Rangers memorable moments from 2011
Season marked by off-field drama, tragic accident, World Series that got away
The 2011 Texas Rangers calendar year began with the signing of Adrian Beltre, a trade for Mike Napoli and the offseason drama of Michael Young. And all of that was before spring training began in mid-February.
It was another memorable season of baseball in Arlington. The Rangers won a club-record 96 games, captured a second consecutive American League West title, came within a strike of the World Series championship twice and dealt with the tragic passing of Shannon Stone.
Here's a look at the 10 most memorable moments for the Rangers from 2011. There were many stories to choose from and a variety of orders to put them in. But here's one opinion (from 10 to 1):
9. Josh Hamilton out six weeks on headfirst slide at home. It was the second week of the season, and the Rangers were off to a 9-1 start as they faced Detroit in the second game of a three-game set. Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, tagged up from third on a foul popup in the first inning and suffered a hairline fracture of a bone in his upper arm, and missed six weeks. Hamilton was frustrated and at first blamed third-base coach Dave Anderson for suggesting he tag up. But it's the kind of aggressive baserunning play the Rangers stress. Hamilton apologized to his coach, and the play sparked conversation nationally about whether it's smart to slide headfirst into home plate. Texas managed to play steady enough baseball to be in first place by the time Hamilton returned.
7. Rangers clinch second straight AL West title while watching a big screen. It wasn't the way many players would have imagined winning a division title, but the Rangers celebrated a second consecutive AL West championship after watching the A's beat the Angels on Sept. 23 following a Rangers win over the Mariners. A strong stretch drive -- Texas went 19-6 in September -- allowed the Rangers to pull away. Players gathered on the field at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and the remaining fans cheered when the A's finished off the victory. It was a joyous celebration filled with ginger ale, beer and finally champagne. But many players stressed that it was the first step in what they hoped would be a world championship.
5. Texas signs Beltre and trades for Mike Napoli in January. Even after the winter meetings ended, the Rangers' front office stayed busy. When the club's quest to land Cliff Lee failed, it turned its attention to improving the lineup and defense by signing Beltre to a five-year contract worth $80 million with a vesting option for a sixth year at $16 million. The move helped the Rangers' infield, putting one of the best defensive third basemen in the game on the hot corner and making the left side of the Texas infield perhaps the best in baseball along with shortstop Elvis Andrus. Beltre was the cleanup hitter for most of the season, adding punch, speed and RBI ability to the middle of the lineup. He was a difference-maker.
The club then traded for Napoli after the Angels sent him to Toronto as part of the Vernon Wells deal. Texas shipped Frank Francisco to the Jays to get Napoli, and made him the part-time first baseman and third catcher. He played well at spring training and was the No. 2 catcher coming out of Surprise, Ariz. He ended up earning more playing time and was perhaps the best hitter in the majors in the second half of the season. He returned from the DL on July 4 (strained oblique) and hit .378 in his final 67 games (.383 after the All-Star break). And he was tremendous in the World Series, including a late-inning double in Game 5 that propelled Texas to a lead in the series. He would have been World Series MVP had the Rangers won.
4. Derek Holland has impressive start in Game 4 of World Series. The Rangers were down 2-1 in the World Series and needed a big start from Holland to have a realistic shot at rallying. And Holland delivered. After receiving a motivational speech from manager Ron Washington that was caught on camera before the game, Holland threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings. He had all his pitches working and heads into next season with lots of confidence. Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan said the day after Holland's performance that it was the biggest game in Holland's career and the biggest game in franchise history. "He stepped up, and it says volumes about where he's come in his maturity," Ryan said. "I still think that there will be growing and developing with Derek."
3. Nelson Cruz hits extra-inning grand slam to win Game 2 of ALCS. It was perhaps the most memorable game of the season. The Rangers were behind 3-2 in the seventh inning as the Tigers tried to tie the ALCS at one game each. But Cruz hit a 1-2 pitch for a home run to tie it. The game ended up going to extra innings, and Cruz came up with the bases loaded and no outs in the 11th. Again on a 1-2 count, Cruz got a slider and belted it to left field. He watched as the ball stayed fair, and 50,000-plus at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington cheered. Cruz ended up as the ALCS MVP with six homers and 13 RBIs, both major league records for a postseason series.
1. Rangers are one strike from world championship twice but lose. Neftali Feliz went to the mound with a two-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 6 and the Rangers moments from clinching the first World Series title in franchise history. The Cardinals were down to their last strike before David Freese, the eventual World Series MVP, hit a long fly to right. Nelson Cruz appeared to have the ball in his sights, but it tailed away and hit the wall, and the Cardinals tied the score. Texas bounced back, though, when a two-run homer by Josh Hamilton in the 10th put the Rangers up by two again. This time Darren Oliver and Scott Feldman couldn't hold it as the Cardinals, down to their last strike for a second time, tied the score again. Freese homered to win the game in the 11th. The Rangers couldn't recover, and the Cardinals won Game 7 to win the title.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.