Out in center field, Josh Hamilton started tearing up as his team stood on the verge of winning the franchise's first American League pennant and punching its ticket to the World Series."I was just thinking about where we were and thinking that at my lowest point in my life I never thought I could be a part of something like this," Hamilton said.
And just like that, after a terrific pitching performance by Colby Lewis and huge hits from Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz, 51,404 erupted into a roaring frenzy as the team knocked off the defending world champion Yankees, 6-1, in Game 6 on Friday night to wrap up the American League Championship Series.As Rodriguez walked back to the dugout, Feliz and catcher Bengie Molina embraced between home plate and the mound while third baseman Michael Young jumped up and down like an out-of-control pogo. Soon they were all in a massive dogpile with Guerrero racing from the dugout and diving high over teammates into the middle of the wild celebration. "I can't even describe this feeling," Young said, after untangling with his teammates and hoisting the AL trophy for all to see. "These are incredible teammates, an incredible group of guys playing in front of incredible fans. It's just beginning. The ultimate goal is still ahead of us." That is the World Series. Entering this season, the Rangers, who ranked 27th among Major League teams with an Opening Day payroll of $64.8 million, were one of three teams without a World Series appearance. Now only the Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos) and Seattle Mariners remain. "It's awesome ... I have been waiting 40 years for this," reliever Darren Oliver said. So has everybody else, from the High Plains of West Texas to the Big Thicket and Piney Woods in the east, from the Red River and beyond up north to the Hill Country in the south, and all across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex -- especially in the heart of it all in Arlington -- Rangers fans are finally able to embrace what it means to have a team going to the World Series. "It's incredible," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We set out all year to achieve our goal and in the clubhouse we never doubted it. A lot of people had doubts, but we never had doubts and we proved it." The Rangers, in winning the ALCS in six games, now await the National League winner between the Giants and the Phillies. The Giants lead that series, 3-2, with Game 6 scheduled for Saturday and a possible Game 7 scheduled for Sunday. The World Series will open on Wednesday, Oct. 27, in either San Francisco or Philadelphia, just one day shy of the 50th anniversary of the franchise being voted into existence as the Washington Senators on Oct. 26, 1960. "I have never felt anything close to this in all my years of playing baseball," pitcher C.J. Wilson said. "I have never been so happy and so proud of my teammates and an organization like I am tonight." "World Series, baby," said Cruz, holding the AL trophy in his hand near the mound that Lewis had owned for eight innings against the Yankees. "It's amazing to be a part of this. We worked so hard to be in this situation. We're going to enjoy the moment and then get ready for the World Series." Thanks to Lewis, the Rangers will have Cliff Lee ready for Game 1 of the World Series. Lee would have pitched Game 7 on Saturday against the Yankees if needed. It wasn't needed. "We didn't come here thinking about Game 7," Young said. "Game 7 was the farthest thing from our minds. We came to the ballpark determined to win Game 6. That was all we were focused on." They did exactly that. Lewis pitched eight innings, allowing one run on just three hits and three walks. He struck out seven before turning it over to Feliz in the ninth. "He was great," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We had three hits in, what, eight innings? He was outstanding." The Yankees' three hits were the fewest in an elimination loss in franchise history.
"They overall played better," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "They pitched better, they hit better, they just outplayed us. That's just the bottom line. They were a lot better than us these six games."They deserve to be moving on. They were a better team than us."
Yankees starter Phil Hughes matched Lewis for four innings. The Rangers got one in the first on a double by Elvis Andrus, a single by Hamilton and Guerrero's grounder on a hit-and-run. The Yankees responded in the fifth when Rodriguez led off with a double and later scored on a disputed wild pitch.So it was 1-1 when the Rangers came to bat in the bottom of the fifth and Guerrero and Cruz delivered the two biggest hits of the night -- two of the biggest in the history of the franchise. Mitch Moreland, the Rangers' No. 9 hitter who ended up hitting .389 in the ALCS, reached on an infield single. He went to second on Andrus' hit-and-run grounder to the right side and then to third on Young's slow grounder back to the mound. That brought up Hamilton and the Yankees elected to walk him intentionally. They did so in the exact same situation in the third got away with it. Guerrero popped out to second to end the inning. "I told him in the on-deck circle, 'Don't let them do that to you,'" Cruz said. "'Go do something.'" He did. This time Guerrero crushed a 1-0 curveball from Hughes to deep center beyond Curtis Granderson, scoring both runners and giving the Rangers a 3-1 lead. From second base, Guerrero gave a big claw sign to his teammates in the dugout. "They kept walking Josh and I kept saying, 'How about Vlad,'" Andrus said. "He's always been a guy you want to have at the plate with men on base. We knew he'd do it." That brought up Cruz, who had left Game 5 with tightness in his hamstring. He was good enough to play in Game 6 but had flied out in his first two at-bats. Girardi brought in right-hander David Robertson to face him and that move didn't work either. Cruz, after fouling off two 1-2 pitches, hammered a fastball deep into the left-center-field bleachers for a two-run home run, his second homer of the ALCS and fifth in the playoffs. The hamstring did not bother him as he jogged around the bases. "I didn't feel anything," Cruz said. "As soon as I hit it, I felt like I could fly around the bases." Four innings later, when Rodriguez took strike three, his teammates had the same feeling. "It's truly unbelievable," outfielder David Murphy said. "I can't say enough of these guys. I'm so happy I got to experience this with a great group of guys. It feels unbelievable." It was only 39 years in the making. But there are still four more wins to go and the ultimate goal to achieve. "We're not done yet," Young said.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.