ST. LOUIS -- The plastic to protect the lockers had to come up and down in the Rangers' clubhouse at least twice on Thursday night. And though the champagne was thoroughly chilled, it had to be rolled out of there multiple times as well.
In the aftermath of their Game 6, 10-9, loss to the Cardinals in 11 innings at Busch Stadium, the Rangers had a definite feeling of ennui about winding up on the losing end of one of the greatest World Series games played.
"Sure, it feels like we let this one get away," said Michael Young after David Freese's homer sent the two teams tied at three games each spinning into a climatic Game 7 on Friday night. "We were down to the last strike twice. How are we supposed to feel?"
With a 7-5 lead, the Rangers came down to the last strike in the ninth inning, closer Neftali Feliz on the mound and runners on first and second when Freese lined a triple to right just over the glove of Nelson Cruz to tie the score. Again, after Josh Hamilton hit a two-run homer in the 10th to put the Rangers ahead, it was Lance Berkman, who singled off Scott Feldman on a 2-2 pitch, tying the score at 9.
It was as if death knocked on the door, not once, but twice.
With 13 one-run games so far this postseason, 2011 has had the most such outcomes in a single postseason since the advent of the Division Series in 1995.
"I was just sitting in the training room talking to a few of the guys and we're asking, 'You ever see anything like this?'" said Hamilton, whose homer was his first of the postseason. "And I haven't. But I guess if you play the game long enough you'll experience everything. That was a pretty crazy experience tonight. Yeah, there's a real sense that we let one get away."
The Rangers fought to the bitter end and even had C.J. Wilson preparing himself in the bullpen to come into the game. But as the clock struck midnight, the Rangers were still a win short of clinching their first World Series title in the 51-year history of the Washington/Texas franchise.
As Wilson said about the game, quoting Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
And now the Rangers must face these daunting facts: Of the last nine seven-game World Series, the team that won Game 6 has won it eight times. Home teams have won the last eight Game 7s.
To a man, the Rangers faced the loss, during which they had numerous chances to pad the lead or protect it at the end, with bravado, saying that they will wash it all off by Friday and come back at it strong in what is now certainly the final game of a raucous 2011 season.
This is what manager Ron Washington told them after the debacle was complete: It's not over until we say it's over!
"It's just one game. Stay focused. Don't worry about it. It's over. Let's bounce back. We're a great ballclub, too," said Derek Holland, the left-handed starter who pitched almost two innings of relief from the sixth to the eighth. "So let's go back out there.
"You just forget about it. Tomorrow is a new day, dude. I think I had 20 heart attacks. It was like a tennis match, back and forth, back and forth. But as I keep saying, tomorrow is a new day. You've got to go out there with a fresh mind."
Overnight, the Rangers can contemplate all this: The Cards committed three errors, including a dropped pop by Freese at third base and dropped fly by Matt Holliday in left. Holliday was picked off third base with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and had to leave the game with a severely bruised pinky. Rafael Furcal, who was 0-for-5 in the game, grounded meekly back to the box with the bases loaded in the eighth.
Despite scoring single runs in four of the first five innings, including unearned runs in the fourth and fifth, the Rangers couldn't take full advantage of the Cardinals' miscues and stranded eight baserunners in those first five frames.
When Washington had a chance to add on some significant runs, he sent starter Colby Lewis up to hit with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth. Lewis struck out.
"He was pitching well, and I didn't want to take him out at that point," Washington said about his decision not to pinch-hit for Lewis.
As fate would have it, Lewis wouldn't make it through the sixth, when the Rangers handed the Cardinals an unearned run in return. That was the inning when Young fielded Holliday's grounder to first, looked toward second for a forceout, inexplicably dropped the ball for an error and couldn't recover in time to get back to the base.
As Casey Stengel once said about his 120-loss, 1962 expansion Mets: "Doesn't anybody around here know how to play this game?"
With it all, the Rangers hit three homers and went into the bottom of the eighth leading 7-4.
"Yeah, we had plenty of opportunities to score runs and it would've been nice to add on," said Young, who contributed an RBI double to drive in the only run in the fifth, despite his club having four baserunners in the inning that opened with Freese dropping the popup. "But we had had a 7-5 lead going into the ninth. We scored seven runs. That should have been enough."
Now the Rangers must face the same task as the 1986 Red Sox, who had a 10th-inning lead in Game 6 over the Mets at Shea Stadium with a 3-2 lead in the Fall Classic, two out, nobody on and a two-strike count on Gary Carter, who singled. By the time the inning ended, Mookie Wilson's grounder shot through the legs of Bill Buckner for the loss. The Red Sox couldn't bounce back in Game 7 as the Mets came from behind again and prevailed at home.
Their turnaround in Game 6 was perhaps the most improbable comeback in World Series history, until Thursday night. John McNamara couldn't rally his Boston troops back then. Can Washington rally the Rangers, now?
"We battled," Washington said. "It's not that easy to win a world championship, as we found out tonight. We had the right people in the right spot, and they beat us. You've got to give them credit. They fought tonight. They came back and they won the ballgame. That's all I had to tell them. We'll bounce back tomorrow. We've been in some tough situations before. We've always responded, and I expect us to respond again."