ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — 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 AL 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.”
“Totally worth the wait, totally,” he said.
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.
And that makes it even more satisfying for the Rangers and their fans since New York knocked Texas out of the playoffs in each of the club’s three previous appearances. Derek Jeter is among several players remaining from those teams in the late 1990s and Rodriguez is among several former Rangers now wearing pinstripes.
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 expansion Washington Senators. They moved to Texas in 1972 with Ted Williams as their manager.
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.
Chants of “Colby!, Colby!, Colby!” filled the air for the pitcher back with his original team after pitching the last two seasons in Japan, where he fully expected to finish his career before returning to Texas last winter.
“I got a little too overamped when they were saying my name. It was really, really cool,” Lewis said. “I’m speechless. I never thought I’d be in this position.”
Before going the full five games in the AL division series this season to beat Tampa Bay for their first-ever postseason series victory, the Rangers had been knocked out of the playoffs by New York in 1996, 1998 and 1999 — and the Yankees went on to win the World Series each time.
When the Yankees overcame a 5-1 deficit in the ALCS opener a week ago for a 6-5 victory, their postseason winning streak over Texas had reached 10 games.
Texas led 5-1 again in Game 6, after Guerrero’s two-out, two-run double that chased Yankees starter Phil Hughes in the fifth before Cruz greeted reliever David Robertson with a homer to one of the deepest parts of Rangers Ballpark.
Guerrero didn’t have an RBI in the series until his grounder in the first drove home Elvis Andrus.
The big hit by Guerrero came right after Hamilton was intentionally walked for the second time in the game.
After going 2 for 18 with two singles in the division series, Hamilton hit four home runs in the ALCS. He was intentionally walked five times, an ALCS record, including three times in the clincher.
When Yankees manager Joe Girardi signaled for the first one in the third with a runner on second, Hughes’ first pitch was too wide and got by Jorge Posada. The Yankees still walked Hamilton, the majors’ leading hitter in the regular season (.359), who also had 32 homers and 100 RBIs.
Hughes, who also lost to Lewis in Game 2, allowed four runs and four hits over 4 2-3 innings.
Lewis was drafted by the Rangers in 1999, the last season they had made the playoffs until now. He won 10 games as a rookie in 2003 before tearing a rotator cuff the next season, setting up a journey that led through three other organizations before he went to Japan.
New York got its only run in the fifth when Nick Swisher was hit by a pitch, though umpires missed that part of the play.
Rodriguez was at third base after leading off with a double, the first hit off Lewis. Then a pitch bounced, hit Swisher just below the left knee and ricocheted under and away from catcher Bengie Molina toward the backstop.
A-Rod jogged home and Molina started vehemently arguing with home plate umpire Brian Gorman that the ball hit Swisher and should be dead. Washington also came out and Gorman conferred with other umpires.
None of them saw the ball hit Swisher, though replays cleared showed it did.
Notes: Curtis Granderson was caught stealing to end the Yankees first. He and Girardi both questioned second base umpire Tony Randazzo about the call. Replays showed the ump got it right. While Granderson beat the throw, his foot was over but not touching the base when he was tagged.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)