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Despite loss, Rangers' heroics will live on

Despite loss, Rangers' heroics will live on

Despite loss, Rangers' heroics will live on
ST. LOUIS -- As impossible as it might be right now to forget how the Rangers' 2011 story concluded, it would be just as inconceivable to ignore the rest of the pages of the compelling book that was written this October, a dramatic portrayal of talent, unity and resiliency.

No doubt, the lingering memories of the Rangers' second trip to the World Series include an ending they'll always wish would have been different than their first trip. This time, it was a Cardinals team celebrating the championship, as the Rangers walked off the field at Busch Stadium and flew home to Arlington without a trophy.

But this October and the season as a whole for the two-time American League champions was filled with so many other, much fonder memories that can and should last a lifetime.

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"It's disappointing, but also I'm proud to be a part of the 2011 Rangers," said Michael Young, the team's longest tenured player. "The last two nights obviously sting, but time will heal, we'll regroup and we'll give it all we've got again next year."

Even if the pain is too close at the moment, the common denominator is that the Rangers, to a man, leave the 2011 postseason knowing that they had something special with one another and came oh so close to achieving something truly remarkable.

"It's not a good feeling, but there's nothing you can do about it now," said catcher Mike Napoli, whose 10 RBIs in the Series were the third-most in history. "You've got to move on, and hopefully all these guys will get into this offseason and work hard and get back for next year.

"I'm proud of the guys in this clubhouse. We all care about each other and love each other. We just fell short."

This year's run through October went all the way to within a strike of the title in Game 6 -- twice actually. Individual postseason performances that pushed the team toward its goal went off the charts in each series.

Several October heroes emerged in moments such as:

• Adrian Beltre's roundtrip trifecta at Tampa Bay in the Division Series, only the seventh three-homer game in postseason history.

• Nelson Cruz's walk-off grand slam in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, a postseason first and one of six homers in six games for the ALCS Most Valuable Player.

• Derek Holland's masterpiece in Game 4 of the World Series, a coming-out party for the lefty and rising star, who very nearly went the distance.

Overall October performances also painted flattering portraits of the resolve and resilience of the Rangers:

• Colby Lewis' steely calm every time out, pitching October games as if he were born to do it, just two seasons removed from being out of the Majors and pitching in Japan.

• Napoli's emergence as a complete and clutch player, driving in runs, cutting down runners and guiding the pitching staff.

• Josh Hamilton playing through pain throughout October, capping it off with his strongest performances of the postseason in the final two games as the title was within reach.

More than anything else, the players with the stylized "T" on their caps displayed their togetherness, their talent and their tenacity, right down to the final out in October -- for the second year not the ending they'd hoped to write.

"You study all year long, you get straight A's, and then it's like you've got to pass one test to pass the course, and we didn't pass each time," Lewis said. "But I do think we showed exactly how good this team is, and that's the main focus."

Along the way, there were success stories like the maturation of Holland, who had a three-walk World Series debut in 2010, but had quite simply the best start of the 2011 World Series, pitching 8 1/3 innings for the tide-turning Game 4 victory.

"I'm a team guy," Holland said. "I may be happy with how I may have done some things, but at the same time, I didn't do my job to help our team win the World Series. I just feel like there was more that we could do."

Perhaps the biggest difference between last year's run and this year's was personified by the presence of Beltre and particularly Napoli, the catcher who a year earlier was a member of the rival Angels who become part of the very glue that held this club together.

"I'd like to say we knew that everything was going to work out this way," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said of Napoli. "We knew we felt he was a winning player. That fit what we were trying to do. We didn't know he was going to hit .320. We knew he had power and he was an intense competitor."

That much was obvious when Napoli went down during Game 6 with a violently twisted ankle, got back up, finished the 11-inning marathon and then caught the entirety of Game 7, collecting his seventh hit of the World Series.

"It was good enough to play," Napoli said of the ankle. "I was going to do anything I can to be in this game, and you want to try and get in this game because you never know if this opportunity is going to come again."

Ah, but Napoli and the rest of the Rangers do have a good sense, and good reason to believe, that this is a club that can get back there a year from now.

"Sure, I mean, we've got a lot of great guys staying around here," Napoli said. "It's a great organization and we've got a lot of pieces here."

For the time being, though, there's another World Series loss for this tight unit to absorb, one Young says was tougher this time because the Rangers got so much closer to the ultimate prize.

Still, the sense of a team that put it all on the line permeated the Rangers' clubhouse as Game 7 began to move further away with each tick of the clock.

"It's pretty fresh," Young said. "Obviously the last two nights were pretty difficult, but I'm proud of our effort as a team. I've loved suiting up with these guys all season long, and I've loved it the last two nights."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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