ARLINGTON, TEXAS (AP) - Moving boxes with the numbers and names of players were scattered around the Texas Rangers clubhouse Saturday. Some were already taped up while others had yet to be filled.
Stacked on a pallet in the hall outside were unopened bottles of champagne that had been intended for a championship celebration. The World Series logos that had been painted so brightly on the field a week earlier were already faded and almost unrecognizable.
There’s always next year for the Rangers.
After coming so agonizingly close to winning its first championship, Texas could have all of the key pieces back next year for a third consecutive try after ending the season with a loss in the World Series for the second year in a row.
“Not much to assess,” said Michael Young, the team’s longest-tenured player and career hits leader after 11 seasons. “We got really close, just couldn’t get that final out. This is going to be something that is going to sit with us for a little bit.”
Twice in Game 6 at St. Louis, the Rangers were within one strike of winning the Series before losing that game in 11 innings. They then led 2-0 only four batters into Game 7 before losing 6-2 on Friday night, the first time in more than two months they lost consecutive games.
“We appreciate what we’ve done and we’re happy and blessed with things that happened, but at the same time, it’s a letdown to us,” left-hander Derek Holland said. “This just ended, we’re not going to go too far (ahead) yet. We didn’t get what we wanted, just got to use that for next year again, push ourselves again.”
That’s what the Rangers did this year.
The franchise that had to wait until its 50th season to get to the World Series before losing in five games to San Francisco last year, quickly got another chance.
“This club is unbelievably resilient, unbelievably mentally strong top to bottom. … People asked us that this year in spring training, was there going to be a World Series hangover, and obviously there wasn’t. That’s the farthest thing from my mind,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “Our mindset was never a one-year, two-year window. It was to build something to last a long time. Can’t predict the future, but I know we’re going to do everything we can to get back.”
Even after losing ace left-hander Cliff Lee in free agency, the Rangers set a franchise record with 96 wins and won their second consecutive American League pennant _ only to finish on the losing side again, though this time it felt different.
“It’s more disappointing. We were closer,” Young said.
“I don’t remember a lot about the World Series last year. I know I’m going to remember this World Series,” slugger Josh Hamilton said. “It’s going to motivate guys, it really is. … Don’t forget how this felt getting close.”
Left-hander C.J. Wilson, who became the No. 1 starter after Lee’s departure, is the only prominent free agent for the Rangers.
Texas has a 2012 club option for right-hander Colby Lewis (14-10). All the other starting pitchers and players in the regular lineup are either under contract already _ such as Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Hamilton and Young _ or under club control for next season.
Catcher Mike Napoli, their standout player in the World Series, is eligible for salary arbitration, as are reliever Mike Adams, shortstop Elvis Andrus and AL championship series MVP Nelson Cruz. But the Rangers control all of their rights for next season, and certainly have no plans to let them go.
Since making the transition from the bullpen, Wilson has gone 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA over 67 starts the past two regular seasons. But he was winless this postseason while becoming the first pitcher ever in the same season to have a loss in the division series, championship series and World Series after also being the loser in the All-Star game _ the AL’s loss in July cost the Rangers home-field advantage in the World Series again.
“The only thing I’m thinking about right now is getting out of these clothes and taking a shower,” Wilson said after Game 7. “That’s what’s next.”
Holland (16-5), the 25-year-old left-hander, had a breakthrough season that culminated by pitching into the ninth inning of Game 4 while allowing only two hits in a 4-0 win over the Cardinals. Also back will be Game 7 starter Matt Harrison (14-9) and Alexi Ogando, who won 13 games and was an All-Star after moving from the bullpen to the rotation.
Before last year, the Rangers had never even won a postseason series.
The team that started as the expansion Washington Senators in 1961, and moved to Texas for the 1972 season, won its first-ever playoff game in 1996 at old Yankee Stadium. New York won three in a row to clinch that series, then swept Texas in 1998 and 1999 on the way to World Series titles each time.
The Rangers have now advanced all the way to the World Series twice, but also became the first team since the Atlanta Braves (1991-92) to lose the World Series two years in a row.
“Just the same way that it will never get old to pop champagne and celebrate. This will never be a good feeling. It hurts,” outfielder 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.
“There are so many positive things that we can take away from this year but right now it hurts,” he said. “That’s the easiest way to put it.”