The Rangers spent 156 games this year in first place by themselves. Two other games they were tied for first place.
The only days the Rangers were not in first place were the second and third games of the year and the final game of the year.
The narrative for the entire season was clear. The Rangers were one strike away from winning the 2011 World Series twice and found a way to lose. This was the year that the gloves were off. They had a mission and that was to get that final strike.
They were going to be like the 1989 Oakland Athletics or the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays or the 1995 Atlanta Braves or the 2009 New York Yankees. Each of those teams were World Series winners who atoned for the failures of earlier teams.
The whole year they were simply the class of the American League. By mid-April, they had a 5.5-game lead. They had a steady five-to-six-game lead for almost all of the season.
Their lineup was incredibly deep, led by Josh Hamilton's free-agent push and Adrian Beltre's all-around excellence.
Yu Darvish made everyone forget C. J. Wilson. Matt Harrison and Derek Holland pitched well and Joe Nathan anchored the bullpen.
And Ron Washington was becoming one of the most respected and loved figures in the game. All year the Rangers looked like the consensus pick to win the American League pennant.
After game 153, the Rangers were the best team in the American League by two games. They defeated the Oakland Athletics on a walk-off hit by Adrian Beltre, giving them a five-game lead with nine to play.
Winning the division was a formality. The magic number to clinch the best record in the American League was eight.
From that moment, the Rangers franchise collapsed.
The Rangers lost seven of their last nine games, including five to the Oakland Athletics. When they lost the Division on the last game of the season, it was a microcosm of the year.
The Rangers took a big 5-1 lead and looked like they were going to take control of the game. Then they let the A's creep back.
Then the A's took the lead when Josh Hamilton nonchalantly dropped a fly ball. Like the Rangers, they acted like they could cruise to a good result only to let Oakland sneak in.
This is in many ways worse than the Boston Red Sox collapse in 2011. That team missed the playoffs all together and did a spectacular faceplant. But by the end of the season, the Red Sox were not expected to go far in the playoffs. They probably would have been killed in the Division Series.
But these Rangers were still expected to win the American League pennant right up until that moment when Josh Hamilton dropped the ball.
Their effort in the Wild Card Game was feeble as the All-Star Rangers attack could muster only one run against Joe Saunders.
Now the Rangers, who looked like they were on their way to the title that would be the crowning achievement for the franchise, are at a cross road.
The window of opportunity for winning a World Series title is not large. Just ask the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Rangers are a veteran team that experienced back-to-back seasons of soul crushing heartbreak. Josh Hamilton is about to go on the open market. Most of the lineup is on the wrong side of 30.
If the Rangers regress, their fans will think of two fly balls that could have changed the course of the franchise forever. Nelson Cruz jumping too soon for that potential World Series ending catch in 2011 and Josh Hamilton dropping the ball in Oakland.
They may have had their one World Series title. It might be a long time before they get another chance.
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