The Texas Rangers came into spring training trying to put the disappointment of Game 6 (and, consequently, Game 7) of the World Series behind them. They were again considered one of the favorite in the American League after going to two straight World Series.
But after grabbing the AL West lead the first few days of the 2012 season, the Rangers held it until the final day, falling to Oakland to drop into the AL wild-card game. A loss to Baltimore ended a collapse that saw the club blow a five-game lead with nine games to play. It was a season of ups and downs which provided memorable moments. Here are our top 5:
5. Michael Young exits after 12 years
The face of the franchise and the player who had spent his entire career in Texas was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies just after the Winter Meetings ended earlier this month. Young had to waive his no-trade clause to make the deal official, but decided that he was better off playing every day at third base in Philadelphia than sitting on the bench in Texas. It was the right move for both sides. But seeing Young in a different uniform will be odd. There was a thought that Young might be one of those rare players who spends his entire career with the same team. But he struggled in 2012 and with young players ready to make a push toward more time, there wasn't space for him on the current club anymore in a role that required regular playing time. So Young won't be wearing his No. 10 in Texas anymore.
4. Josh Hamilton blasts four HRs in a game
On May 8 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Hamilton became just the 16th player in major league history to hit four home runs in a game and the sixth in the American League. All four home runs were two-run shots with Elvis Andrus on base. Hamilton hit two long balls off Jake Arrieta (a TCU product), who started the game. He then hit a homer against Zach Phillips and one more, in the ninth inning, off former Ranger Darren O'Day. The crowd in Baltimore understood how special it was and gave Hamilton a standing ovation as he rounded the bases for the fourth time. His teammates went crazy when he came to the dugout. Hamilton also had a double and was 5-for-5, becoming the third player in big league history with at least 18 total bases in one game (second-most in history behind Shawn Green's 19 for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002).
"Obviously it's, other than being in the World Series, the highlight of my big league career," Hamilton said after the game. He set club records for homers, extra-base hits and total bases in a game.
3. Signing Yu Darvish
While the Los Angeles Angels were busy making major headlines by signing C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols at the end of the Winter Meetings in Dallas in December 2011, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was quietly convincing ownership to put up big bucks to attempt to sign the 25-year-old Darvish, who had put up impressive numbers in Japan since he was a teenager and was ready for the big leagues. The Rangers won the posting bid for Darvish with a record $51.7 million amount and then began recruiting Darvish to get him signed within the 30-day window. Texas rang in the new year by showing Darvish and his father around Arlington, even showing him a video at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington with highlights and pleas from teammates for him to come to Texas. It took all the way up until the deadline, but the club reached a deal on Jan. 18. He was introduced to the media, including a huge group from Japan, two days later.
It took Darvish time to adjust to life in the big leagues, but he had 16 wins and ended the season on an impressive stretch. Darvish won five of his last eight regular-season games and was 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA in that with 67 strikeouts and 15 walks. He allowed two runs on five hits in 6 2/3 innings in a solid start in the AL wild-card game. He comes into the 2013 season as the club's No. 1 pitcher.
2. Comeback vs. Angels on Aug. 1
The Rangers were coming off a rough couple of months in which they weren't hitting the ball particularly well, but were doing just enough to stay out in front in the AL West. The Angels came to town hoping to scare the Rangers and get themselves right back into the hunt for the division. They won the first two games of a four-game set to cut the division deficit to three games and led 6-0 after the top of the third inning. But the Rangers' offense came alive at just the right time. Yet the Angels managed to take a three-run lead into the bottom of the 10th inning. Nelson Cruz hit a home run to get things going. David Murphy fell behind 0-2, but worked an 11-pitch walk. Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli had singles and Michael Young got on via an error. An Elvis Andrus hit inside the third-base bag scored the winning runs. It was a wild celebration and the win kept the Angels from inching within two games of Texas. The Rangers won the next night to split the series and the Angels had a rough August to effectively end their chances of making the postseason.
1. Final collapse by Rangers, Josh Hamilton
The biggest story of 2012 for Texas was how things ended to the season. Despite not playing particularly great baseball, the Rangers led the AL West by five games with nine to play. But the upstart Oakland A's went on a winning streak to end the season and shocked the Rangers, who found themselves unable to ever pop the champagne and have a wild celebration like so many expected. Texas went to Oakland for the final three games of the season needing just one win to clinch the division. But they were swept. The most memorable play of that collapse: Hamilton's dropped fly ball in center field on the season's final day. With the game tied in the fourth inning, Hamilton had what appeared to be a routine fly ball hit off his glove and roll behind him, allowing two runs to score. The A's never relinquished the lead and won the division.
The Rangers then had to play the Baltimore Orioles in the AL wild-card game two days later at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Despite a solid performance by Yu Darvish, the Rangers lost when the bats couldn't produce. Hamilton was 0-for-4 and saw just eight pitches. He struck out as the tying run late in the game and was booed by the home fans. It turns out that was his last at-bat in a Rangers' uniform.
The final part of that collapse didn't occur until more than two months later, when Hamilton decided it was "time to move on" and bolted Texas for the Angels, who offered a five-year, $125 million contract last week. It gives the Angels a potent lineup and it makes the Texas-Los Angeles rivalry even more interesting heading into 2013.