us.”
The Rangers showed the 27-time World Series champions something Ryan has brought them: a culture where pitching rules, and starters expect to go deep into games.
Colby Lewis dominated over eight innings for his second win of the series and Josh Hamilton earned the series MVP award. 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.
Vladimir Guerrero, heading for baseball’s biggest stage for the first time in his 15 major league seasons, drove in three runs before scoring on Nelson Cruz’s homer in the fifth.
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,” said Hamilton, whose comeback from cocaine and alcohol addictions after being the No. 1 overall pick has been well-documented.
After going 2 for 18 with two singles in the division series, Hamilton broke out in the ALCS. So much so that he was intentionally walked five times, an ALCS record, including three times in the clincher.
Right after Hamilton was given a free pass in the fifth, Guerrero followed with a two-out, two-run double that chased Yankees starter Phil Hughes. Cruz greeted reliever David Robertson with his fifth postseason homer, knocking it to one of the deepest parts of Rangers Ballpark.
Guerrero didn’t have an RBI in the series until his grounder in the first drove home Elvis Andrus. The big hits by Guerrero and Cruz made it 5-1 again, but the Rangers wouldn’t give up that lead the way they did in Game 1.
Washington, their fourth-year manager, wasn’t even sure he’d keep his job in the summer of 2009 after failing a drug test and admitting to using cocaine once. But Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels stuck by their skipper, and again when the story became public this spring.
Now Washington is taking them to the World Series, with ace left-hander Cliff Lee set to start Game 1 since he wasn’t needed for a final game against the Yankees.
Before going the full five games in the first round to beat Tampa Bay for their first-ever postseason series victory, the Rangers had been knocked out of the playoffs by New York in 1996, 1998 and 1999. The Yankees went on to win the World Series each time, and had won 10 postseason games in a row over Texas, including the opener of this series a week ago.
It seemed fitting that A-Rod made the final out.
Rodriguez was one the largest unsecured creditors owed money by the Rangers in a messy bankruptcy case this summer before a group led by Ryan and Chuck Greenberg bought the team from Tom Hicks in an auction. Rodriguez was owned about $25 million in deferred compensation for his three seasons (2001-03) when Texas finished last in the AL West each time.
Ryan, whose only World Series as a player came for the 1969 New York Mets, was presented with the AL championship trophy after spending much of the game standing, clapping and hollering along with the rest of the raucous crowd of 51,404.
A franchise that began in 1961 as the expansion Washington Senators and moved to Texas in 1972 with Ted Williams as its manager finally reached the World Series in its 50th season.
“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.”