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Baseball

The Rangers Magic Number: Texas-Arizona, Game 5

The number is zero. And, for the first time as a Ranger fan, I know zero about how to feel, too.
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Bruce Bochy and the Rangers have finally done it. Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

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. After winning Game 4 in Arizona, 11-7, that number dropped to 1. Now, after defeating the Diamondbacks, 5-0, on Wednesday night to finally become World Series champions, that number, blissfully, is zero.

But after a lifetime of waiting, you didn’t think Jamey Newberg would let the moment pass without a few words, did you? 

At long last …

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Illustration by Devin Pike

Here we go: Zero things.

Zero things to break down or project.

Zero things to game-plan.

Zero things to bemoan or lionize or nitpick.

Zero things to imagine.

Because it happened. The Texas Rangers are World Series champions.

Have you registered that? Embraced it? Locked it in? 

I’ll freely admit, as I begin to type this at 2 a.m. Arizona time, 4 a.m. in Texas, oblivious to the clock, that—speaking of zeroes—I have zero precedent on how to feel right now, how to act. Zero framework, zero experience to draw on. The Stars’ Stanley Cup win in 1999 and the Mavericks’ title in 2011, great as they were, were not the same for me. Basketball and hockey wins and losses don’t rivet my soul the way the ups and downs of a baseball season or a baseball franchise do. This baseball franchise.

There was the fleeting excitement of those 1996, ’98, and ’99 Rangers teams, the first to reach the postseason before each was summarily evicted by the Yankees. A dozen years later, a second straight World Series team wasn’t quite able to close the deal. Another dozen years after that?

This.

I don’t know. I’ve got zero in the well to go to.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. So are scars. The Rangers, whose 52 seasons include 48 that I’ve cared deeply about, have hit me in all the feels. They’ve broken my heart, and done so at a level it’s hard to imagine hurting more. They’ve also given me so much joy, but for the first 51 of those seasons, never the ultimate version. 

Not until Game 5 of the 2023 World Series: Texas 5, Arizona 0.

Late in the Rangers’ 11-7 win in Game 4, I caught myself hoping Jonah Heim’s home run down the right field line might get him going. That’s the instinct of a fan whose team has never stood at the center of the diamond with the other 29 having been eliminated. Has this hitter figured things out? Has that pitcher settled into a groove? Which prospect is getting hot at the right time? What is the team going to do about that player’s club option?

But you know what? There’s no reason to think like that anymore. Zero. That was the ingrained mentality of a Rangers fan—will some development get him, or them, going as things move forward?

Time for an adjustment to that mindset. They’ve crossed the finish line. Scaled the mountain. Aced the test. Pushed the boulder all the way up the hill.

Landed the final strike. 

Nathan Eovaldi authored a scoreless outing on Wednesday night that was both completely implausible and absolutely predictable. A postseason warrior whose teams have won 11 of his 12 career playoff starts, he lacked fastball command early and was squirming out of trouble for the first five of his six innings. He gifted five hitters with walks, the most he’d issued in a game since July 2013, and it seemed exactly the wrong way to set up the Diamondbacks’ chaos-driven attack for failure.

But Eovaldi held the Diamondbacks hitless in 12 plate appearances with runners in scoring position (0 for 9, two walks, one sacrifice bunt). They then failed to get another runner in scoring position over the final three innings against Aroldis Chapman and Josh Sborz, stranding 11 baserunners on the night without pushing any of them across the plate.

Eovaldi did not have his best stuff, but he earned the win—his fifth of this postseason, a major-league record. The Rangers, who started the Wild Card round with a shutout and started the ALCS with a shutout, ended the World Series with a shutout. Just another part of a run that I’m having trouble processing—but not really feeling a need to.

Without a baserunner of their own until Nathaniel Lowe walked in the fifth and hitless until Corey Seager’s rolling cue shot through a vacated left side in the seventh, Texas broke a scoreless tie on an Evan Carter double (his MLB-record ninth two-bagger in a postseason) and a Mitch Garver single. Two innings later, Josh Jung greeted Arizona closer Paul Sewald with a 108-mph single. Lowe followed with a 109-mph single, and then Heim delivered a 104-mph single that center fielder Alek Thomas whiffed into a three-bagger.

Two outs later, with Heim still standing on third, Marcus Semien stepped to the plate. Semien had busted through an extended slump with a huge Game 4 (a triple, a home run, and five RBI), so I half-joked to a buddy that maybe the Diamondbacks should walk him and Seager intentionally in the 3-0 game and take their chances with Carter. On the second pitch he saw, Semien deposited a fastball up and away into the seats in left-center.

It was at that moment that my eyes started welling up.

Sports.

It no longer mattered that the Rangers lost Jacob deGrom after six starts, and Adolis Garcia and Max Scherzer during the World Series. Or that they didn’t add enough winning bullpen pieces before the season, or in July, and blew more saves than they recorded. Or that they lost 94 games a year ago. Or that they lost 16 of 20 late this season and plummeted not only out of the division lead but also out of one of the six playoff spots.

It no longer mattered that they’d been stymied by Zac Gallen for the first six innings of the game and then couldn’t get a runner in from third with no outs in the seventh and with one out in the eighth and with no outs in the ninth.

It no longer mattered that Chapman once again couldn’t finish his inning or that Sborz hadn’t thrown 2 1/3 innings since he was a Double-A starter in 2017.

None of it mattered. Sborz punched out four of the eight batters he faced, including Geraldo Perdomo to start the ninth and Ketel Marte to end it. He spiked his glove, and his teammates all rushed him at the mound.

And I stood completely still.

I was also completely still 13 years earlier to the day, watching Bruce Bochy win his first World Series at the expense of the Rangers in the 2010 World Series. That time, there were no tears.

Bochy’s teams have now won 17 of the last 20 games in which they had the chance to close out a playoff series. His latest team went 11-0 on the road, the first to ever do that in a postseason. It also went 11-0 when scoring first. It also has never lost a World Series in which I caught a foul ball in the first inning of Game 1.

It’s been a very emotional year for me. I lost my dad. Our kids have moved on from the house and are charting their own paths. World events have been heartbreaking.

Over the years, I’d gotten much better at avoiding getting too high or too low. Sports setbacks in particular stopped hitting me quite as hard. Maybe it was a matter of maturing out of needless mood swings. Maybe it was just experience, and no longer overreacting to things I’d been through before.

But this was new. As the visitors’ dugout emptied in a sprint and the bullpen did the same, my heartbeat slowed. I cried. In that amazing, overwhelming, unfamiliar moment, I had no clue how I was supposed to feel.

Zero.

It would have been so great if Ginger and the kids could have been with me, but that didn’t work out. It would have been awesome if I could have called Dad—the reason sports course deep in me—right then. But at least I got to experience the moment I will never forget with some good friends as well as a number of people who have been with the Rangers as long as I’ve been writing about them.

I also wish I could have thanked Jon Daniels, just as Chris Young did during the trophy presentation. It was JD who built the foundation of baseball operations officials and scouts and coaches and analysts who drive player development and acquisition. Who initiated go time by signing Seager, Semien, and Jon Gray. Who hired and mentored Young.

The man who constructed the Rangers’ first two World Series teams was instrumental in putting so many of the pieces in place for the franchise’s third, which has now completed the job.

The Rangers now plan a parade, and then will get to work on defending their title. I’ll get to work on a book, and before that, will reissue the 2011 requiem that so many of you have told me you’ve refused for 12 years to read. It’s OK now. 2011 is OK.

As for 2023, I am sort of frozen—to be fair, now it’s 4 a.m. here, 6 a.m. back home in Texas—in a surreal state of euphoria. I’m not sure if it’s enough emotion, or too much. I guess that will work itself out. I have zero experience watching the final baseball game of a Texas Rangers season and not wishing the year had gone differently.

I’ve been waiting for this peculiar, powerful, ineffable feeling my entire life. For the last eight hours, I haven’t wanted to put any expectations on what shape or depth that feeling might take. I’m not going to force the action. No song lyrics to wrap around the moment, no historical reference points, no attempt at description or category.

I don’t want to put this feeling—this acceptance that the Texas Rangers have, in fact, won a World Series championship—in any sort of neatly identifiable box. You’ll just have to understand that I have zero intentions of doing that, and that this is, at long last, a game that I happily plan to let come to me.

Author

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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