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Baseball

The Rangers Magic Number: Texas-Houston, Game 7

The Rangers are going back to the World Series.
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The Rangers will play for baseball's biggest prize. Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: What’s old is new again. Mom jeans are fashionable. Same goes for loafers. You are, at most, three degrees of separation from someone with a variation of a mullet. And the Rangers are back playing October baseball.

So, back for the first time in seven years is Jamey’s Magic Number format. The premise is simple: for however many wins the Rangers have left to capture the World Series, Jamey will write that many items in this column. The Rangers swept Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round, swept Baltimore in the ALDS, and took down the Astros in an epic seven-game ALCS—and so that number is now 4, the only wins this season has left to claim. If they win Game 1 at home against the Phillies or Diamondbacks on Friday, it will be 3. And if the Rangers go all the way and, for the first time, finish the deal? Well, that’s the only time you should be excited about a Jamey Newberg column with zero to say (even though you’ll forgive him when he inevitably finds a thing or five to remark upon the World Series trophy finally coming to Arlington).

Let’s have some fun.

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Illustration by Devin Pike

Here we go: 4 things.

FOUR. THINGS.

4. The game ended two hours and two minutes ago as I sit down to begin writing this, and for the first time since we started this postseason run with “12 Things,” I have no idea where to start. Most of these entries have presented a common challenge: how to narrow all the things I want to talk about into a dozen categories, or eight, or five. But this time, I’m having the opposite problem. I really don’t know what to say.

The last time I felt that way after a playoff game, it was for a very different reason. It was following Game 6 in St. Louis in 2011. My “1 Thing” column ran all of 32 words. I was gutted.

I was gutted last Friday, too.

I was at Game 5, along with our two kids. I’ve been to more than 1,000 games of some sort in my life. That one was a top-fiver for me. It was top five when Adolis Garcia turned the lead around in the sixth inning with a missile off Justin Verlander, a moment nobody reading this will ever forget; it was top five when Bryan Abreu drilled Garcia in the eighth and emptied the benches; it was top five when Jose Altuve took Jose Leclerc deep in the ninth.

Gutted.

I went to see some old high school friends late that night, which helped me wash off the devastation. As some of them asked me what I thought would happen as the series headed back to Houston, I dodged the question and thought about Game 7 in St. Louis in 2011. And how little I actually remember about that game. Even when they scored twice in the top of the first, I felt like the Rangers were  down by eight runs. I had nothing left. It felt like the team was right there with me, and St. Louis 6, Texas 2 couldn’t end fast enough.

I suppose I was conditioned after Friday’s soul-crushing defeat for the season to end the next time the Rangers took the field, to circle the drain surely but slowly.

But it happened exactly unlike that on Sunday.

And again on Monday.

I have a complicated relationship with sports. I’ve only shared it with a couple of people. Maybe one day I will share it with a professional, and then maybe with you. I don’t know.

I have friends who are Astros fans, most but not all of whom truly cared about the team before 2015. I hate their team, but don’t begrudge their loyalty; I respect it. The Astros are great at baseball. They’re also great for baseball, a supervillain with a storyline. They are exceptionally easy to hate because they’ve played dynasty baseball for seven years, but it’s not the only reason why. This isn’t David Freese hate.

The memory of Game 6 against the Cardinals—and the lack of memory of Game 7—primed me to expect an anticlimactic end to the 2023 season once Game 5 ended with a gut punch and sent the Rangers and Astros back to Houston. The way I feel about the Astros only deepened the dread.

But it did not for the Rangers themselves. 

Good grief, not for the Rangers themselves. 

3. We talked plenty about Sunday’s Game 6, a seven-run win that was tense and tight until Texas—and in particular Garcia—exploded and put things out of reach in the ninth.

About Game 7, I’ve got to admit, there really isn’t much to say. About the game itself, that is. The Rangers scored early. They scored often. They never really let the Astros, who went 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position (and 7 for 48 in their six home games this postseason) start to feel like the defending champs.

Eight Rangers batted in the first, chasing the previously postseason-great Cristian Javier before he could record a second out. Ten Rangers batted in the fourth, by the end of which they had built an 8-2 lead. That sort of lead with that many outs remaining never feels safe against the Astros. But it was completely safe on Monday, played out in front of a vocal crowd of Rangers fans as the Houston faithful fled the building over the final four frames.

Inexplicably, the two 90-win teams have gone a combined 13-0 on the road in this postseason. The problem for the Astros was, by virtue of winning the A.L. West on the regular season’s final day, they didn’t have enough road games in the ALCS to advance. But Texas did.

The trend of winning only road games can’t continue if the Rangers are to win their first World Series; they’ll only get three chances, at most, in Philadelphia or Arizona. Up to four games, starting Friday and Saturday, will be played at Globe Life Field.

No sense focusing on that now. That it’s even a narrative—that it’s the Rangers and not the Astros who have a 2023 narrative that’s still evolving—is hard to wrap my head around.

2. We must talk about Garcia, the ALCS MVP—yet another in a growing stack of bullet points that line up with Nelson Cruz’s time in Texas—and the phenomenal nine days he had. 

Five home runs in seven games. Five singles, too, although one of them was high off the wall in left field on Monday night and embarrassingly not a double, though Garcia promptly stole second base to erase his gaffe and later scored. Fifteen RBIs, which was more than any two other players in the series combined, and the most ever for a player in an LCS. Tremendous defense. A swagger that wasn’t snuffed out after his actions in Game 5 led to an ejection and a delay that most likely affected the outcome; if anything, it fueled an even bigger series response from Garcia. All the while, he found a way to quiet his approach at the plate and settle into a non-violent swing that continues to produce extremely violent shots off the bat.

In the fourth, with the score still a manageable 6-2 and Texas runners at second and third with one out after an Evan Carter two-run double, for some reason, Dusty Baker—who reportedly may have managed his final game—chose not to walk Garcia and set up a potential double play for the less-terrifying Mitch Garver. I figured that once J.P. France fell behind Garcia, 2-0 (and at that point had thrown 12 balls and nine strikes), at least then Baker would send Garcia to first as Texas had done in the series when falling behind Yordan Alvarez. Instead, Garcia singled to left, scoring two more runs and blowing the game open.

Garcia had four run-scoring hits in Game 7: a pair of singles and a pair of balls that cleared the fence.

He’s the first player in MLB history with RBIs in six straight games in a playoff series. He’s one RBI short of Freese’s 21 for an entire postseason’s output, with at least four more games to catch Freese. (Sorry; bad choice of words.) He homered in four straight games in the ALCS (five total), reminiscent of Cruz from the Rangers’ last cycle of contention and of Juan Gonzalez from the cycle before that.

Garcia is a leader. An igniter. The heart and soul of the team. And a really, really good baseball player.

And one of a great many quiet Jon Daniels acquisitions who helped build what Chris Young has taken over the top. Every Rangers’ position player in the starting lineup was picked up by Daniels and his group, as were Leclerc and Josh Sborz, the two stalwarts of a bullpen that has soundly outperformed October expectations. Credit to Young for crediting Daniels in his comments on the trophy stand.

1. Young should share in the credit for the Daniels pursuit of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien and is responsible for Nathan Eovaldi, Jordan Montgomery, and Monday’s starter, Max Scherzer (who was also the starter when the Nationals beat the Astros in Houston in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, a series that had plenty of parallels to this one). But he may have put his biggest stamp on this team by talking Bruce Bochy out of retirement a year ago.

Bochy’s ability to lead, to push the right buttons, to reject panic, to motivate through trust—all those things are what will make him a Hall of Famer when he’s done. The world titles don’t hurt either, of course.

Bochy has won 14 of his last 15 playoff series. He is now 6-0 in winner-take-all games in his postseason career. Nobody has won more of them. He also has won a record 13 games when facing postseason elimination.

Bochy has never lost a Game 7, winning them in the 2012 NLCS, the 2014 World Series—and Monday night.

Baker has never won a Game 7, losing them in the 2002 World Series, the 2003 NLCS, the 2020 ALCS—and Monday night.

Monday night. The 94-loss Rangers, a year later, facing the defending champions in a Game 7 in their park. A screenwriter’s dream.

And now, the World Series. The World Series!

The Rangers have never won one.

Bochy has won three straight.

One of those streaks is about to end. Whatever happens, I’m done dreading outcomes with this team.

The day my father died, the Rangers won their third straight game and seventh of nine, improving to 11-6 on the season and maintaining an early two-game lead in the division. He asked me on every visit how the team was doing, and it was a gift to be able to smile with the answer.

As it turns out, the Rangers won 90 games in the regular season, as did the Astros.

But Texas won one more game than Houston did in the ALCS. I wish I could talk to Dad about that, and about how that makes me feel. I’m still trying to process it, now four hours and two minutes after Leclerc coaxed a Kyle Tucker grounder to second to seal the American League pennant.

I’ll get there. But not yet. No sense rushing this.

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Jamey Newberg

Jamey Newberg

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Jamey Newberg covers the Rangers for StrongSide. He has lived in Dallas his entire life, with the exception of a…

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