Rangers haven't completed mission

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was for the same prize, in the same number of games, and there was the same exultation and jubilation when it was finally all over Saturday night, and yet, it had a totally different feel for the Texas Rangers.

Maybe it's because there's only one first time.

First kiss.

First love.

First new car.

First World Series.

You betcha, the second is sweet … just not quite the same.

That's OK. There's still a "first" yet to come and perhaps that's why Saturday night's 15-5 ALCS Game 6 whomping of the game but outmanned Detroit Tigers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington just didn't seem quite as exhilarating as last October's Game 6 clincher against A-Rod and the New York Yankees.

It's not just about getting to the World Series this time. It's about winning it all.

This time, it's about the ring -- the one that only world champions get to wear.

The players will swear that's what it was about last fall, too, and maybe it was. But for most of us, it was a dream that we had dreamed for so long, we really weren't sure it would ever come true, not in our lifetime, and when it did, it felt so amazingly good that it didn't matter that much that the Rangers lost the Series to the San Francisco Giants in five games. We still spent the winter on an unimaginable high.

This time, though, there's a definite feeling of something still left to accomplish. An American League championship is nice and now the Rangers have two of them, the first back-to-back pennant winners since the Yankees in 2000-2001.

This time, though, it's not enough. This time, the Rangers need to finish the job. And that's exactly what they mean to do.

"Yeah, it's different," said a ginger ale-soaked Michael Young, who had a pair of two-run doubles to key the Rangers' nine-run third inning. "We're still really happy and we'll celebrate just as hard and have just as good a time, but we definitely have our eyes on the big prize. Not to say we didn't last year, but nothing's going to sneak up on us this year."

At this same moment last year, there were tears in the eyes of those around the team who knew what finally winning an American League pennant meant to this once-moribund franchise. This time, there were only smiles and a sense that there's still business to attend to.

"We were so excited last year and didn't know what we were capable of doing in the Series," said club president and owner Nolan Ryan. "This year we're more focused and more determined because we came away a little disappointed.

"This is what you play for. You play to get into the World Series and you play to win it."

That same feeling of a mission not yet completed permeated the entire team.

"Last year, this [the ALCS] was our big championship," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "Now we know we have one more step to go."

One giant step.

"We've had the goal of winning the World Series since we lost Game 5 last year," pitcher C.J. Wilson said.

"We won't feel successful until we've won the World Series," declared second baseman Ian Kinsler. "We definitely still have something left to do."

There is, however, some validation in the knowledge that they will be back in the World Series for a second straight October. Without Cliff Lee in 2011, free agent Lance Berkman had predicted last winter that the Rangers would be an average team in spurning Texas' offseason offer.

It's something Texas fans might remember should Berkman and the St. Louis Cardinals get through the Milwaukee Brewers and make it here for a date with the Rangers.

Could the Rangers have used Lee? Absolutely. But as fate would have it, his hiney is glued to a deer stand somewhere in Arkansas right about now because he wanted to be part of Philadelphia's "Cy Young" rotation, figuring that was his best chance to personally stamp his return ticket to the Series.

Buzzzzzzzzz! Wrong again, Clifford, but thanks for playing.

So what are the Rangers going to do about a rotation that has produced but one quality start -- Colby Lewis in Game 3 of the ALDS -- in the entire postseason?

Here's my suggestion (and how I would wager if I were a betting man): Not a darn thing.

The way things have been working may not be pretty, but there's no second-guessing the results. Anybody really think that replacing Derek Holland or Matt Harrison with Alexi Ogando or Scott Feldman is suddenly going to turn the Texas rotation into the Baltimore Orioles of the early '70s (Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar) or the Atlanta Braves of the early '90s (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz)?

Forget it. No, the true strength of the Rangers, along with that explosive offense, is the bullpen. You don't monkey with success.

"If you'd told me before this series that our starting pitching wasn't going to do well [no Rangers starter won a game in the ALCS], I wouldn't have believed it," said Murphy, who contributed three big hits to the Rangers' offensive explosion in Game 6. "But our bullpen stepped up big time. In fact, I'd say that the guy right behind Nellie Cruz for MVP was Alexi Ogando."

So expect Wilson, Holland, Lewis and Harrison to continue to constitute the Rangers' rotation.

"We have our starters," Mike Maddux said.

And one hell of a bullpen.

End of discussion.

For the next few days, the Rangers will savor their second straight American League championship, but they know there's something even better waiting out there. They got a glimpse of it last October and it's been on their minds ever since.

Because as sweet as this tastes right now, they know that winning a World Series just has to be the greatest "first" of all.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.