ARLINGTON, TEXAS — After waiting until their 50th season to reach their first World Series, the Texas Rangers are going right back.
Nelson Cruz had one more big blast, Michael Young caught the final out long after hitting a pair of doubles in one of the highest-scoring post-season innings ever and the Rangers became the American League’s first repeat champion in a decade.
The team that lost Cliff Lee in free agency and held onto Young after his off-season trade request finished off the Detroit Tigers with a 15-5 romp Saturday night to win the AL championship series in six games.
“This a great trophy, we’re real proud of it,” said Young, who walked off the field with the AL championship trophy in his hands. “But we’re looking forward to the one with all the flags on it. . . . Happy, but not satisfied.”
Cruz was selected ALCS MVP after his post-season-record sixth home run of the series, and he also had a record 13 RBIs. Young hit a pair of two-run doubles in a nine-run third inning that sent the Rangers on their way to becoming the AL’s first consecutive pennant winner since the New York Yankees won four in a row from 1998 to 2001.
“We wanted to get to the World Series. But the bottom line is getting to the World Series and winning it. We feel pretty confident about ourselves,” manager Ron Washington said. “More than anything else, the commitment they made in November after San Francisco sent us home, they held true to it.”
Texas will open the World Series on Wednesday night at St. Louis or Milwaukee, seeking the first title in the history of a franchise that started play in 1961. The World Series returns deep in the heart of Texas with Game 3 next Saturday night.
Young, who also homered and had five RBIs in the finale, caught Brandon Inge’s game-ending popout in short right field and pumped a right hand into the air signalling “No. 1” while fireworks and confetti filled the sky, then ran toward the middle of the field to celebrate with his teammates.
Cruz threw both hands in the air and briefly knelt to a knee in the outfield before running to the infield for the ginger ale-spraying celebration, and a banner was unfurled high over centre field declaring the Rangers 2011 AL champions. The post-game celebration included Cruz getting the AL MVP trophy.
“It was fun to watch,” last year’s AL MVP Josh Hamilton said of Cruz. “It’s one thing to be in the stands. But when you’re down here on the field with him, you can see the intensity, see the focus. To watch him do that was incredible.”
Ginger ale on the field has become a part of all Rangers celebrations in deference to the Hamilton’s well-documented substance-abuse problems. The slugger doesn’t participate in the clubhouse frenzy filled with champagne and beer.
Nearly every player inside wore goggles as booze was sprayed everywhere. Those same bottles and cans had been packed and brought home from Detroit after the Rangers failed to end the series there.
With former U.S. president George W. Bush seated in the front row alongside Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, part of the ownership group that took over the team last year, Washington was at the edge of the dugout wildly waving his arms and shouting encouragement as the big inning unfolded.
All Tigers manager Jim Leyland could do was take off his cap and scratch his head as the Rangers kept reaching base off starter Max Scherzer and three relievers.
“He was out of whack for the most part all the way. His control was not good from the get go, really. And he had a tough time. And we just couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Leyland said. “As the game went on, obviously, it really wasn’t fair.”
A franchise that began as the expansion Washington Senators and moved to Texas in 1972 had failed to reach the World Series before last year, when Texas lost to the Giants in five games. The Rangers had never even won a post-season series before last season.
“As soon as the season began, we were hungry, we were hungry to get back,” Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said.
Texas overcame a 2-0 deficit by sending 14 batters to the plate against Scherzer (0-1) and three relievers in the highest-scoring post-season inning since 2002.
Alexi Ogando (2-0) pitched two scoreless innings for his second win in the series.
While Young became only the fourth player in post-season history with two extra-base hits in the same inning — first a tying double into the left-field corner and then one down the right field line for a 9-2 lead — every batter in the Texas lineup reached base at least once in the third. By the time all the fireworks was over, the Rangers scored the most runs ever in a post-season game against the Tigers.
A series that started with a 3-2 Rangers victory, included two 11-inning wins by Texas and was extended by a Detroit rally sparked by a likely double-play grounder ricocheting off third base, ended with the highest-scoring playoff game since the Yankees routed Boston 19-8 in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS.
Also among the sellout crowd of 51,508 was Dirk Nowitzki, MVP of the NBA finals won by the Dallas Mavericks in June.
Now the Rangers get another chance to bring another championship to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
In his 11th season in Texas, Young had played in 1,508 regular-season games before finally getting into the playoffs last year. He added a huge exclamation point to his already big night when he led off the seventh with a 416-foot homer to straightaway centre.
His five RBIs matched the Rangers post-season record, set by Cruz in Game 2 when he had the first game-ending grand slam ever in the playoffs.
Last winter, Young had requested a trade after the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre and acquired Mike Napoli, moves that led to Young becoming primarily a designated hitter and first baseman, a position he had never played. He had already been a starting second baseman and an all-star at shortstop and third base.
The Texas third was the highest-scoring inning in a post-season game since the Angels matched a playoff record with 10 runs in the seventh of Game 5 during the 2002 ALCS against Minnesota.
Scherzer was gone after Cruz fought back from an 0-2 count to load the bases. By time the third Detroit reliever finally induced Beltre into an inning-ending flyout with the Rangers up 9-2, fans roared in anticipation while wildly waving white rally towels — and one fan behind the home dugout swayed a Texas state flag back and forth in the air.
Detroit had already avoided elimination twice this post-season, winning Game 5 of the AL division series at Yankee Stadium and then extending the ALCS with a 7-5 win at home Thursday. The Tigers, seeking their first Series title since 1984, quickly jumped ahead in Game 6 when Derek Holland allowed solo homers to Miguel Cabrera in the first and Jhonny Peralta in the second.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a team than I am of this team,” Leyland said. “They gave everything they had.”
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