ST. LOUIS (AP) — Oh, so close.
And now it’s 51 years and counting with no World Series titles for the Texas Rangers.
A day after twice coming within one strike of champagne, a glittering trophy and a championship parade in Game 6, the Rangers went as dry as an overcooked T-bone in Friday night’s finale.
Pitchers Matt Harrison and C.J. Wilson fizzled rather than sizzled, and the St. Louis Cardinals won 6-2 in Game 7 to send the Rangers home as World Series losers for the second straight season.
“It was in our grasp and we didn’t get it,” manager Ron Washington said. “Tonight we fought hard for it and the Cardinals got it.”
Last year, this was a new experience for Texas. The first American League pennant was satisfying, even if the five-game loss to the San Francisco Giants was a disappointment to a franchise searching for success as the expansion Washington Senators through 1971 and the Rangers since the move.
This loss left wounds that will never be forgotten for the oldest Major League Baseball team without a Series title. “2011” will be remembered by Rangers fans, much like “1986” weighed on the memory of the Boston Red Sox until they finally ended their long championship drought in 2004.
Only once before in baseball history had a team come within an out of a Series title and not brought home a championship — those ’86 Red Sox, infamous for Bill Buckner’s error.
These Rangers will be remembered for a triple failure, for Neftali Feliz allowing David Freese’s tying triple in the ninth inning of Game 6, for Scott Feldman giving up Lance Berkman’s tying single in the 10th and for Mark Lowe allowing Freese’s game-ending home run in the 11th.
“I don’t care what other people remember. We fell a little bit short,” Josh Hamilton said. “We played hard all year long. We know the things that we got done.”
Even the collapses come bigger in Texas.
“I just told them they’re champions, which I believe,” Washington said. “Someone has to win, someone has to lose and the Cardinals did it. … They were the better team. They are the world champions. All we can do is come back next year and commit ourselves to it, like they did this year.”
In the first Game 7 since 2002, the Rangers spurted to a 2-0 lead against Chris Carpenter, pitching on three days’ rest for the second time in his career. Josh Hamilton and Michael Young hit RBI doubles in the first inning, which could have been bigger had not Ian Kinsler stumbled and been picked off first after his leadoff single.
Instead of bringing back Wilson on short rest or starting Derek Holland, who pitched brilliantly in winning Game 4, Washington stayed in rotation and started Harrison.
He couldn’t hold the lead, allowing three runs, five hits and two walks in four innings. Feldman and Wilson fouled up the fifth, combining for three walks and two hit batters and allowing two runs without any hits.
“They cleanly beat us,” Washington said. “We certainly didn’t give them anything.”
Freese, the Cardinals’ Game 6 star, started the comeback with a tying, two-run double in the first. Allen Craig, starting because Matt Holliday injured his wrist on Thursday, homered for a 3-2 lead in the third, with Nelson Cruz vainly climbing the right-field wall trying to make the catch.
Facing Feldman, Yadier Molina walked with the bases loaded for the second time in two nights, and Wilson forced in another run when he relieved and hit Rafael Furcal on the hip with his first pitch.
That made it 5-2, and the record crowd of 47,399 at Busch Stadium got louder and louder with each Texas out as the Cardinals’ 11th World Series title and first since 2006 neared.
Texas pitchers walked a Series-record 41, one more than the 1997 Florida Marlins. Of the Cardinals’ 34 runs, 11 reached base on walks and another two on hit batters. Not exactly what Nolan Ryan was looking for when he started to remake the team with strong pitching.
Carpenter, the second pitcher in two decades to make three Series starts, allowed two runs and six hits in six-plus innings with five strikeouts. He finished the Series 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in three starts and the postseason 4-0 with a 3.25 ERA in five starts. With nine postseason wins, he surpassed Mariano Rivera for the most among active pitchers.
With Wilson eligible for free agency, the Rangers likely will be seeking a new ace. In the ultimate game, Carpenter pitched like an ace and no one on the Rangers did.
When David Murphy flied to left for the final out, St. Louis became the ninth straight home team to win a Game 7. Many of the Rangers leaned forward in the dugout, stunned.
And why was Texas the road team against the wild-card Cardinals, who were 10 1/2 games out of a playoff spot on Aug. 25?
The All-Star game decides home-field advantage in the World Series, and Wilson was the loser in that one.
“We’ll work hard again,” Washington said. “Hopefully if we can stay healthy, we can get back and have another opportunity.”
In his first outing on short rest, Carpenter gave up four runs over three innings in Game 2 of the NL division series at Philadelphia. He wasn’t sharp at all at the start of this one, either, starting seven of his first 10 batters with balls.
Kinsler singled leading off, then started to steal second on a 1-0 pitch to Elvis Andrus, stumbled and was picked off at first by Molina. Andrus walked, and Hamilton doubled down the right field line for a 1-0 lead.
Young then lofted a soft opposite-field double to right to drive in Hamilton. Carpenter struck out Adrian Beltre and retired Cruz on a groundout to limit the damage.
Harrison then got into trouble with his control with two outs in the bottom half, and the Rangers had Wilson starting to warm up after five batters and 23 pitches.
Albert Pujols walked for the sixth time in the Series, on four pitches, and Berkman walked on five. Freese worked the count full and lined the ball on two hops to the wall in left-center, with Pujols raising both arms in triumph as he crossed the plate. Molina then flied out to Hamilton in front of the fence in center.
Mike Napoli singled leading off the second, and Murphy hit into a forceout. Harrison sacrificed Murphy to third, Kinsler walked and Murphy took third when Pujols dropped a pickoff throw at first from Molina. Carpenter induced Andrus to hit into an inning-ending comebacker.
Furcal singled leading off the bottom half, but Skip Schumaker grounded into a double play on the next pitch. Carpenter hit Beltre on the forearm with a pitch with two outs in the third before retiring Cruz on a flyout.
Kinsler singled leading off the fifth to reach base for the third time, and Andrus sacrificed. Hamilton then hit a foul pop in front of the third-base dugout. Freese, who dropped a popup for an error on Thursday, leaned over and caught it while slipping. Carpenter then struck out Young, pumping both arms in emotion.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa didn’t decide on Carpenter instead of a rested Kyle Lohse until Friday morning, waiting until after pitching coach Dave Duncan spoke with his ace.
NOTES: A record 38 of a possible 43 postseason games were played this year. A record 13 were decided by one run, one more than 1995, 1997 and 2003.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)