On the morning of Sept. 25, the Rangers led the AL West by five games over the A's. They had the best record in the American League and were the favorites to get back to the World Series for a third straight season. Eight losses in 10 games later, the Rangers are done, wiped out of a division crown, the postseason and, quite possibly, what passes for a dynasty in the 21st century.
The coda to the Era That Never Was will be the sight of Josh Hamilton standing outside the batter's box and slowly taking off his helmet as boos rained down. Hamilton, who hit four home runs back on May 8 and finished the season at .285/.354/.577 with a career-high 43 homers, had a strange second half marked by a .259/.323/.510 line and absences related to the consumption of too many energy drinks. Hamilton's wild-card-round performance, in which he saw just eight pitches in four at bats, hit into a crushing double play on the first pitch that he saw in the game and struck out on three pitches as the tying run in the eighth, was embarrassing. In that moment, being booed as the Orioles ran off the field, it was hard to see Hamilton, a free agent, returning to Arlington.
If Hamilton leaves, he may have company. The wild-card game once again exposed manager Ron Washington's tactical deficits, as Wash maneuvered himself out of his designated hitter in the seventh inning and left himself with only little-played rookies to hit for his pitcher during a ninth-inning rally. For all his down-home folksiness and popularity with his players and the media, Washington's inability to run a game, especially in high-leverage situations, was a liability in the 2010 World Series, a crushing deficiency in the '11 Fall Classic and a problem yet again last Friday.
The most damning example of Washington's approach is his handling of Michael Young, who was perhaps the worst regular in baseball this year, a DH and corner infielder who batted .277 without walks (33, for a .312 on-base percentage) or power (eight homers and a .370 slugging percentage while playing in one of the most favorable hitter's parks in baseball). For a player to be so unproductive without losing his job for a contending team was one of the worst personnel moves of the year.
Hamilton, Washington and Young have been the faces of this team through its three-year run as one of the best in baseball. Their time is ending, though; the Rangers have the best prospect in baseball in Jurickson Profar and a top 15 guy in Mike Olt. Both were promoted to Texas late in the season, but Washington refused to play either over Young, leading the two rookies to stagnate on the bench as Young was a millstone in the lineup. To integrate these talents, general manager Jon Daniels may need a clean break in the dugout from a man who, in many ways, owes his career to veterans such as Hamilton and Young.
For the Rangers, it's no longer enough to almost win the World Series—let alone almost win the AL West. They have to close the deal. To do so, they need to cut ties to the old guard and bring in the new. That, in the end, is how baseball go.
Photograph by LARRY W. SMITH/EPA
WASHINGTON CAN'T BE FIXED The Rangers' skipper has a well-deserved reputation as a players' manager, but that allegiance was also costly, especially in the case of Young.
THE NEW UNNORMAL Hamilton put up top five MVP numbers but lost the support of fans with a second half that fell well short of his career standard.