I think I’ve been here before
Yes, I’ve been here before
The last time you locked
All the doors
— “Yes I Am,” Radiohead
So why does it still hurt?
Don’t blow your mind with why
— “Bloom,” Radiohead
* * *
I suppose the easy solution — not the answer to why, but the way to dodge the hurt — would be not to care as much.
We could pull back. Take in the results, but nothing else. Strip the emotion, accept it for what it is, for now, like a long-term investor in the market trained to roll with the short-term punches.
Loss today? Bummer.
That would suck.
Last Friday, Globe Life Park was supposed to be busting at the seams with frenzied people who care a ton, or completely empty, depending on whether Houston or Kansas City advanced out of the other ALDS matchup. That Friday was ALCS, Game One, and it was supposed to include Texas, winners of the two ALDS-opening games in Toronto, where the Jays had put up the American League’s best home record in the six preceding months.
The Rangers needed to win just one of three, with two opportunities in Arlington.
And then they’d head to Kansas City for Game One last Friday, or host the Astros.
Instead, the ballpark wasn’t over capacity on Friday, and it wasn’t vacant. There was Jon Daniels, and next to him Jeff Banister, dressed clashingly alike, in the same seats they’d been in right at a year earlier, when one introduced the other as the new manager of a baseball team that had somehow just avoided losing 100 games.
On the fifth anniversary of the Rangers’ first-ever home playoff win, and the one-year anniversary of Banister’s hiring, the two of them sat side by side, less than four hours before Jays-Royals, Game One, talking to reporters who were also supposed to be on a much different assignment that day from a season-ending presser.
Two sleeps removed from Game Five, Daniels was asked about the psyche of his franchise following the crushing devastation of the three-game losing streak that ended its season.
“2014 hurt. We lost 95 games. We sat home and watched everybody else celebrate.
“This year? The psyche is extremely positive.”
Maybe — and now I’m talking to you, and me — 2015 doesn’t hurt so much because this was never supposed to happen.
A first-time manager, inheriting that 95-loss team.
A closer who lost his job and his roster spot.
A sophomore second baseman who played his way into a AAA uniform a month in.
A quarter billion dollars wrapped up in a shortstop and right fielder who had brutal first halves.
A pair of journeymen asked to hold down catching duties when the fairly ordinary tandem entrusted with the job got hurt.
Twelve starting left fielders.
Twenty-two Wandy Rodriguez and Ross Detwiler starts.
Or maybe it doesn’t hurt so much because MLB saw to it that you didn’t get to see much of the series live, while you worked and your kids were in school.
But maybe it hurts colossally, because of 2011.
As will every season in which Texas doesn’t win the last game played, I suppose, whether it’s because of 95 losses or a Game Five seventh inning.
If there’d been a parade four years ago, or five, it would be different.
Well, we’ll always have 2011.
For now, though, we still have 2011.
The pain of one-pitch-away and a sad half-leap with five feet of warning track to go persists, and that pain can only be relieved by the Commissioner interrupting the season’s final infield scrum.
I think that’s why this one hurts.
Even if it really shouldn’t.
* * *
Elvis Andrus was a measurably better hitter in Texas wins (.697 OPS) than in Texas losses (.628) in 2015. You can look at that two ways, of course.
His .718 second-half OPS was his best since the second half of 2013.
This team is a lot better when Andrus is playing to his capability. And he looked like he was doing that, perhaps not coincidentally, at the time the Rangers made their improbable charge this summer.
Texas needs Good Elvis.
It hurts right now, too, because Elvis Andrus had a nightmare seventh inning in the game that ended the Rangers’ season, a nightmare the proportions of which would shake a high school sophomore hoping to make the squad the following spring.
Neftali didn’t really bounce back.
Nellie did. Here, but then somewhere else.
I don’t vote for that.
Texas needs Good Elvis. Not to run him off.
Banister on Friday, about what he said to his shortstop after the game and season ended: “I put my arms around him. Hugged him. Told him he’s a special player. . . . He’ll use Game Five as power to drive him to be an even more elite player.
“Our greatest challenges can be our greatest successes.”
The day before that, Banister said in an MLB Network Radio interview: “You have to use that sting, that kick in the stomach, to stoke the fire and come back next season.”
I can’t stop thinking about this. For me, what happened to Elvis Andrus, an outstanding defensive shortstop who’d had the best stretch of multi-month baseball he’d had in a long time, was the worst part of the loss in Game Five.
I want to know how Elvis will respond, and I’d really like to know now.
That part hurts.
* * *
I wrote a couple weeks ago, as the ALDS was set to get rolling, that “I [had] no hate for the Blue Jays . . . but there’s a chance I will in a few days, and on a certain sports-level you just can’t ask for anything more.”
* * *
It makes zero sense that the Rangers, two-time pennant winners, are now 1-9 at home in the ALDS. It makes very little sense that they’re 8-6 in ALDS road games (had they won Game Five, they’d have tied an MLB mark with eight straight Division Series road wins).
But 8-6 needed to be 9-5 for Texas to advance. Cole Hamels was on the mound, just as he’d been in the critical Game 162. The bullpen, better than Toronto’s to begin with, was the only one of the two at full strength. Adrian Beltre was back in action, Shin-Soo Choo’s bat had shown signs of life in Game Four, David Price was apparently unavailable.
It lined up.
But this is not football and it’s not basketball, and in baseball there’s almost never anything close to a lock in a one-game setting, which is what the series came down to.
Sometimes the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher deflects off a bat. Sometimes an elite defensive shortstop fumbles three straight baseballs, two almost impossibly. Sometimes Sam Dyson gives up fly balls. Even ones that clear the fence, fair.
This club that should have never made it to 162+, given all things it had to overcome to get there, nursed a one-run lead, nine outs away from three straight wins in the toughest American League ballpark to beat the home team in and from its third-ever American League Championship Series.
Toronto’s a really good baseball team. Losing to the Jays in five is hardly a disaster.
Their big bats woke up. The Rangers’, by and large, didn’t.
You can drill down and focus on momentary issues on the mound and in the field, but really, that’s where the difference was.
Texas (.217/.260/.299) just didn’t hit.
Choo, Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland, Andrus, and Josh Hamilton: a collective .160.
Meanwhile, Toronto’s big four — Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki — all started slowly . . . but all four homered in the final three games of the series, each a Jays win.
Toronto did a better job shutting Texas bats down in the best-of-five than Rangers pitchers did against the Jays offense.
The Jays made more bigtime defensive plays, and fewer defensive mistakes.
Toronto earned home field advantage by virtue of its work in the first 162, and was the one team that managed to win a home game in the series.
Texas won twice in Toronto but couldn’t quite finish the deal. And the rule is only one team gets to advance.
Yes, as Banister said last Friday: “The last thing you want to do is lose your last game. That didn’t feel good.”
But nine of the 10 teams who get to play past 162 lose their last game, while the 20 who don’t wish they were that fortunate.
I guess 29 teams and their fans hurt every year.
But Texas has a lot less reason to be hurting right now than almost any team in the league — including the one whose season ended last night, and maybe another team or two still playing that won’t win their last game.
“One inning, one game, three games will not define our season,” Banister said last Friday.
* * *
It was a tremendous year. Seven months of work, much of it out of a corner, led to five extra games. Just five.
Three of those were losses, and by definition that means the fifth one was, and the other sequencing really doesn’t matter.
Except yeah, it does.
Losing three straight . . . man.
But would you give those five added baseball games back?
That’s what you play for.
That’s what we invest for.
Texas earned the opportunity, the same one Toronto earned. Toronto then did a little more with it than Texas did. Sports.
Every other time the Rangers went to the playoffs — 1996 and 1998 and 1999 and 2010 and 2011 and 2012 — they spent far more regular season days than not in first place.
In 2015, they didn’t spend one day alone atop the division until mid-September.
And yet were nine outs away from winning a weeklong playoff series over a team that nobody thought they could beat.
They’ve won at least 87 games five of the last six years, a mark matched only by St. Louis.
In all five of those seasons, the Rangers played 162+.
If someone promised you today that, next October, Texas would send Rougned Odor and a pair of second-half trade pickups to the plate in the ninth inning of Game Five of the ALDS, would you take it?
What if someone guaranteed it a year ago, coming off 95 losses?
Or in March, when it was announced Darvish would miss the whole season?
Or in April, which Texas finished with its worst first-month record in franchise history?
Or in May, which Odor and Tanner Scheppers spent most of in Round Rock?
Or in June or July, which featured a run of 18 losses in 24 games?
Or in August, which began with the Rangers 8.0 games out in the West?
Or in that awesome September, be honest: Would you have taken ALDS, Game Five, when in the season’s final 10 days, the division lead narrowed, on consecutive days, from 4.5 games to 3.5 games to 2.5 games to 1.5 games?
I’ve lived through all 7,046 Texas Rangers games that counted. I’ve watched or listened or watched and listened to thousands of those, attended hundreds, same as many of you.
None of them ended up with Texas as World Champions.
Have we wasted all that time?
Each MLB franchise has a 3.33 percent chance of winning the World Series each year, but not really. It’s greater than that for Texas, which is a perennial contender now, with strength on the roster and on the coaching staff and in the front office and on the farm, and that’s seriously awesome.
It’s gonna happen.
This team has given me some of the great sports experiences of my life — including Games One and Two in Toronto — and I’m not giving any of those back.
Game Three hurt. Game Four hurt. Game Five really hurt.
2015 doesn’t hurt.
* * *
The risk of trading for pennant race help in July is you typically have to give up young, controllable, inexpensive, high-end talent for players who may be around for just a few months.
Does Texas regret loading up for three-and-a-half months of Cliff Lee in 2010? Of course not.
What about Houston parting with prospects for Scott Kazmir? He won two of his 13 Astros starts and is now a free agent.
The massive package (much of which had been earmarked for Cole Hamels, before he said he wouldn’t go to Houston) that the Astros sent to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers, controllable but probably not Role 7 players?
Kansas City sending the Reds and A’s four lefthanders and a righty for Johnny Cueto’s four wins in 13 post-trade starts and Ben Zobrist’s awesomeness (especially in the post-season)? Worth it, even if they depart this winter.
Toronto sending three key prospects plus Jose Reyes to Colorado for Troy Tulowitzki and the $98 million he’s guaranteed the next five years?
The Jays moving three young pitchers for free agent-to-be David Price? Sure, even if his role in the playoffs is unclear.
Same with the Mets moving a pair of young righthanders for Yoenis Cespedes, who is going to get paid big this winter.
The point of this is that, yes, Texas gave up a huge amount of minor league talent in July for Hamels, Dyson, and Jake Diekman.
But the Rangers control Hamels through 2019, and super-affordably given the cash subsidy Philadelphia sent over (not to mention its assumption of Matt Harrison’s deal).
And Diekman through 2018.
And Dyson through 2020.
There is work to be done this winter — there always is — but the Rangers control their key starting pitchers and their key relief pitchers, and that’s a great position to be in. Whether they decide they need to trade Fielder or Choo in order to create some payroll flexibility — and help relieve the lineup of its left-handed imbalance (an effort that could also lead teams to come after Mitch Moreland, whose one-year commitment will attract clubs) — is certainly part of the whiteboard discussion, not to mention the imminent decision on tendering Yovani Gallardo a $15.8 million contract offer for 2016, to tee up draft pick compensation should he decline it and sign elsewhere.
But — thanks in part to the improvements for 2016 that the Rangers opportunistically made three months ago, one pennant race early — the core of the team is in place, the team that played .622 baseball in the second half and took the Jays to five games. Hamels and Dyson and Diekman will be here all year, and Darvish will be back.
And we have Adrian Beltre.
Will Colby Lewis return? Will Mike Napoli? Surely there’s mutual interest in both cases.
There will be impact additions to this club.
There always are.
Banister said last Friday, again talking about Game Five: “The way things ended for us, that feeling, I’ll let that fuel me every day this winter to find a way to make us better.”
We know from experience that that’s the Daniels mindset as well.
* * *
In terms of crushing losses and the avalanche of major injuries, it’s probably fair to say that nobody’s had it tougher than Texas the last few years.
In looking at the last half-dozen seasons, almost as few have had it better.
And that includes in 2015.
Winning is hard.
If it were easy, it wouldn’t be as cool.
If it were easy, it would never hurt.
* * *
I know this. These three men have been subjected to more hurt in the game than most anyone could imagine.
One whose natural reaction to the obvious need for surgery is to push his way back into the lineup with necessarily more force.
(Don’t blow your mind with how.)
One who had the game almost taken from him, more than once, by doctors assessing whether he’d walk again.
And one in the Seventh Inning.
“The way things ended for us, that feeling, I’ll let that fuel me every day this winter to find a way to make us better.”
Said the manager, the man who sets the tone.
This team fought through and overcame so much in 2015, so much hurt, that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to wallow in it ourselves.
The doors are locked at 1000 Ballpark Way, and we’ve been there before. A lot.
But they’ll unlock and open again in a few months, and right now the only thing that Toronto-in-5 is for me is fuel for that eventual win, the one that ends everyone’s season, whenever that might be.
It won’t be this year, but it got a whole lot closer than anyone outside the clubhouse believed it could. Incredibly, the Rangers put themselves in a position to win this season, and that’s the thing you hope for every year out of your team.
The battle reengages soon.