Image credit: (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX — For the first 62 years of their history, the Rangers were a franchise alternately defined by futility, disappointment and heartbreak.
They failed to make the playoffs for the first 35 years of their existence. Their late-1990s superteams starring Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark, Dean Palmer and Rusty Greer failed to win a single postseason series. The golden era of their franchise, reaching the World Series in back-to-back seasons in 2010-11, ended with zero titles and one of the most soul-crushing losses in World Series history.
That all came to an emphatic end Wednesday night. After more than six decades of disappointment, the Rangers completed one of the greatest turnarounds in MLB history and claimed their first World Series title.
Nate Eovaldi pitched six scoreless innings, Marcus Semien hit a backbreaking two-run homer and the Rangers defeated the D-backs 5-0 in Game 5 of the World Series to win their first championship. They went 12-4 in a dominant postseason run, including 11-0 on the road, to accomplish what none of their predecessors ever could.
“The wait is over,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “Our history has changed. I just am so happy for so many people that have waited a long time for this.”
Only two years ago, the Rangers went 60-102. Statistically, their turnaround is the greatest in MLB history.
Only two other teams, the 1914 “Miracle” Braves and 1969 “Amazin’” Mets, won a World Series two years after losing at least 100 games.
Those Braves and Mets teams each lost 101 games. The Rangers lost 102.
This being the modern era, the Rangers are unlikely to receive a timeless moniker or become an integral part of baseball lore as those Braves and Mets championship teams have. But on a won-loss basis, their turnaround was every bit as significant.
“I’ve talked about it before, a lot of it was C.Y.,” said shortstop Corey Seager, who was named World Series MVP for the second time after batting .286 with three home runs, six RBIs and six runs scored. “Just the way he laid it out, how he laid it out. He didn’t hide from anything. He didn’t shy away from anything. He knew where (we) were and he knew where they wanted to go.
“It’s just awesome. This is the vision, right? So I’m kind of a loss for words. But it’s a really special moment.
There was no one way the Rangers turned their franchise around, no magic bullet that instantly fixed all of their shortcomings. They simply attacked their roster from every angle in aggressive, decisive fashion.
The Rangers spent lavishly but wisely in free agency, starting with awarding $556 million worth of contracts to Seager, Semien and Jon Gray on the same day on Dec. 1, 2021. They made astute under-the-radar pickups and trades, acquiring Adolis Garcia from the Cardinals for cash considerations and trading for Nate Lowe, Jonah Heim, Mitch Garver and Josh Sborz in deals with the Rays, A’s, Twins and Dodgers, respectively. The reversed a decade of poor drafts by selecting Josh Jung and Evan Carter in consecutive years and were rewarded for patiently developing homegrown international signees Leody Taveras and Jose Leclerc from the time they were 16.
They made smart “sell” trades, acquiring Dane Dunning in the deal for Lance Lynn and Ezequiel Duran in the deal for Joey Gallo. When it was time to buy, they used their prospect depth to be aggressive and acquire Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery in deadline deals.
And, every bit as critical, they upgraded their manager, luring future Hall of Fame skipper Bruce Bochy out of retirement before the season to steer the franchise in a new direction.
“It’s a credit to Chris Young and the ownership, Ray Davis,” Bochy said. “They were determined to get winning baseball back to the Texas Rangers. And when we met, that’s when we talked about. that’s what they talked about to me.
“And they did everything they said they were going to do. They went out and got started pitching, improved the club. We had young talent coming up. I knew this was a good ballclub. So I am very fortunate, blessed to come into this. It’s such a great group of guys.”
In a span of two years, the Rangers turned over almost their entire roster from that 102-loss team. Only six players—Lowe, Garcia, Heim, Taveras, Dunning and Sborz—remain from that squad. They did it without punting down the road or requiring another multi-year rebuild. They upgraded at every opportunity, seeking both talent and fit for what they were trying to accomplish.
Finding the “right” players was paramount. Rangers scouts were specifically instructed to focus on makeup, baseball savvy and organizational fit when evaluating players under Young. The organization focused not on just bringing in talented players, but resilient ones.
At every turn this season, the Rangers demonstrated that resilience. At various points they lost Seager, Jung, Heim, Garver, Eovaldi, Gray and Leclerc for extended stretches due to injuries. Prized free agent signing and two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom made only six starts before suffering an elbow injury that required season-ending Tommy John surgery. Their bullpen blew 33 saves, third-most in the majors. On the final days of the season, they lost three of their final four games to squander the American League West title.
Again and again, the Rangers got knocked down. Again and again, they rose back up.
“I know when you get the right group of people together, who believe in each other and come and have a common belief and fight day in and day out, special things can happen,” Young said. “And we saw that with this team. It’s a really, really historic group of guys and I’m just so proud of them.”
The resilience they demonstrated throughout the regular season played out in the postseason, and especially the World Series.
The Rangers trailed nearly all of Game 1 before Seager brought them back with a game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth and Garcia won it with a walkoff homer in the 11th. After getting hammered 9-1 at home in Game 2, they went on the road to raucous Chase Field and pulled out a tight, 3-1 victory to take the series lead.
They lost both Scherzer (back) and Garcia (oblique) to injuries in that game. Mere hours after learning they would be without two of their best players the rest of the series, the Rangers came out and pounded the D-backs for 10 runs in the first three innings on their way to an 11-7 rout.
“It’s a group effort,” Seager said. “The ability for us to pass baton mentality all year. We talked about it in spring training and to be able to carry it over in the biggest moments. We said, ‘You don’t always have to be the guy that day,’ which is stress relieving.
“It helps everybody out, one through nine. And to be able to go out there and do it and perform it, it’s a whole team thing.”
Their resilience showed up one final time in Game 5. D-backs righthander Zac Gallen was perfect against through four innings and had a no-hitter through six. Eovaldi, another of the Rangers big free agent signings, weaved his way out of trouble again and again, stranding a runner in scoring position each of the first five innings to match Gallen and keep the game scoreless.
Finally, after being held down all game, the Rangers broke through against Gallen in the seventh. Seager led off with a soft single through the open left side of the infield to break up the no-hitter. Two pitches later, Carter ripped a hanging curveball into the right-center gap for a double. After a brief mound visit, Garver drove the second pitch he saw up the middle for an RBI single to open the scoring and give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
For a fanbase traumatized by heartbreaking losses in the World Series, a 1-0 lead hardly felt secure. In the ninth, the Rangers tacked on four more, capped by Semien’s two-run homer into the left-center bleachers.
As Semien rounded first and saw the ball sail over the wall, the normally stoic veteran leapt twice in the air and let out a primal scream. In that moment, he and everyone else knew that this time would finally be different. This time, the Rangers season would finally end with joy instead of sadness.
“We just played the game the right way,” Semien said. “We played the game the right way. Play good defense. Help our pitchers. I always think about that 2021 Braves team, how good their defense was. We replicated that and our offense started getting hot. We get a bunch of home runs in the postseason, we played well on the road, and we’re right here.”
Sborz retired the D-backs in order in the ninth to end it. He finished in style, striking out Ketel Marte looking at a 2-2 curveball that clipped the top of the strike zone. As home plate umpire Brian Knight signaled strike three, Sborz slammed down his glove, jumped in the air and ran toward his catcher Heim to begin a team-wide celebration.
For generations, the Rangers waited to experience such a celebration. They cycled through star players, decorated managers, groundbreaking scouts, top prospects and touted farm systems, only to come up short of a World Series championship again and again.
This time, and this team, was different. After hitting rock bottom two years ago, they retooled in remarkably quick fashion. Now, finally, the Rangers can say they are World Champions.
“We were sick of losing,” Young said. “These players were sick of losing. Bruce Bochy believed that this was a winning team. I just can’t describe how awesome this feeling is. I’m so happy for just everybody who’s been a part of this.”