In the middle of August, my brothers and I went to see the Rangers play the Seattle Mariners. What started as a terrible season was starting to get a little better. And we were there the day Derek Holland was back for the first time since the home opener.
Making the playoffs seemed pretty unlikely. But when we saw the Rangers hit back-to-back-to-back home runs, and we saw how great Holland pitched, we started to get excited.
Now, here we are in early October. Texas is American League West champions and I can’t wait to get home from school today so I can watch the Rangers — in the playoffs! They begin their divisional series against the AL East champs the Toronto Blue Jays this afternoon.
Back in 2010, the Rangers made it all the way to the World Series for the first time in franchise history. They returned in 2011 and were a fly ball away from winning it. Nelson Cruz didn’t make the catch and the Cardinals ended up winning it all. Texas fell a bit in 2012, farther in 2013, and then everything came apart last year. Texas lost 95 games and Ron Washington, the most successful manager in franchise history, quit.
A year after spending a lot of money to sign Shin Soo-Choo and trade for Prince Fielder, the front office didn’t do much for this season. Then ace Yu Darvish had to have Tommy John surgery before the regular season even started! When Holland got hurt during his very first inning of the season, things really seemed hopeless.
But rookie manager Jeff Banister had a slogan: Never Ever Quit. And his team never did.
Banister and general manager Jon Daniels made a bunch of moves that paid off. They made rookie Delino DeShields Jr. a starter and moved him into the leadoff spot. They turned Shawn Tolleson into a closer for the first time. They sent down second baseman Rougned Odor to fix his swing, then called him back up once he did. They made trades to bring back 2010-11 stars Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli. Holland returned to the lineup, and so did Martin Perez, who got hurt last year.
The most exciting move was when the Rangers acquired former World Series MVP Cole Hamels at the trade deadline. One of the coolest things was Banister taking Napoli (a catcher-turned-first baseman) and putting him in left field so he could have another right-handed bat in the lineup. The Rangers went 9-2 in those games!
At the start of August, the Rangers were eight games out of first place in the AL West. But as the summer turned to fall, Texas swept Houston, which had been in first place most of the season, and finished September with a two-and-a-half game lead in the standings!
The Rangers had to sweat it out at the end, but they clinched the division title on the last day of the season. Banister deserves to be American League Manager of the Year for the way he held the team together and all the great moves that he made.
Next up are the Blue Jays. As exciting as the Rangers have been, I don’t know if they can get past that lineup. Toronto won the season series against Texas, and the Blue Jays get to pitch David Price in Game 1. Texas will use Yovani Gallardo. He was really good against the Blue Jays in the regular season, but the playoffs are different. But if the Rangers can pounce on Price, maybe they can surprise everyone again.
The hardest – and best – part of being a Rangers fan this year has been all the ups and downs. All the times we said, “No they won’t,” then “Yes they might!” We ended up rooting for one of the best teams in baseball. And we’re going to keep cheering as the playoffs begin — and cheering harder than we did in the regular season. Go Rangers!
Photos: LM Otero/AP