World Series spotlight finally shines on Vlad

World Series spotlight finally shines on Vlad

ARLINGTON -- A small crowd of lucky fans stood in the tunnel right next to the Rangers' clubhouse on Friday night, waiting to greet the newly crowned American League champions with high fives and cheers as they joyously hopped by.

After a while, Vladimir Guerrero hobbled through, and about 20 dressed in red gave him the biggest cheer of all.

Nobody deserved it more.

For 14 years, Guerrero and his now-aching knees essentially carried clubs with his ferocious right-handed bat and deadly arm. Now, in season No. 15, he was a slightly smaller piece to a bigger puzzle -- one that assembled into his first trip to the World Series against the Giants.

"I just want to thank God that I ended up signing in Texas," Guerrero said in Spanish amid champagne sprays in the exuberant clubhouse, minutes after the Rangers finished off the defending World Series champion Yankees with a 6-1 win in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

"I've been in this league [15] years, and I've never felt happier than I do now."

Guerrero is one of only seven players in Major League history with 10 or more seasons of 25-plus homers and 105-plus RBIs. And of the players on that list, he was the only one who hadn't played in a World Series.

In four days, that will cease to be the case.

"He's put a lot into this game, and he's done it right all the way through," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He's one of the best right-handed hitters ever to play this game, and for him to get an opportunity to play in the World Series is an incredible feeling."

But Guerrero, 35, isn't one of those veterans who piggybacked on a winner to get there. In his first season with the Rangers, he hit cleanup, batted .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs, and was undoubtedly one of the critical elements of this team.

During the clincher against the Yankees, he notched the game-winning RBI.

With two outs and a runner on third in a 1-1 game in the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees elected to walk eventual American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Josh Hamilton to get to Guerrero, and the wily veteran made Phil Hughes pay.

Guerrero got a 1-0 curveball that was left over the plate and smoked it to left-center field for a two-run double, giving the Rangers a 3-1 lead, paving the way for a four-run inning and eventually setting the stage for what may have been greatest moment of Guerrero's career.

"You keep pitching around Josh Hamilton, you got Vladimir staring at you in the face," Rangers ace Cliff Lee said. "That's not where you want to be as a pitcher. Very powerful lineup, I've had to face them over the years. You put Vladimir in that mix, it makes it even more powerful."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.