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Rangers' loss will sting for a while

ST. LOUIS -- This one hurts a lot more. And that's understandable.

The Texas Rangers vowed shortly after Game 5 of the 2010 World Series that they'd return to the Fall Classic and win it next time. They nearly had their hands on that trophy and the champagne prepared on Thursday. The bubbly never got chilled in the visitors locker room Friday.

After coming within a strike of the championship -- twice -- in Game 6, the Rangers couldn't hold a 2-0 lead for even half an inning and watched any title hopes slip away in a fourth inning that didn't even include a single St. Louis Cardinals hit. Two hit batters and three walks (one intentional) turned a one-run game into a three-run game, and the Rangers were all out of comebacks.

"It's going to sting for a while," reliever Darren Oliver said.

Players didn't try to hide their disappointment inside the clubhouse while loud music and confetti dropped out on the field where the Cardinals celebrated an 11th World Series title after a 6-2 Game 7 win. The Rangers were left to wonder how their first got away.

"It's more disappointing [than last year]," Michael Young said. "We were closer."

Manager Ron Washington walked into the clubhouse moments after the loss and addressed his team. He told them to keep their heads up and added that the pain of not fulfilling their ultimate mission would hurt for a while, but also drive them in 2012. And he told them he was proud of them.

But even the skipper thought about what might have been.

"If there's one thing that happened in this World Series that I'll look back on is being so close, just having one pitch to be made and one out to be gotten and it could have been a different story," said Washington, who gave credit to the Cardinals. "We certainly got our heads high. We're going to walk proud. The Texas Rangers organization has a lot to look forward to and we are certainly willing and able to have deep plans to meet that challenge."

That's talk for down the road. For now, players and management talked about trying to get over the pain of losing the World Series for a second consecutive season.

Rangers CEO and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan walked through the tunnel at Busch Stadium with a sullen look similar to that of a group of employees who filed out of the clubhouse area like a funeral procession. Some were wiping away tears. Many just looked stunned.

Members of the Rangers' front office, a group that has shared the emotional peaks and valleys together this entire postseason, tried to console one another and various staff members as they paced around the hallways inside the clubhouse.

"We came here with a very specific goal and we didn't achieve it," said assistant general manager Thad Levine, who spoke almost in a whisper, worn out from a long postseason. "It's disappointing. Last year there were a lot of firsts: First playoff win at home, first playoff series win, first time we vanquished the Yankees, first World Series.

"Having achieved those last year, there was an expectation to surpass those this year. There's a tremendous sense of pride in what this team has done this season. This season was probably, top to bottom, a better team than last year. But we came here to win the World Series and the fact that we didn't accomplish it is discouraging."

Plastic tarps, rolled up and held by duct tape, hung above the lockers. It was a reminder of what might have been and of what was going on in the other clubhouse. Many players admitted that they were thinking about Game 6. It was one of the most exciting World Series games ever played, but also a tremendous wasted opportunity.

"We were one pitch away twice," David Murphy said.

Murphy said that when he thought about what it would be like to lose this World Series, he figured the fact that it was such a great series played between two resilient teams might dull some of the pain. He was wrong.

"Standing here right now, it feels worse," Murphy said. "I feel like last year, it was our first World Series and there was some unfinished business. We made it to the World Series, but I don't feel like we really showed who we were. We didn't play well enough to win it all last year. This year we were right there."

Murphy made the final out of the 2011 season, flying out to left field against closer Jason Motte. It was an out that touched off a crazy celebration in St. Louis, a town that is used to winning baseball titles. Murphy flipped his bat away and trotted back to the dugout, knowing it was over.

"These guys are champions, even though we didn't get the World Series trophy," Washington said. "Those guys committed themselves to get here this year and win this, and they did it. A lot of times it's nothing but talk, but it wasn't talk in the Texas Rangers' clubhouse. We just didn't get it done. We got beat by a good club."

Washington finished his dinner in the manager's office of the visiting clubhouse, stopping in between bites to shake hands with front office personnel, coaches and players. Adrian Beltre walked around the clubhouse and hugged as many teammates as he could.

"This is a great clubhouse and a great group," Beltre said. "For me, it's tough to swallow. When you are one strike away from winning the World Series and losing that game yesterday, it's tough. For me, it's going to be a long offseason thinking about that.

"We have a really good team and a good ballclub. It's not easy to get here. You have to go through a lot of good teams and good pitching staffs. It's not easy to get here and we let one get away. We were so close. It's not easy to get to this point right here. We were one strike away, and to not get it done? It's hard."

There's the pain again. It's going to take some time for it to go away.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.