As I mentioned about a month ago, last year's Bound Edition ended, on page 322, before the release of any franchise marketing slogans for 2010, with the words: "It's time to win."
And that's what happened in 2010. Texas won.
There are 22 teams who have to go home after they play 162. Of the eight remaining teams, seven finish their season with a loss, with the one other team piling on each other in the middle of the field. There's only one team that gets to play on and then finish with a win, and if that's the definition of winning, nobody in baseball other than the San Francisco Giants won in 2010. But I will never define this Rangers season that way.
If you would have told me in March that the Major League season would end with Tim Lincecum facing off against Cliff Lee, I might have believed that.
But if you then added that the matchup would take place in Arlington - that one of those two pitchers would be Texas Rangers - I (1) would have doubted your mental stability and, (2) if convinced that you were on to something, would have taken it in a second, regardless of whether the Rangers were the ones piling on, or watching the other guys pour out of the visitors' dugout like the rest of us and like the 28 teams whose season ended sometime in October.
Nolan Ryan said this three weeks ago: "Our goal is to get in the World Series and win the World Series, and if we fall short of that, we'll be disappointed. That's not to say we won't look back on the year and the postseason and feel good about what we accomplished, but we'll still feel like that we didn't finish what we wanted to do. So, if that were to happen, I think it would be motivation, obviously, to the organization and to the team itself to go to Spring Training next year with that goal in mind again."
And Jon Daniels said on a radio show this morning: "We didn't get it done. We need to get better. Let's figure it out."
Was Giants-in-Five disappointing? Absolutely. For a number of reasons.
But does that mean the Rangers didn't win in 2010? Absolutely not. They didn't Win, maybe, but they sure as hell won.
The final out of the season was recorded on our field. You gonna turn that down next year?
I sat in my seat for almost an hour after that final out Monday night, long after the friends I'd been at the game with had gone home. I didn't move. I watched San Francisco celebrate, I watched the Rangers in their dugout, some players leaning on the dugout rail, others slumped back on the bench, others gathering their equipment and shuffling off to the clubhouse.
I just watched. I have this habit, during games and immediately after the big ones, of honing in mentally on some things I want to write about. But I forced myself not to do that Monday night, as the grounds crew smoothed out the dirt around home plate for the last time this year. I tried to let it all sink in, and drain out. I felt eight months of mounting adrenaline receding, at last, leaving me exhausted.
The players talked in the Rays series about "emptying the tank," and that's how I felt Monday night, how I'm sure we all felt. The fuel that had carried me through 178 games that counted, 98 of them victories, was suddenly gone, even though hours earlier there seemed to be more than enough to carry me through another game, possibly two, as this resilient baseball team found itself once again in a corner.
And as I sat back, silent, still, watching the players in the road grays pull gray commemorative T-shirts over them, and replace their black and orange caps with those black commemorative lids that I wanted my team wearing when the final out of the final game was recorded, the tinny commotion of a hundred or two in the middle of the field started to get trampled by a chant coming from the fans who had stuck around. Right away, and again more than 30 minutes after the season had ended:
"Let's Go, Rangers!"
One last smile, and I got up from my seat one last time in 2010. I found myself surprisingly at peace.
It's never going to be like this again.
That's not to say this team is about to be broken up like the 1997 Marlins - or 2010 Rays - or that its core may have peaked like the 2006 Mavericks. But Texas could rattle off three World Series appearances in the next six years, and it will never feel like 2010. That's OK, but this is a season, however disappointing as the end was, we can't ever take for granted.
This was a year when the non-fan in the Metroplex became a casual fan. Casual became locked in. Locked in became hardcore. Hardcore became combustible.
Every one of us had ten times more people around us wanting to talk Rangers baseball these last few weeks. It's a proud time to be a Texas Rangers fan, because of what happened, and what's happening, both on and off the field.
This was the season that so many of you said to me in the last month that you wish you'd had with your Mom or Dad, and that your kids now will always have had with you.
Over the final five games, the Giants soundly beat Texas. They were the better team. This wasn't a World Series that leaves us cursing an umpire or mourning a crushing error. The Rangers offense (which led baseball with a .276 team batting average this year) was flattened, hitting .190/.259/.288 for the Series - with much of that limited production coming in Game One, well after San Francisco already had that game in hand.
Texas hit .179 with runners in scoring position (while the Giants checked in at .405, capitalizing despite what was an overall .249 batting average - they collected 43 percent of their hits with two strikes and drove in 17 of their 29 runs with two outs). And the Rangers didn't create a lot of chances. They had one at-bat with a runner in scoring position in Games Four and Five combined - on Sunday, when Michael Young fanned to start the seventh, Josh Hamilton reached first on a Juan Uribe error, Vladimir Guerrero struck out, Nelson Cruz singled, and Ian Kinsler lined out to left field.
Not counting Cruz's home run late in the Series finale, the only two to reach third base in Games Four and Five were the two kids in the Steal-A-Base contest.
Guerrero's week was one big epic flail.
But he wasn't alone in his futility. Only ninth-place hitter Mitch Moreland hit over .250 (if you discount the 1-for-2 showings by Julio Borbon and Cliff Lee). Only Moreland reached base as much as a third of the time. Only Moreland slugged more than .450.
Texas scored five runs in the final four games of the Series.
But that's enough detail. The Giants were simply the better team over the last week. Are they the best team in baseball? The hardware and the Sports Illustrated commercials say yes. But they're a great example of what Ron Washington likes to say - that it's not a question, day to day, of who the best team is, but instead of which team plays the best baseball. That was San Francisco this week, hands down. I'd suggest the Giants aren't the best team in baseball, just as I'd concede that the Rangers weren't the best team in the American League over 2010 - though they did play the best baseball in October, after earning the right to play in that month in the first place. And they did eliminate the two clubs that probably had the best claim to the "best team in baseball" label this year.
Considering the stack of adversity that Texas overcame in 2010, for this club to have been one of the final two standing defies reason.
The club's number one and number two starters were so ineffective that they not only lost their rotation spots but were left off the three playoff rosters, never even bubble candidates to make those squads.
The pitchers being counted to pick up the slack were a Japanese baseball export-import and a converted set-up man.
The starting catcher started one game.
The season-opening leadoff hitter and closer lost their jobs days into the season.
The five first basemen who appeared for Texas before Moreland arrived with two months left in the season hit a collective .199/.298/.310 for the year.
Kinsler missed a third of the season.
As did Cruz.
Hamilton missed less time than that, but at the worst time of the season, and even on his return was never close to 100 percent.
The deposed closer, who settled into the set-up role and was largely effective in it, missed the final five weeks of the season and the entire month of playoff games.
Elvis Andrus had an extra-base hit every 15.4 at-bats as a rookie in 2009. He had one every 32.7 at-bats in 2010.
Young made twice as many errors in 2010 as he did in 2009.
The targeted utility infielder (Khalil Greene) never showed up due to social anxiety disorder, leading to a parade featuring Gregorio Petit, Hernan Irribarren, Ray Olmedo, Esteban German, Arias, Cristian Guzman, Alex Cora, and, thankfully, Andres Blanco.
Cocaine. The manager.
An inability to increase payroll through trade season.
But what Texas did in that trade season exemplified what this team did all year, in all phases. Backed up against a wall, handcuffed, dealing with roadblocks that no other team faced, Jon Daniels and his crew didn't resign themselves to a position of bystander and pulled off a July trade for the best available starting pitcher in the league, and acquired several other role players who helped in varying degrees.
Trade deadline deals pay off less often than you might think. The best mid-season pitching acquisitions over the last generation, based on immediate impact?
Rick Sutcliffe, Cubs, 1984.
Doyle Alexander, Tigers, 1987.
Larry Anderson, Red Sox, 1990.
David Cone, Blue Jays, 1992.
David Cone, Yankees, 1995.
Randy Johnson, Astros, 1998.
C.C. Sabathia, Brewers, 2008.
Cliff Lee, Phillies, 2009.
Cliff Lee, Rangers, 2010.
Pretty sure Texas was the only one of those nine teams whose expenditures were being controlled by Major League Baseball.
This front office is as resourceful as its players are resilient.
Lee lost twice in this World Series - his first two losses in 10 career post-season starts - but make no mistake: The Rangers would have made the playoffs without him, but wouldn't have won the pennant.
Was the Lee cutter that Edgar Renteria turned around Monday night for the decisive three-run home run the next-to-last pitch of Lee's career as a Texas Ranger? We don't know that yet. But we know Texas is going to fight for that not to happen.
Says Bob Simpson, one of the lead investors in the Greenberg-Ryan ownership group: "We're going to go after Cliff Lee - hard, and we have the financial firepower to do that. . . . And we'll do it within a model that's sustainable. The most important change for the Rangers is a model that's sustainable and not based on leverage or something that will jeopardize the long-term franchise. I don't know that it's ever had that before."
What did Lee - who misses his spots with his words about as often as with his pitches - have to say in the immediate aftermath of Monday night's season-ending loss?
"We're disappointed, but we're building something special here and we expect to be back here next year. . . . There's a lot to build on. We did a lot of firsts for this organization. We were the second-best team in the big leagues. We should be proud of that. We're going to use this as motivation and come in next year and try to do better."
Lots of first-person plural. Lots.
Then the qualifiers: "I like this team. It's a very fun team to play on. I expect this team to do some really good things next year. I don't know if I'm going to be a part of it or not. To be honest with you, I would love to be, but so many things can happen. You never know."
Go back to that day-of-trade press conference in July in Seattle, as Lee was getting set to face the Yankees - if he wasn't shipped to the visitors' clubhouse first - and you might recall what appeared to be disappointment, frustration, maybe even a little disillusionment over being convinced he was headed to New York only to be told he was going to Texas instead. Over the nearly four months since that time, Lee is either an extraordinary actor or a guy who has been won over by this organization and his teammates, and whose family might just view Texas as having a real edge on New York in both (1) proximity to their Arkansas home and (2) beer-throwing etiquette.
Said Lee just before the World Series: "I like it here. It's good for my family. There really couldn't be a better situation."
(For what it's worth, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes this morning, while conceding that Lee "is everything [the Yankees] need," that they "are not motivated like they were with Sabathia," that they "are not as desperate now.")
This ownership group is used to going to war. This will be a different brand of battle, but it's going to be fascinating.
The success of 2010 wasn't only about Lee (which is of course a plus in terms of recruiting him to stay). Texas may have the best position player in baseball (notwithstanding his rough World Series). The best young closer. The best young shortstop. One of the best General Managers and baseball operations departments and ownership groups. One of the deepest farm systems.
And to the extent that we as fans can gauge this, one of the most effective managers in the game, if your measure is a man's ability to get the most out of his players and to set a tone of accountability, character, tenacity, and focus.
And, yes, resiliency and an aptitude for handling adversity.
The mental toughness of the manager and the third baseman define this team, and Cliff Lee appears to be right there with them. That's part of what gives me confidence that if the organization decides it can play ball with the Yankees in terms of the dollars it can offer Lee to stay here, the benefits will go far beyond what he can give the team every fifth day.
Said Young minutes after the final loss to the Giants: ""Right now, this stings, obviously. To come so close to a world championship and fall short is a bitter pill to swallow.
"But we've established a different standard of expectations around here. We've built a great foundation. Now we know how good we can be and where we want to be."
Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus wrote: "The present belongs to the Giants, but in the competitive dynamics of the present, it's easy to see how tomorrow more likely belongs to the Rangers."
You and I believed this time was coming, and very likely soon, but we'd have to admit that, even half a year ago, we didn't expect the World Series to arrive in Arlington before the Super Bowl. It's been an extraordinary year, one none of us will forget, one that came to an end Monday night and will be celebrated in the Rangers Ballpark parking lot tonight at 6:00. And the beauty of extending this season as long as Texas did is that, literally and otherwise, spring training is closer than it's ever been at season's end.
I don't know if there will ever be a more captivating, rewarding baseball season around here - I hope there is - and I know I wouldn't have enjoyed every minute of it as much without you guys. This baseball market has long been disparaged by the mainstream media, but we've always known what we are and what this could become.
And so, with this report, another book ends, this year's Bound Edition of the Newberg Report. But what it really is in the bigger picture is merely a chapter in a compelling story that's just getting started.
The great thing about this organization is that, coming off the disappointment of getting stomped on in its first-ever World Series appearances, this doesn't feel anything like a blown opportunity, a window that we allowed to slam shut on us.
No, the window here is just opening, opening wide, and given what the Texas Rangers accomplished in 2010, and with what this franchise has in place in every corner you look, there's a palpable confidence that, going into 2011 and well beyond that, with apologies to a spot-on and prophetic marketing campaign that will now be retired in favor of a new one, it is, unquestionably, still Time.
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(c) Jamey Newberg