ST. LOUIS (AP) ― Losses like these create reputations. Debacles like this take decades to overcome ― if ever.
Twice within a strike of winning their first World Series title, the Texas Rangers came up short both times.
“You study all year long, get straight A’s and then you have to pass the one test to pass the course,” Colby Lewis said. “We didn’t pass each time.”
In a year of unprecedented collapses, the Rangers saved the worst for last.
A night after they were a pitch from winning the first title in the 51-year history of the franchise, they wasted a two-run lead Friday and lost Game 7 of the World Series 6-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Texas players walked around the quiet clubhouse, exchanging blank looks, not quite ready to go home.
Clubhouse attendants took down their nameplates and packed their gear.
In a century-plus of World Series play, rarely has there been such an empty feeling.
“I want to celebrate and was thinking about it,” Elvis Andrus said, “but that moment never came.”
Until now, the 1986 Boston Red Sox had been the only team to come within an out of the title without winning it. Red Sox fans dwelled on Bill Buckner’s error for 18 years, until the 2004 Sox won the team’s first championship since 1918.
These Rangers will be remembered for a triple failure, for Neftali Feliz allowing David Freese’s tying triple in the ninth inning of Game 6, for Scott Feldman giving up Lance Berkman’s tying single in the 10th and for Mark Lowe allowing Freese’s game-ending home run in the 11th.
“I tried the best that I could,” Feliz said. “What happened? It wasn’t what I envisioned, that was all. A bad outcome.”
Texas had not lost consecutive games since Aug. 23-25 against the Red Sox. But Matt Harrison, Feldman, C.J. Wilson and Mike Adams combined to give up six runs, and the Cardinals became the ninth straight home team to win Game 7.
“This will never be a good feeling. It hurts,” David Murphy said. “It’s hard to go through a full season and play so well and get to Game 7 of a World Series and not get it done.”
After last year’s five-game loss to San Francisco, the Rangers became the first repeat AL pennant winner since the 1998-01 Yankees. They finished as the first team to lose consecutive World Series since the 1991-92 Atlanta Braves.
“I’m still kind of numb,” general manager Jon Daniels said.
Just as Red Sox fans wondered why John McNamara didn’t put in Dave Stapleton as a defensive replacement in the 10th inning of Game 6, Rangers supporters will ponder why Feliz didn’t throw a slider to Freese with a 1-2 count in the ninth inning of Game 6 instead of a 98 mph fastball.
“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,” manager Ron Washington said. “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.”
Boston blew a nine-game September lead in the AL wild card, and Atlanta frittered away an 8 1/2-game advantage in the NL, with the Cardinals reaching the playoffs on that unforgettable final night of the regular season on Sept. 28.
But with a title tantalizingly close yet remaining elusive, this caused even more heartache. After the game, the Rangers clubhouse remained closed for about 20 minutes while Washington spoke with his players.
In the first Game 7 since 2002, the Rangers spurted to a 2-0 lead against Chris Carpenter, pitching on three days’ rest for the second time in his career. Josh Hamilton and Young hit RBI doubles in the first inning, which could have been bigger had not Ian Kinsler stumbled and been picked off first after his leadoff single.
Instead of bringing back Wilson on short rest or starting Derek Holland, who pitched brilliantly in winning Game 4, Washington stayed in rotation and started Harrison.
He couldn’t hold the lead, allowing three runs, five hits and two walks in four innings. Harrison had trouble with plate umpire Jerry Layne.
“He had his zone,” Harrison said. “There were pitches that were close that didn’t go our way.”
Feldman and Wilson then fouled up the fifth, combining for three walks and two hit batters while allowing two runs without any hits.
Freese, the World Series MVP, started the comeback with a tying, two-run double in the first. Allen Craig, starting because Matt Holliday injured his wrist on Thursday, homered for a 3-2 lead in the third, with Nelson Cruz vainly climbing the right-field wall trying to make the catch.
Facing Feldman, Yadier Molina walked with the bases loaded for the second time in two nights, and Wilson forced in another run when he relieved and hit Rafael Furcal on the hip with his first pitch.
That made it 5-2, and the record crowd of 47,399 at Busch Stadium got louder and louder with each Texas out as the Cardinals’ 11th World Series title and first since 2006 neared.
Texas pitchers walked a World Series-record 41, one more than the 1997 Florida Marlins. Of the Cardinals’ 34 runs, 11 reached base on walks and another two on hit batters. Not exactly what Nolan Ryan was looking for when he started to remake the team with strong pitching.
“You’re going for careful locations. That sometimes leads to bad results,” Wilson said. “And then sometimes there’s the factor of trying to do too much. You get into a situation where the pressure is on, you try to make too perfect of a pitch. It’s a little thing, like maybe you squeeze the ball or something. But something physically changes.”
He’s eligible for free agency. Changes may be coming.
“A lot of things to be proud of,” Daniels said. “A disappointing end to a hell of a run. We’ll have a staff meeting tomorrow and get back to it.”