Tonight's World Series Game 7 between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals will be the first time the Fall Classic has progressed to a seventh game since the 2002 rendition between the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants.
The dramatic, do-or-die nature that inherently accompanies a climactic Game 7 is the type of must-see event that fans of the sport crave, an opportunity for the two rival teams to lay it all on the line for the game's ultimate prize.
Win or go home; after tonight you either bathe in the afterglow of baseball's most cherished accomplishment or spend the offseason ruing the missed opportunity and wondering where it all went wrong. For some, that regret lasts an entire lifetime.
St. Louis has been here before. As the franchise with baseball's second-most World Series titles behind the New York Yankees, the Cardinals have well over a century worth of huge games and memorable moments. Some of baseball's all-time greats made their considerable mark upon the sport while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.
With 10 World Series titles from 1926 onward and 18 National League Pennants, the franchise boasts an illustrious history that stands tall among the most-storied clubs in baseball history.
Over the grand history of the Cardinals' franchise, in seven of the 10 World Series they have won, the championship was decided in a critical Game 7.
Even in the eight Fall Classics that the Cardinals have been defeated, three of those went the distance. Many of the National League Championship Series' that have preceded the Cardinals' World Series appearances have progressed to a seventh game as well.
To say the Cardinals' history is loaded with massive moments may be a significant understatement.
Not so for the Texas Rangers, however.
Though the franchise has existed since 1961, spending its first 11 seasons as the Washington Senators before moving to Arlington, the club does not own the same historical significance that its World Series foe can claim.
Sure, the Rangers have their share of memorable moments and individual accomplishments, most notably current club owner, Nolan Ryan's two no-hitters as well as MVP awards won by Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Jeff Burroughs.
However, on a team-oriented level, the franchise's historical accomplishments are few.
In the late 1990s, the Rangers enjoyed their first great run of success, as they reached the playoffs in 1996, 1998 and 1999 on the strength of powerful offenses loaded with potent bats. Unfortunately, that formula never proved fruitful, as they were dispatched from the postseason by the Yankees each time, with only a single victory in 10 games to show for their efforts.
After enduring a stretch of poor seasons in the early 2000s, things began to brighten for the franchise when Nolan Ryan became club president in 2008. The emergence of a strong personality within the club's hierarchy, someone so inextricably linked to Texas and the Rangers, promised a bright future for the team. Ryan's hands-on approach, no-nonsense demeanor and obvious knowledge of the game provided the type of leadership that had perhaps lacked in the past.
Upon taking charge, the baseball legend espoused a new philosophy that he expected to transform the franchise, focusing on pitching as much as offense, hoping to turn the Rangers into perennial contenders.
Finishing third or fourth in every season from 2000-2007, Ryan's influence was felt immediately in Arlington, and the Rangers finished second in both 2008 and 2009.
The real leap forward occurred in 2010, as the Rangers not only made the playoffs for the first time since 1999, but progressed to the first World Series in franchise history. Their playoff run was made even sweeter when they steamrolled their arch-nemesis Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
Unfortunately, the Rangers' dream run was cut short, as they ran into a pitching juggernaut from San Francisco, and were defeated in five games by the Giants in the 2010 World Series.
Clearly, that ultimately ill-fated run provided its own memorable moments, including the two clinching games in the ALDS and ALCS, along with Colby Lewis' masterful performance in World Series Game 3 to earn the Rangers' first-ever victory in baseball's Fall Classic.
As exciting as that experience was for the franchise and its fans, it pales in comparison to what they face now, a critical World Series Game 7 that will decide how the 2011 Rangers' season will be remembered.
Will it be a painful scar upon the collective memories of Rangers' fans everywhere? A bitter expression of the cruel realities that accompany our beloved sport and a harsh reminder of opportunities missed?
It doesn't have to be either of those, however. Game 7 just as easily could become one of the most-memorable nights in the lives of legions of Texas Ranger fans, a treasured bonding experience between fathers and sons, an opportunity for heroes to be born and for lifelong memories to be forged.
Whichever way the contest concludes though, World Series Game 7 is undoubtedly the most important moment in Texas Rangers' franchise history.
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