For manager Ron Washington and his Texas Rangers, the seven-game World Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals was gut-wrenching, hard-to-handle-at-every-level stuff. The Rangers came back from a 2-1 deficit to win Games 4 and 5 and then twice were one strike away from winning the whole thing in Game 6.
There is, as Washington said after the game, no reason for his players to hang their heads about this outcome. For Washington and his group, what was left, beyond regret about the outcome, was admiration for the Cardinals. Their Game 6 persistence, perseverance and absolute refusal to quit was recognized and admired by the Rangers. They believed that those same traits were part and parcel of their roster, too.
"They just would not go away, and it did not matter where they were in that lineup, whether it's the strongest part of the lineup or the part that you may consider the weakest," Washington said of the Cardinals. "It ended up being the strongest constant. They just wouldn't go away, and that's the heart of a champion. We're champions, too."
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The Rangers are champions, but as it turns out, of the American League as compared to all of baseball. Whether or not the Rangers were completely recovered from that 11-inning demoralization by Friday night, the seventh game was almost anticlimactic. But for the Redbirds, it was mostly ecstatic; 6-2, a victory, an 11th World Series championship for St. Louis.
In a hard-to-take defeat, Washington was gracious, as you knew he would be.
"I just want to say congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa and his staff, and his players," Washington said. "They did a great job, and they're truly the world champions. I thought they beat a pretty good team, and they deserve it."
What happened last year with the San Francisco Giants was clean and clear-cut compared to this. The Rangers, as good as their offense was, were simply stopped by San Francisco's superior pitching. This is the classic story of the postseason.
The Rangers scored only five runs in the last four games of the 2010 World Series, which they lost, 4-1. Take out the four runs they scored in their only victory, and in their last three losses, they scored one run. It was tough to take for the Rangers, but at least it could be understood. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum strung together classic Fall Classic starts, and the Giants couldn't lose.
This October was a nearer thing and a more complex issue, not to mention a more painful defeat. The Cardinals didn't have the pitching that the Giants did in 2010, but what they did bring was a lineup far more imposing than the Giants had. The 2011 Cards had the National League's highest-scoring offense. And intangibly, they brought a unit whose character had already been tested and approved by their remarkable September push from 10 1/2 games back to overtake Atlanta and win the NL Wild Card berth. The Cardinals weren't supposed to beat the Phillies in the NL Division Series. They weren't supposed to beat the Brewers in the NL Championship Series. By now, a trend had emerged.
"We have more talent than people think," La Russa said. "But we have great guts."
This is not to say that the Rangers are short at all in that department. They didn't get a division championship, an ALDS victory and a second AL pennant by having anything less than toughness and fortitude. But in Game 6, when they were twice within one strike of the championship, they couldn't close the deal. That is going to sting, for some time.
"You know, sometimes when opportunity is in your presence, you certainly can't let it get away, because sometimes it takes a while before it comes back," Washington said. "You know, if there's one thing that happened in this World Series that I'll look back on is being so close, just having one pitch to be made and one out to be gotten, and it could have been a different story. But you know, when you're a champion, you keep fighting, and St. Louis fought, came back, got us yesterday and they beat us tonight.
"They deserve it. We certainly got our heads high. We're going to walk proud. The Texas Rangers organization has a lot to look forward to, and we are certainly willing and able and have deep plans to meet that challenge."
Washington, a man clear in his baseball convictions, refused to second-guess himself on the issue of starting Matt Harrison in Game 7. There was considerable speculation that the Rangers would go to Derek Holland for this start after his brilliant work in Game 4. But Washington stuck with Harrison. Harrison's 2011 contributions to the club were indisputable and it was his turn to pitch. End of debate, end of speculation, end of story.
"I did what I thought was best for us," Washington said. "A lot of people have opinions about things, but as I said, the first time I sat down here when we came to St. Louis, I know my team better than anybody in this room."
Washington has established himself with the Rangers' first two AL pennants, as a winning manager, an exuberant, energetic, empathetic presence, who has his team playing aggressive, intelligent baseball. Like the rest of the Rangers, he is just one step short of a complete baseball resume. The World Series championship was seemingly within the grasp of Washington's team, but that championship remains, for now, an unrealized goal, an unfulfilled dream, a painful near-miss.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.