Josh Sborz recorded the final strike of the season, the one that had eluded the Texas Rangers twice in their previous attempt to win a World Series, and slammed his glove to the Chase Field turf as a dogpile ensued.
For the Rangers reliever, it was euphoric. For a Texas fan base that had waited more than 50 years to celebrate its franchise’s first championship, it was cathartic.
For 12 years, the game-tying and game-winning swings from David Freese in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series played on a loop in the memories of Rangers fans, haunting them more and more as each passing season of fruitlessness and futility left them without an opportunity to avenge the most heartbreaking defeat in franchise history. They were not convinced they would get another chance.
But the nightmare is over.
On Wednesday night in Arizona, their demons were exorcised. The drought was doused. Just two years removed from a 102-loss season, for the first time since the franchise was conceived as the Washington Senators in 1961 and moved to Texas in 1972, the Rangers were World Series champions.
“Kind of at a loss for words,” World Series MVP Corey Seager said.
“I’m not going to lie,” manager Bruce Bochy added, “it’s special to come here in my first year with a team that was determined to play winning baseball and had never won a championship.”
Bochy’s Rangers needed only five games to best the Diamondbacks and deliver North Texas its long-awaited title. Still, finishing the job required fortitude. All year, Bochy took pride in his team’s resilience. It was the Rangers’ calling card — perhaps a product of the calming influence of their most important free-agent signing: their manager.
Throughout the Rangers’ run, memories of their past surrounded them. The man whose Giants beat the Rangers in the 2010 World Series was also the person in charge of guiding Texas to the franchise’s first title. In his first season at the helm, Bochy became the third manager ever to win titles in both the National and American Leagues.
Adolis García, a former Cardinal who was traded to the Rangers for cash considerations in 2019, was the story and breakout star of October. He set the all-time record for RBIs in a single postseason with his home run to win Game 1 of the World Series, surpassing a mark previously held by Freese. The walk-off blast came exactly 12 years to the day when the Cardinals’ 2011 standout set it against the Rangers.
On Wednesday at Chase Field, Rangers greats Adrian Beltre, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler — three members of their 2011 pennant-winning club — joined the celebration.
A litany of offensive stars have donned a Rangers uniform, though slugging has never been the franchise’s flaw. After decades of despair, Pudge Rodriguez, Will Clark, Juan Gonzalez and Rusty Greer helped power the Rangers’ to their first ever playoff appearances In the late ’90s. But those teams couldn’t escape the ALDS.
As another decade of ineptitude loomed, the youngest general manager in baseball history brought promise. In 2006, Jon Daniels acquired Nelson Cruz. One season later, he added Elvis Andrus, Neftali Perez and Matt Harrison in a blockbuster deal for Mark Teixeira. Later that year, he took a chance on a reclamation project in Josh Hamilton. The building blocks were being assembled for the most productive stretch in franchise history.
Three years later, the Rangers played in back-to-back World Series, losing in five games to Bochy’s Giants in 2010 before letting a championship slip out of their grasp against the Cardinals in 2011.
They would flirt with relevance through the early part of the 2010s, making the playoffs in 2012, 2015 and 2016, but a plethora of whiffs on top picks, and a wave of homegrown prospects failing to meet expectations, made it difficult to stock the farm system with enough meaningful talent to sustain success. The nosedive began in 2017 — their first of six straight seasons with a losing record.
All of which made this year’s turnaround so remarkable.
The Rangers became just the third team in baseball history to go from losing at least 100 games to winning a World Series two years later, joining the 1912-14 Boston Braves and 1967-69 New York Mets. The 2022 Rangers’ .420 winning percentage was the lowest ever for a team that would win the World Series the following season.
But the pieces were being assembled again for the rebuild that would take the Rangers from irrelevance to preeminence. Last year, they committed $500 million to their middle infield of Marcus Semien and Seager. The former put the deciding game of the World Series away. The latter earned World Series MVP honors. Both bought into what the Rangers were building, long before the wins had accumulated.
“I won in L.A.,” said Seager, now a two-time World Series MVP. “They hadn’t won in 30 years, and I saw what it did to a fan base. When I found out they had never won here, that was something that intrigued me, to be able to start at the bottom and try and build something.”
General manager Chris Young took the roster-building reins from Daniels last summer and sold a vision to Bochy this past offseason, luring the accomplished manager out of his three-year retirement. Of course, both recognized the roster still needed bolstering.
After dedicating resources toward the offense in 2022, the Rangers addressed the pitching deficiencies that had doomed the franchise for decades. Jacob deGrom was the Rangers’ highest-profile move last offseason, but it was a free agent from Alvin, Texas — the same hometown as their Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan — who set the Rangers on their championship path.
Nathan Eovaldi, already a postseason hero for the 2018 champion Boston Red Sox, was the final piece added to the revamped Texas rotation. He conducted his latest masterpiece this October, starting and winning three of the Rangers’ four series-clinching victories.
Eovaldi calmly put the finishing touches on the deciding Game 5 win of the World Series, stranding nine runners on base to hold the Diamondbacks scoreless through six innings and become the first pitcher in MLB history to win five starts in a single postseason.
“All the guys that are here, ownership and C.Y., give all the credit to them to be able to piece it all together and make it happen,” Eovaldi said.
The Rangers snapped the third-longest drought for a franchise to win its first World Series, behind only the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies (77 years) and the 1966 Baltimore Orioles (63 years).
They were one of six teams never to have won a title and the only team among those six to have made multiple World Series appearances without winning one — until now.
It took notable free-agent successes, savvy trades and developmental wins to finally get over the hump. The Rangers dealt for García in 2019, Nathaniel Lowe in 2020, Jonah Heim in 2021 and Mitch Garver in 2022, all mainstays in their explosive 2023 lineup.
This year, 25-year-old Leody Taveras took a leap forward. Top prospects Josh Jung and Evan Carter followed suit. The Rangers found a championship concoction, but it required resilience, all the way to the season’s final day.
They lost deGrom for the season. Heim, Jung, Seager, Eovaldi, García and Max Scherzer all missed time to injury in the season’s second half. The Rangers dropped 16 of 20 games from mid-August to early September, watching their division lead vanish. They got it back before the final week of the season only to watch it disappear again in the regular-season finale. The Astros won the AL West crown, forcing the Rangers to travel cross-country from Seattle in Game 162 to Tampa Bay for the start of the wild-card series two days later.
The Rangers never panicked. They responded with a sweep of the 99-win Rays and another of the 101-win Orioles, before vanquishing the reigning champions in comeback fashion. After losing all three home games to the Astros in the American League Championship Series, the Rangers outscored the division winners and in-state rivals by 14 runs over the final two games of the series in Houston. They went 11-0 on the road, setting a postseason record.
Their perseverance paid off again in Game 1 of the World Series, when Seager erased a two-run deficit in the ninth inning on a game-tying home run and García walked the Rangers off with a win. With that, the ghosts of postseason failures past seemed to evaporate. Nothing, not even injuries to García and Scherzer in Game 3, would shatter the Rangers’ belief.
There are certain successes that sports fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex will cherish forever.
The Stars won their only Stanley Cup in 1999. The Mavericks captured their only NBA title in 2011. And now, 62 years after their franchise was born, 51 years after they moved to Texas, 11 years after they watched a championship slip away and two years after devoting the financial resources required to begin one of the quickest rebuilds and most extraordinary turnarounds in baseball history, the Rangers have won their first World Series championship.
“It’s just awesome,” Seager said. “This is the vision, right?”
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