Rangers pop corks to end long drought
Champagne was flowing -- but not for Josh Hamilton -- after playoff-clinching victory
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington was just a minute into his postgame speech inside the visiting clubhouse when champagne started to trickle down his head.
"I've never been so cold in my life," Washington said, soaking from head to toe wearing a blue AL West championship cap and a gray championship T-shirt. "It was like an earthquake. I didn't think it would stop. But it felt good. I didn't even get a chance to finish what I said. I was just getting warmed up. But I do know I told them 11 more wins. We aren't finished yet. We want to have a few more of these celebrations."
Moments earlier, Rangers rookie reliever Neftali Feliz threw his final pitch and knew that Nelson Cruz was going to catch it for a 4-3 victory over the second-place Oakland A's, clinching the division with more than a week left in the season.
Almost as soon as he threw it, Feliz bounced over toward third base, where the team surrounded Michael Young. The longtime veteran, who made his major league debut almost exactly 10 years ago, had finally made the postseason after sticking it out with the Rangers through the very hard times. And his emotions poured out.
Young's smile was large and unflinching. He bear-hugged every teammate like -- as general manager Jon Daniels aptly described it -- a groom at a wedding receiving line. After the hugs as part of the traditional high-five (and claw) line after a win, the Rangers walked up the stairs to the clubhouse. All of them charged Washington, bathing him in Totts Brut champagne (about $8 to $10 a bottle). Then they turned the bubbly on themselves.
Some players walked around with goggles on, hoping to shield their eyes. But none of them really seemed to care.
Young just kind of stood in the middle of the room, soaking in the moment while soaked from champagne.
"I love it," Young said, amidst a loud clubhouse. "I didn't put goggles on right away. I wanted to taste it and see how badly it hurt. It's a great feeling. These guys are having a great time and deservedly so. We worked extremely hard, overcame a lot of injuries, overcame all kinds of stuff to get where we are right now."
After all the bottles of champagne were emptied -- and that didn't take too long -- cigars were passed around the room, creating a celebratory haze.
"This is just an incredible feeling," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "This isn't something that was handed to us. We still have work to do, but this is nice. To see that fly ball go up, I just wanted someone to catch it. We got where we wanted to be, but we want to win it all. It's been a great ride so far and we'll see if we can continue it."
Rangers managing general partner and co-owner Chuck Greenberg and co-owner Ray Davis also joined in the celebration, taking pride in their newly purchased team's success.
"I'm just proud of the guys and everything they've done and how they stayed focus," Greenberg said. "I'm thankful for our fans, who stuck with this team. It's a great moment. It's another beginning to a great future."
Two key jewels in the Rangers' AL West crown were not in the raucous clubhouse following the game. Star outfielder Josh Hamilton, who has dealt with drug and alcohol addiction during his career and hasn't played since Sept. 4 because of a rib injury, stayed in the trainer's room after carefully celebrating with his teammates on the field.
A gaggle of teammates grabbed water bottles and tried to drench Hamilton, but the slugger was already dressed and getting ready to speak to a large gathering of fans about his faith. It was church day at Oakland and Hamilton kept his commitment to speak to the group along with many A's players. But don't take Hamilton's approach to mean he wasn't thrilled with the results.
"I've been waiting for this to happen," Hamilton said. "I'm excited about what we've done. Everybody has put a lot of work in and we've come together as a team and played well this season. We're excited to get the division."
Club president and co-owner Nolan Ryan was also absent. He had tried to join the team on the road earlier, but since he wasn't sure when the clinching game might occur decided to watch with his family in his Georgetown, Texas, home.
He said by phone Saturday that there was a lot of "hootin' and hollerin'" in the living room when the Rangers clinched.
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"I'm very proud of the team," Ryan said. "They put a lot of work in and it was total team effort starting in the offseason and spring training and right on through to now. They deserve it. I'm proud of the whole organization.
"It's been 11 years and we had hoped to get back to winning baseball and we have. Now we hope we can keep the level of standards on winning and grow from there."
But to do that, the Rangers needed to take this first step. And before they start focusing on beating either the New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays for the first playoff series victory in franchise history, they'll take some time to enjoy it.
"This is what we worked all year for," Darren O'Day said. "It's fun to enjoy it with all of these guys. It's a great group."