CHRIS O'MEARA / AP Enlarge
ARLINGTON, Texas — Their Texas-sized wait is over. The Rangers are going to the World Series.
And they got there with a win over their old nemesis, the defending champion New York Yankees.
Vladimir Guerrero drove in three runs before Nelson Cruz hit a towering, two-run homer, and the Rangers beat New York 6-1 Friday night in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, the biggest victory in the franchise's 50 seasons.
Colby Lewis dominated over eight innings for his second win of the series, and Josh Hamilton earned the ALCS MVP award. And in a state where most sports fans gear up for fall weekends by watching high school football, the Rangers gave a new meaning to Friday Night Lights.
“The World Series is coming to Texas,” said Michael Young, the longest-tenured Ranger in his 10th season. “These fans have waited longer than we have. I know how bad we wanted it, and they must have wanted it more.”
When Alex Rodriguez took a called third strike to end the game, fireworks exploded in the sky high above, confetti filled the air, and the Rangers embraced each other near the mound.
Rangers icon Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who is the team president and co-owner, embraced his wife in the front row before going on the field to join the team.
“Our fans have waited a long time, this organization has waited a long time,” Ryan said. “This team coming out of spring training was on a mission.”
Hamilton, who homered four times in the series, admitted he shed a tear in center field right before the final out.
“We are here as a group. This group is here because they don't know how to fail,” Hamilton said.
Cliff Lee was waiting if needed by the Rangers for a deciding Game 7 against the Yankees. Now the ace left-hander can rest up for Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night in either San Francisco or Philadelphia. The Giants lead the NLCS 3-2.
The Rangers, who had never won a postseason series or a home playoff game before this year, dispatched the $200 million-plus Bronx Bombers with little drama — especially after a four-run outburst in the fifth inning snapped a 1-all tie.
The Rangers outplayed the Yankees in every facet. Along with their slugging, they showed off something Ryan has brought them — a culture where pitching rules, and starters expect to go deep into games.
“We didn't accomplish what we set out to. And as I told my guys, this hurts,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I've been through it as a player. I've been through it as a coach, and now I've been through it as a manager. It's not a lot of fun watching other teams celebrate. They beat us. They outhit us, they outpitched us, outplayed us, and they beat us.”
Moments after closer Neftali Feliz fanned Rodriguez for the final out, a flag proclaiming the Texas as the AL champion flapped above the ballpark. The Rangers celebrated on the field with ginger ale in deference to Hamilton's well-documented substance abuse problems.
Players dumped the contents of a water cooler on fourth-year manager Ron Washington, who in the summer of the 2009 wasn't even sure he'd keep his job after admitting to using cocaine once. But Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels stuck by Washington then and again last spring when the story became public.
A championship is quite a feat for the franchise that began in 1961 as the Washington Senators. They moved to Texas in 1972.
By reaching the World Series in the franchise's 50th season, the last 39 in Texas, it marks the longest it has taken a club to get there for the first time. Montreal/Washington (42 seasons) and Seattle (34) haven't yet made it.
Ryan, whose only World Series as a player came for the 1969 New York Mets, was presented with the AL championship trophy after spending much of the game standing, clapping and hollering along with the rest of the raucous crowd of 51,404 fans.
They rarely sat in the final innings, cheering wildly with each strike and screaming for every out that got their beloved team — the one that had the fewest wins in the regular season among the eight playoff teams — closer to the World Series.