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Friday, October 22, 2010
Updated: October 23, 2:08 PM ET
How 'bout them Rangers?

By Jerry Crasnick
ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Baseball fans in the Metroplex had waited a long time for this moment -- almost four decades -- so it was only natural that they would want to savor victory for as long as possible before heading to the parking lots. At least 20 minutes after Neftali Feliz struck out Alex Rodriguez for the final out of the American League Championship Series, more than 50,000 Texas Rangers faithful stood and cheered en masse, in their Josh Hamilton jerseys and claw-and-antlers T-shirts, and nearly shook this ballpark to the ground.

Try telling them that the Dallas-Fort Worth market belongs strictly to the Cowboys.

The players will cling to memories, too, long after the stadium workers have vacuumed up the confetti and the clubbies have removed the champagne stench from the rugs. Michael Young held the league championship trophy aloft in the infield, then handed it to Nelson Cruz, who waved it high for the crowd to see. Ian Kinsler and Cliff Lee stood on the diamond, cradling little children in their arms, and the noise and affection from the stands all but enveloped them.

The Texas Rangers -- 2010 American League champions -- are a monument to teamwork, astute long-range planning and all the other attributes typically associated with building a franchise the right way. But they also embody the notion that good things come to those who wait.

Josh Hamilton
For Josh Hamilton and manager Ron Washington, this was a moment to savor.

"The fans here never had anything to hold onto," Kinsler shouted to reporters over the din. "They had [a few] playoff teams, but that was about it. We gave them something tonight, and I think this is going to go a long way for these two cities -- Dallas and Fort Worth.

"I don't think the people here ever truly believed in our team, but we were able to prove something to them. And now we're going to turn this into a baseball town."

History took a U-turn Friday in Arlington, as the Rangers took a major step in burying the perception that this franchise is "tortured." The Washington Senators debuted in 1961 before moving to Texas in 1972, and 50 regular seasons had passed before the team won a single postseason series. It happened two weeks ago, when Lee beat the Tampa Bay Rays to send the Rangers to the ALCS.

In Game 6 of the ALCS, the Rangers tracked down much bigger prey, steamrolling the New York Yankees 6-1.

That big Lee-Nick Swisher matchup in Game 7? Ain't happenin'.

"We took down the champ," said Texas starter C.J. Wilson. "We took down the Big Empire. Everybody always says you've got to go through New York. We've got one more team to beat. Everybody's been aiming for this the whole season. We've been on this quest since spring training."

The Rangers didn't just beat the Yankees; they pretty much dismantled them. Texas outscored New York 38 to 19, outhit the Yankees .304 to .201, and stole nine bases to New York's two. Texas played with a greater sense of urgency, showed admirable fortitude after a crushing bullpen meltdown in Game 1, and never stopped believing it was the better team even after the Yankees raised the stakes with an impressive win in Game 5 in the Bronx on Wednesday.

Throughout the Rangers' postseason run, the focus has been on general manager Jon Daniels and his long-term building project, and the young talent that inspires so much hope for the future in Texas. But the Rangers, like those scrappy San Francisco Giants in the National League, have their fair share of afterthoughts and castoffs who contribute to the cause. Several of them have found sanctuary in Arlington, and played major roles in the pennant-clinching victory.

Colby Lewis, a 1999 first-round draft pick who failed to play up to expectations in his first go-round with Texas, relied on a four-pitch assortment to dazzle the Yankees on three hits through eight innings. Lewis, 31, survived shoulder surgery, several waiver transactions and forgettable stints with Detroit, Washington, Oakland and Kansas City before resurrecting his career in Japan. A year after pitching for the Hiroshima Carp, he heard thousands of fans in Arlington on Friday chanting "Col-by! Col-by!" in homage to his performance.

"It was awesome," Lewis said. "I had a couple of situations like that in Japan where they were chanting, 'Lewis-san!' It's just an incredible feeling to be out there and have that many people want you to do well."

Lewis' teammates, watching from the dugout, were equally impressed.

"They didn't have a chance tonight," Wilson said of the Yankees. "Whatever he had working was unhittable. It was awesome to be here for it, and to see that arc his career is on now. He's really underrated. I think he's going to get drafted a lot higher in fantasy leagues next year."

Texas' big hit came courtesy of Vladimir Guerrero, who delivered a two-run double to break a 1-1 tie after Yankees manager Joe Girardi intentionally walked Hamilton for the fourth of five times in the series. That's the same Vladimir Guerrero who was regarded as washed-up by many in the game -- so much so that he had to wait until mid-January to sign a one-year, $6.5 million deal with Texas.

The Rangers' second-biggest hit came from Cruz, who was considered a complementary piece in the trade that brought Carlos Lee to Texas from Milwaukee in 2006. Two years ago the Rangers waived Cruz in spring training, no one claimed him off waivers, and he was forced to work his way back with Triple-A Oklahoma. He hit 33 homers and made the All-Star team in 2009, and his two-run homer off David Robertson in Game 6 officially sapped the life from the Yankees.

Colby Lewis
Colby Lewis was masterful in Game 6, holding the Yankees to one run on three hits over eight innings.

To truly appreciate where the Rangers are, it's important to remember how far they've come. In spring training, when the news broke that manager Ron Washington had tested positive for cocaine, club president Nolan Ryan and Daniels showed great resolve in resisting the knee-jerk temptation to fire him. In July, the Rangers pulled off a major coup by acquiring Lee in a trade with Seattle, and Ryan and Daniels spent most of the subsequent news conference fending off questions about the team's bankruptcy proceedings.

Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg's group took control of the team in early August, and it's been one amazing whirlwind of a ride ever since. Who could have believed that he would be standing amid all that insanity late Friday night, clad in a red ALCS championship T-shirt and souvenir cap, celebrating an American League pennant?

"For most of its 39 years, this franchise was kind of irrelevant," Greenberg said. "Not horrible. Just kind of there. That never made sense to me. You look at this community, and how dynamic it is and how much it loves its sports, and this should be one of the powerhouse franchises in all of sports.

"I felt this franchise had more unrealized potential than any in baseball. I thought it was a sleeping giant, and it was just a matter of getting the right set of circumstances, the right ballclub, the right personal touch in the front office and the right timing. If we could put all those things together, we could make magic. I think you're seeing that magic take place right now."

As for the perception that the Rangers were "tortured," it never quite jibed with the reality. They entered the playoffs this year with a 1-9 postseason record -- with all the losses coming against the Yankees in the 1990s. They never advanced deeply enough into October to truly have their hearts ripped out, in the manner that fans in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Cleveland have come to understand so well through the years. But Texas baseball fans needed a team to embrace with all their heart and soul, and it took them an awfully long time to find it.

Now the Rangers will wait for the National League Championship Series to conclude, in advance of a date with the Phillies or the Giants. They will continue to lean on their mainstays -- Hamilton and Young and now Lee, who might well be passing through on his way to free-agent riches elsewhere. But the Colby Lewises and Bengie Molinas and Mitch Morelands played an equally significant role in vanquishing the Yankees. It's only fitting that the team Texas baseball fans have come to love values its blue-collar guys every bit as much as its multimillion-dollar center pieces.

"They're stars now," Kinsler said. "We're all stars now."

Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via e-mail.